Buyer’s Regret

Figures show massive numbers of buyer’s regret for those who backed Brexit. Grimsby, once Europe’s biggest fishing port, voted 70% for Brexit, but now voters say Brexit was based on ‘rhetoric and broken promises’ (How Brexit Failed England’s Premier Fishing Town). A poll this week showed 62% wanting to rejoin the EU. That figure might be familiar to some of you.

Those Sunlit Uplands remain obscured and the giant economic revival of a renewed Global Britain has in fact been replaced by a catastrophic cost of living crisis. Adjacent to this phenomenon, and less obvious, is the regret of those who voted No in 2014. The promise then was of a multicultural Britain, a source of stability and generosity, a bountiful and warm Union. ‘Lead don’t leave’ we were told.

For many who voted No the last nine years have been a time of increasing regret as the political hellscape of the government’s of Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss (briefly) and Rishi Sunak have unfolded. Incredibly, back in 2014. the idea of ‘Britain’ was put forward as a sort of haven of progressiveness, openness and internationalism. Poor Scotland was pictured as a sort of backwater, independence meant parochialism and a retreat from the world.  In post-Brexit Britain, characterised by extraordinary economic failure and a reactionary cultural hegemony its difficult to even imagine those arguments making sense.

This week the former Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale came out to say her position on independence had ‘moved’, she said: “If you are presented with a binary choice between an independent Scotland in a progressive Europe or little Boris Brexit Britain, I know where my cards would fall down.”

It was interesting that the piece was by ‘Caroline Davies and Agency’ – and not by either of the Guardian’s Scotland correspondents.

Dugdale, who is the director of the John Smith Centre at the University of Glasgow was speaking during an event at the Edinburgh Book Festival. She said: “I know I couldn’t argue with the same strength for the union that I did in 2014 now.”

“That doesn’t mean I’m ready to vote yes; there are big, big questions we need to debate as a country and resolve.”

“So I have moved … we have to keep talking about some of these big issues in the country, but not just purely through that yes/no lens.”

The story was muted – in stark contrast to the recent utterances of Robin Harper, the former Scottish Green party leader, whose announcement that he’d vote Labour provoked days of media coverage. This despite the fact that Harper had been out of politics for many years and Kezia Dugdale had been a significant figure in the Better Together campaign. As someone on Twitter put it: “Kezia Dugdale was once leader of the Scottish Labour Party, and was a staunch defender of The Union. Her Damascene conversion would be headline news and receive wall to wall coverage in countries which had a balanced, open, impartial media.”

Never the less such conversions are welcome as people realise what they voted for didn’t materialise. It’s an honest and difficult thing to publicly say ‘I got things wrong’.

She backed calls made by the SNP for the Scottish Parliament to be given powers over immigration and employment legislation. She told the audience at the book festival: “I want to see a Scottish Parliament with greatly more powers than it has just now. I was arguing back in 2012 for the Scottish Parliament to have powers over things like employment legislation. I lost that argument then.

“For me it is an absolute no-brainer that the Scottish Parliament should have employment and immigration powers now, immediately.”

What is interesting about this public conversion is not how it is conveniently buried but how it flourishes despite the apparent failure of the independence movement to make strategic gains. Late or terminal Britain is such a wasteland and such a gulf appears between the vision of the Union sold in 2014 and the reality of today that even those who were the Sales Men and Women for it are in despair at what they see. But what’s also interesting is not Dugdale’s regrets it’s also the rarity of her support for devolution.

I used to dismiss those in the independence movement wo argued ‘they will come for Holyrood’ and close down devolution. That argument, I thought was paranoia. I was wrong. The assault on the devolution settlement has been vicious and determined and even those parties that helped create devolution have – at best stood by – and at worst contributed to devolution being completely undermined. In this context it’s rare to hear a Scottish Labour politician arguing for more powers for Holyrood. Most of the things she expressed support for have, only this week, been explicitly ruled out by Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar.

