Leafleting on the top of library hill on a clear, bright Monday afternoon, the Glasgow University branch of Our Future, Our Choice are calling on Glasgow students to join the mass People’s Vote demonstrations in London on 23 March. A sign reads: “£20 return to London – ask us how”. I didn’t ask, because I wasn’t interested in attending.
What stuck me was the hollowness of their political vision, the boundaries of which are marked by the M25. OFOC have campaigned in Manchester, Lincoln and Belfast in the past, the latter a coordinated walk-out of students, many of whom were too young to vote in the 2016 referendum. On 23 March, OFOC will leave out these major UK cities in their final anti-Brexit push.
It seems that in the excitement of the slow-moving car crash that has been Britain’s exit from the EU we have forgotten about the issues we used to talk about before backstops, food shortages and medicine stockpiling. In the days before we all became more literate in EU constitutional law than a freshly hatched European Commission intern, a phrase that used to be bandied about was “London-centric”. This was a phrase used to criticise a political and journalistic class whose vision of the country ended at the border of Hertfordshire. Advertising for this London march in Glasgow, the biggest city in the only UK country to vote remain across the board is unquestionably a bad look, something lost on this otherwise seemingly image-conscious group. It is at odds with a movement ostensibly about returning political power to the people of the whole of the UK and not just a small, London-based political class.
The obvious issue of the cost of getting to London from Glasgow (about a £30 Megabus round-trip, at time of writing, allowing for two overnight journeys) does not need further explanation, but it is telling of the mindset of a group founded by the CEO of a lobbying firm with ties to Emmanuel Macron’s presidential campaign and centre-right pro-EU pressure groups.
That this march is to take place only in London suggests one of two things. Either, that the movement believes that politics ceases to exist outside the City of Westminster, or more likely, that they do not have enough confidence in their own abilities to organise a national, joined up campaign against Brexit.
OFOC would no doubt say that a mass demonstration in London is a better way to show strength and unity than various smaller marches across the country. This would be an enormous expression of arrogance. Brexit will affect us all and support for a second referendum does not exist solely within London. Surely one of the planks on which support for a people’s vote is built is the belief that political decisions belong in the hands of the people. It is all too easy for Brexiteers to characterise remainers as being part of a smug, detached London-based elite, and marches such as this do little to dispel that image.
That there is a movement of young people campaigning for a second referendum should be encouraging to any of us who want to see a stop to this act of national self-sabotage. This movement is being organised by a group of people with the political imagination and ambition of a flea. If this is our resistance movement, we don’t stand a chance.