Unite members in Scotland discussed bridging the divides opened up by the vote to leave the EU at the union’s regional Brexit conference.
Scotland regional secretary Pat Rafferty summed up much of the searching discussion at the conference, saying: “People were only just getting over the divisions of the independence referendum in Scotland when the EU referendum created even more.”
Community worker Siobhan McCready was one of those concerned that the call for a Brexit that doesn’t cause widespread economic damage and hurt living standards was not getting through to those who voted leave in Scotland.
She said: “I work in one of the most deprived areas of Scotland and I speak to a lot of people who voted to come out, from clients who have a generation of family out of work to my professional colleagues.
“I think we’ve got a real problem engaging with people who voted leave. We need to get the message out, particularly about what (Brexit) could mean to women and their families, because I especially don’t hear a message that attracts a woman’s view.”
Unite member Kym Hannah was worried that young people, particularly those in low paid occupations, are now also disengaged with the wider debate over Brexit – regardless of which way they voted.
She said: “The very word ‘Brexit’ makes a lot of young people want to spew into their cereal. They have become totally disenfranchised. These are people who are working in hospitality, in retail, in call centres – they stand to be hit massively if things go wrong and they’re not part of the debate.”
MSP and Scottish Labour Brexit spokesman Neil Findlay said rising inequality, insecure work and harmful austerity policies had underpinned much of the leave vote and were encouraging political apathy more widely.
“I think in Scotland it was quite remarkable nearly 40 per cent of people voted to leave, when there was absolutely no leave campaign here. These people have been airbrushed out of history because nobody wants to talk to them about why they voted that way,” Findlay said.
“They don’t feel the political system is doing anything for them. If you are living in a community that’s been left behind by de-industrialisation, that’s seen public services go down the tube, that has low pay, and suddenly someone asks ‘would you like to remain in this situation or would you like to leave?’, it’s obvious what you’re going to do.”
Findlay said there is a need to engage union members, the public and politicians on Brexit and let them know that the Tory vision for leaving the EU will only make things worse – just as their policies have while they’ve been in government.
He said: “If we don’t organise now, if we don’t get our act together, then the neoliberal right-wing will shape the future with all the consequences that will bring for our families and our future generations.”