Unite community worker Siobhan McCready: Debate over post-Brexit future is failing to engage those from poorer communities, especially women

Community worker Siobhan McCready is worried about the impact a Tory-led Brexit will have on poor communities in Inverclyde – some of the most impoverished in Scotland.

She is also concerned that the wider Brexit debate is failing to include those in deprived communities, especially women, who are disengaged from arguments about the real damage the Conservatives could inflict if their vision for Britain’s EU exit is fulfilled.

“I lived through the ship yards in this area being closed in the ‘80s and we’re back full circle with another generation of young people who have no hope,” explained McCready, who is also chair of Unite’s Scotland political committee.

“We’re in a situation now with Brexit, that if they’re allowed to do it, the Tories will steer through policies that only suit the richest few. They’re no friend of working people in any way, shape or form.

“As a mother, as well as a worker and a trade unionist, I really fear for young people because they will be the ones who suffer if the Tories get away with it.”

McCready says many of the people in the communities she works in, and some of her colleagues, voted to leave not just out of legitimate frustrations with the EU but because it was a way attacking the status quo.

“There’s real issues with poverty, a lack of aspirations and life chances. For many people the EU is far off thing that doesn’t relate to them. They’ve no idea why it has so much money and they’re living in real poverty. So for them leaving was a way to kick back at the establishment.

“For many of my colleagues it was a similar reaction. They are degree educated professionals, but they can see day in day out the absolute grinding poverty – many of their own family and friends are in similar situations.”

The problem now, McCready says, is that the same politicians many voted leave as a reaction against, can use Brexit as a vehicle to push through ideological policies that will further exacerbate inequality.

She said: “The Tories are now out there making decisions about Brexit and are completely disengaged from the people who voted leave because things couldn’t get any worse. With the Conservatives seeing this through it was never going to be a left-wing agenda. It was always going to be pure right wing.”

Trying to reach people who have all but given up on a political system that disregards them is a difficult task, McCready admits, but she says the conversations around Brexit need to become more relatable if that is to happen.

“I think the whole Brexit debate is lined up in industrial, bureaucratic and economic language. But I think we need to have very real, very practical conversations that people can relate to,” she said.

“For instance, without resorting to generalisations, the priority for many women in the areas I work in is what’s happening to their families. Because there’s a lot of poverty, the EU provides grants to projects like community centres, clubs and family organisations. A large amount of those groups are reliant on EU funding to survive and there’s every possibility it won’t be replaced by the Conservatives after Brexit. Already a lot of the groups I support as a community worker have been told ‘don’t even bother applying because we’re not considering’.

“That’s an area of Brexit women are more likely to engage with. When they see it’s after school care or summer play schemes or a centre that their elderly relatives visit to have something to eat and socialise.

“Those types of perspective are needed to enlarge the picture of what a Tory Brexit will actually mean for people and will help in the mobilisation against it happening.”