Afterwards Dugdale expressed regret about how her words were taken saying: “Memo to self, you can’t have a nuanced debate about the constitution…And for as long as that’s the case, Scotland will be stuck in a reductive holding loop, to the serious detriment of people who really need change.”

You can have some sympathy for that position. It is true it’s difficult sometimes to have nuanced public debate. The algorithm loves a binary and social media thrives on conflict. It’s fair enough – and probably a majority view to say “I’d support independence but I have some issues that need resolved”. That’s not very controversial. The problem for Dugdale and the No voters that may be expressing regrets is that the situation we find ourselves in is one that they helped to create. Every single thing that has happened – the economic breakdown, the constitutional repression, the reactionary politics – was carefully predicted, and Dugdale wasn’t some neutral player in this battle, so it’s a bit rich to say ‘Ho hum I’m kind of not sure anymore but can we have some more powers please?’ It’s more muddled than nuanced.

It’s also a sort of re-writing of history and an abdication of responsibility. Dugdale’s buyers regret is understandable but would be more palatable if there was a bit more remorse and a lot more contrition.
As the playwright Peter Arnott pointed out (back in 2014):
“… the status quo, as I’ve said before, may well be on the ballot paper. But it is not on the cards. A wish for a return to normal is a wish for a stability that is already in the past. Everything has changed. Everyone has to face the reality of that. Our only choice in September 18th is: Do we make the way we change subject to democratic control within Scotland, or do we leave the management of that change to whomever somebody else votes for.”
Everyone has regrets, but we have to take responsibility for our actions. especially when they are catastrophic.


Comments (33)

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  1. Helen Burns says:

    Hell mend the Brexiters of Grimsby. They knew what they were voting for, supposedly. So did I, but I voted Remain.

    1. Doug Hepburn says:

      Absolutely. They were told and warned by so many of us, but chose to believe the liars.

  2. SleepingDog says:

    I’ve heard Kezia Dugdale’s expressed contempt for the little people’s grasp of, and interest in, constitutional questions, and doubt the value of her defection to any constitutional cause.

    But on this day, no comment on one of the most globally-significant political events, one with the power to radically redefine Englishness? I mean of course the Women’s FIFA World Cup Final in Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand.

    1. Alec Lomax says:

      Unless a person is going to financially benefit from leaving the EU, then voting Leave makes as much sense as dropping a lump of concrete on one’s foot.

  3. David B says:

    Problem with this ‘Buyers Regret’ theory is that we’d be in a much worse position if we’d left on the SNP’s White Paper prospectus. We’d have all the same economic chaos because we’d still be using the pound – we’d just not have received the billions in printed Covid money. I think most No voters from 2014 and quite a few Yes voters are aware of this.

    1. James Mills says:

      A seer is among us ! What are the lottery numbers for Saturday ?

      1. David B says:

        It hardly takes a crystal ball. If you use pound Sterling then your interest rates are set by the Bank of England. That’s not a prophecy – it’s a statement of fact.

        1. James Mills says:

          Dear me ! So everything that has happened to Scotland since 2014 would have happened after an Independence vote ? Really ?

          1. David B says:

            Covid would still have happened. The Bank of England would have printed money in response. It’s doubtful Scottish independence would have stopped Putin invading Ukraine. Inflation would still have gone up and the BoE would still have raised interest rates.

  4. 230821 says:

    Aye, I saw that story in the Express, the Guardian, the Herald, the National, the Scotsman, the Times, and the Telegraph,

  5. mark leslie edwards says:

    Whoever said politics is show business for ugly people hit the nail on the head in my opinion, these non entities & their shifts of position are part & parcel of the usual tactics of distraction the British state would like you to waste your time debating while they get on with the business of creating further hell on earth. The only interesting or significant thing I can see having happened recently is Greta Thunberg pulling out the Edinburgh festival & effectively getting the arseholes telt. Less Dugdales & mair Gretas please & thank you.

