How can working class democrats oppose an all UK exit? The first and foremost demand is to back the working class in Northern Ireland and Scotland who had majority votes for remain. The democratic and indeed revolutionary answer to an all UK exit is a united Ireland. Scotland must exercise its right to self determination and leave the UK to remain or rejoin the EU.
This is the alternative strategy based on working class votes. It is the alternative to the liberal demand for a second-repeat referendum to reverse the 2016 vote. We must totally oppose this liberal demand now. If and only if there is a sea change in working class opinion could a second-repeat referendum even be contemplated.
Yes to a united Ireland and yes to an independent Scottish republic is an urgent demand. But a second-repeat referendum is dangerous, divisive and offers no solutions. Ending the UK is not just an Irish or Scottish question, but for the working class in England and Wales and the rest of Europe. It is the final nail in the coffin of the reactionary and utopian plan to resurrect the British Empire under WTO rules.
The democratic case for a ratification referendum is very different. It is about accountability. The people in England and Wales voted for the principle of leaving the EU without the details. Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) disappeared for two years and then come back with a proposal. The working class across the UK must have the right to vote for or against May’s deal.
Brexit has seen the emergence of three shadow ‘parties’ – leave, remain and democrat. In parliament, the remain ‘party’ aims to overthrow the decision to leave by a repeat-remain referendum. They are united against Corbyn and hope they can to oust him.
Liberal pundit, Andrew Rawnsley, argues that “to stop Brexit, Labour supporters will have to revolt against Corbyn”. He explains that “if they want another referendum, they will have to learn their leader and rebel against him” (Observer 6 January 2019). The Labour right and the liberal Tories see the danger of Brexit as an opportunity to damage or stop Corbyn.
The democratic ‘party’ is comprised of those who support remain but have accepted the result. Corbyn is one of the leaders of this ‘party’ which includes McLusky, McDonnell and probably Abbott etc. The 2016 referendum enabled working class people to vote to remain or leave the EU. As democrats we recognise the value of working people being able to vote in elections and referenda.
This does not mean we are blind to the problems of ballots when money is king and all democracy can be gerrymandered and corrupted. We should never forget the serious failings of the 2016 referendum. This includes the exclusion of nearly three million EU citizens resident in the UK and the exclusion of the 16-17 year olds. Neither can we ignore the misuse of funds or the exploitation of big data.
Nevertheless it is better, on balance, to accept the result but NOT the right wing British nationalist interpretation of it. That must be contested, starting with England supporting the democratic rights of Ireland and Scotland. Furthermore nobody voted to leave the single market or the customs union since it was not on the ballot paper.
Corbyn has adopted aspects of the democratic case – accepting the 2016 result and opposing the call for a repeat-remain referendum. But he has not adopted a full democratic approach. He is an inconsistent semi-democrat. He failed to recognise the importance of Ireland and Scotland or their right to self determination. He has failed to recognise the rights of the working class to ratify or reject the May deal.
Instead of a strong line on democracy, Corbyn has a weak one. These weaknesses in his approach to democracy may enable the Labour right to drive a wedge between him and his younger supporters, especially in London, who are strongly for remain. That is what Andrew Rawnsley is calling for.
Meanwhile May was out campaigning in her own people’s ‘referendum’ on her deal. She told Andrew Marr that ‘on the doorstep’ the vast majority she met were sympathetic and wanted her to crack on so we could get back to normal politics. Business was ‘voting’ for her deal too. The only thing missing from May’s ‘referendum’ is that working class people are not allowed to vote. She doesn’t trust us!