The University of Glasgow recently hosted its first Conversation event on the issue of post-Brexit Britain.
The event was free and spaces could be booked online. Spaces for the panel discussion sold out in advance.
Entitled “Countdown to Brexit – where next for the UK and Europe?”, the debate was staged by The Conversation – a website that dedicates itself to “academic rigour, journalistic flair” – in collaboration with the University of Glasgow’s Policy Scotland.
The UK’s first ever Conversation Live event brought together experts from across the academic spectrum. The panel comprised of University of Glasgow Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Anton Muscatelli (who stated that despite chairing the Standing Council on Europe, the views he gave on the evening were his own); Executive Director of the European Institute at University College London, Dr Uta Staiger; Director of the Scottish Universities Legal Network on Europe, Dr Maria Fletcher (EU Law) and Principal of Edinburgh Napier University, Professor Andrea Nolan. The event was chaired by Dr James Rogers, a former BBC and Reuters journalist who now leads the MA programme in International Journalism at City, University of London.
Over the course of an hour and a quarter, the panel discussed different Brexit routes from legal, educational, political and economic viewpoints.
The panel had all supported the Remain campaign. Deliberating on the motivations behind the leave vote, Professor Nolan discussed: “the economic climate, disengagement of the political classes from communities, really intense fear about the issues of immigration, lack of leadership from our elected and academic leaders in explaining the benefits of free movement of people.” Nolan likened the current political climate to having a bad day at work and then going home to shout at the dog.
A member of the audience and a Glasgow University Professor Hugh McLachlan asked how referendum results should be interpreted, and whether voters needed to take into account why people may have voted, particularly in relation to the Scottish Independence referendum.
In response, Dr Staiger highlighted the “astonishing” fact that, despite motivations for voting decisions remaining unquestioned, the government has determined it knows what the majority of the public meant by voting leave and that immigration control is the most important issue to them. Nolan commented: “Part of the problem is that it is a black and white answer to a hugely complex topic, and in this case we didn’t have any thresholds or a clear understanding of what the process would be afterwards. Obviously, technically the referendum is only advisory. Obviously, technically, although very unlikely, the government could turn around and reject it.”
On this point Dr Rogers asked the audience by way of a show of hands whether they thought it would be acceptable for the UK government to simply ignore the Leave vote. While over a third of the attendees raised their hands, he dismissed the idea as “wishful thinking”.
Possible alternative solutions for Scotland and other devolved administrations were discussed by the panel. Answering a question on the possibility of Scottish citizenship, Dr Fletcher stated that “potentially there is scope for a differential settlement”.
Professor Muscatelli noted: “One of the difficulties in designing all this is that you need to know where the UK will end up, which is why the UK needs to state what it thinks it’s potential destination is, so that devolved nations can engage with the process. At the moment, what are we engaging with? A blank sheet of paper.”