  6. John says:

    While I do not disagree with the contents of this article the facts are that to achieve independence within next 15 years it will require many people who voted No to change their opinion to Yes. With such a binary option this can be psychologically challenging for people and if they see high profile politicians changing their minds this can help them on their journey to Yes.
    The more Henry McLeish’s and Keiza Dugdale’s that can be persuaded to support Yes the more wavelets will be encouraged along the same path.
    The opposite is also true – the more opprobrium is cast by those on Yes side to those on No side the less likely we are to persuade them to change.
    Too many people seem to forget that ultimately it is not about how long you personally have supported independence it is about achieving independence.
    Never forget that every No voter is a potential Yes voter that has failed to be persuaded – yet.

    1. Niemand says:

      I agree John. One thing was pretty clear from the Brexit campaign – the more potential leave voters were vilified, the more they were likely to vote out. And it stands to reason really – how many would naturally switch to a side that says you are an ignorant, probably racist, fool (to put it politely)? And in the case of independence, a unionist lackey, ‘house jock’, colonially brainwashed etc etc.

      1. The language of ‘House Jock’ etc is reprehensible – I Don’t think this is the same as calling out key actors in Better Together for some contrition?

        1. Niemand says:

          No, for sure, not the same. I am not sure about contrition in general though. After all, over time people can change their minds and not have to apologise for that. I have! My ‘journey’ is based on the idea the union is not longer working, certainly for Scotland but also England. What it isn’t based on is any kind of hatred of Britain as a concept. I have always seen the idea of Britain and the British as something that goes beyond modern politics and is probably 2000 years old, so predates ‘England’ and ‘Scotland’. Mad as it sounds it is therefore perfectly possible to have a Scottish and British identity and still support independence.

          1. 230822 says:

            I agree, Niemand. Originally, ‘British’ just meant the people who inhabited these islands (prior to the arrival of both the Scots and the English); it was a purely geographical expression.

            I don’t have much time for notions of ‘identity’. But I’d agree that it’s entirely possible:

            a) for us to be citizens of more than one polity;

            b) for the polities of which we are citizens to transcend and encompass those notions of identity; and

            c) for those polities to be interdependent on rather than independent of one another or (worse) ‘devolutions’ of some ‘higher’ authority.

            It would be good to see ‘Britain’ as just such a union of interdependent polities that transcend (and which itself transcends) their constituents’ various national and other private identities. Politically, the unionism of res publica trumps the divisions of res privata every time.

            It would also be good to see ‘British’, ‘Scottish’, ‘English’, etc as pertaining not to some imagined passive and private ‘given’ national identity, but rather to those active ‘elective’ citizenships, to the jurisdictions of which we, as various and otherwise diverse sovereign and irreducible private individuals, periodically and voluntarily subject ourselves in order to pool our sovereignty in pursuit of our common wealth and security.

            In other words, it would be good to see not nationalism, but good old-fashioned ‘Dugdalean’ republicanism.

          2. John says:

            If, hopefully when, Scotland becomes independent it will still be geographically part of British Isles but not part of United Kingdom.
            How British people who live in Scotland feel will be a personal issue for each individual. Scotland will almost inevitably require to have a close relationship with England. In my opinion it is this proximity to England, who will be a bigger, more powerful and hopefully friendly neighbour that will also make it important for Scotland to be a member of EU to help give us more clout in our relationship with England. My evidence for this is how the EU supported Ireland in the negotiations with UK post Brexit.

          3. 230822 says:

            It goes without saying that Scotland will no longer be part of the UK after it leaves the UK.

            But your observation, that Scexit will not make those of us who are subject to the jurisdiction of the Scottish government independent of the decision-making of the polity we would be leaving, is a more interesting one. We and our British neighbours will indeed remain in our current state of interdependence after Scexit. The only difference will be that we’ll no longer have any participation as fellow citizens in that decision-making; we’ll no longer send representatives to our current joint decision-making assemblies.

            This was the big argument against Brexit: leaving the EU does nothing to increase our independence the decision-making of our European neighbours, with whom we remain in an undiminished state of interdependence in a global world; it only diminishes our participation as fellow citizens in that decision-making.

            Of course, the counter-argument for Brexit also holds for Scexit. The joint decision-making assemblies of the current union don’t function justly and are incapable of reform. We therefore lose nothing by giving up our ongoing participation in them.

          4. John says:

            Reply to 220823 10.14pm comment.
            The term Scexit was not used by either side in 2014 referendum and is now being used by No supporters in a negative manner due to unpopularity of Brexit in Scotland. You betray yourself and your motives by using this term.
            There are fundamental differences between independence for Scotland and Brexit for UK.
            The most obvious one is that every nation in EU is recognised as an independent nation (as the UK was) but Scotland is not within the UK.
            The next obvious one relating to Scotland is that nearly 2/3rds of electorate in Scotland voted to remain in EU but this was ignored by UK government in implementation of Brexit.
            The next obvious difference is to equate the current arrangements between 4 nations of UK where devolved governments are very obviously subservient to Westminster and the EU where each individual nation is regarded as an equal.
            The whole point of my post was that an independent Scotland would, in my opinion, still have a much larger neighbour in England and that membership of a larger trading/political block, which respected Scotland’s independence, will be beneficial (possibly essential) in such circumstances.
            Lastly, and most importantly, post independence, it will be up to the electorate in Scotland alone whether they join the EU not dictated to by the electorate of a neighbouring nation.

          5. 230823 says:

            Of course, the two unions – the UK and the EU – aren’t similar in all respects; maybe they should be more similar than they are. I think they should be. In particular, I think the UK (and Scotland, for that matter) should operate like the EU on the principle of subsidiarity, whereby the EU does not take action (except in the areas that fall within its exclusive jurisdiction) unless it is more effective than action taken at the national, regional or local level.

            The EU is explicitly premised not on the independence of its member states but on their interdependence, which is what I was talking about when I said that Scexit (Scotland exiting the UK) will not make us independent of the decision-making of the polity we would be leaving; the countries will remain interdependent even after we leave the UK and stop sending representatives to its decision-making assemblies. This is exactly the situation that UK citizens find themselves after we collectively decided to leave the European Union.

            And as I keep saying: the Scottish electorate didn’t have a vote on whether or not the UK should leave the EU; in that referendum, we were voting as UK citizens rather than as Scottish citizens. Likewise, the Dumgal electorate didn’t have a vote on whether or not Scotland should leave the UK; in that referendum, we were voting down here as Scottish citizens rather than as citizens of Dumfries and Galloway.

          6. John says:

            Reply to 230822 post on 23rd.
            I am aware that Scotland was part of 2016 UK EU vote after voting to remain in UK in 2014 when the electorate of Scotland were told that Holyrood would be the most powerful devolved parliament in the world.
            Two years later after Scotland (including every region in Scotland) voted to remain in EU Holyrood was ignored and sidelined in post Brexit discussions and Internal UK market was implemented against Holyrood wishes – so much for having a powerful devolved parliament.
            Scotland opting to go independent would not be exiting UK it would be ending the Union so Scexit is an incorrect and frankly patronising tone.
            As for your comments on Dumgal I would point out they voted to Remain in EU but last time I checked Dumgal, beautiful part of the country as it is, was not a nation. This is the false equivalence that many commentators south of border use to equate English counties with Scotland.
            I do agree with you about interdependence of nations and what I want is an independent and interdependent Scotland.
            This is opposed to the AngloBritish inspired Brexit vote which rejected interdependence with nearest neighbours in favour of UK either based on a British Empire nostalgia or a moving to be the 51st state of USA – I will leave it Brexit supporters to take their pick and try and explain it to the electorate in Scotland.

          7. 230823 says:

            But why is Scotland a nation and Dumgall not?

            Both are political organisations, in which a collective identity has emerged from a combination of shared features across a given population, such as language, history, ethnicity, culture, territory and/or society. Both are a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a defined territory, and sufficiently conscious of its unity to seek or to possess a government peculiarly its own. Both are ‘imagined communities’ in the sense that the material conditions exist for imagining extended and shared connections even though, for the most part, its members strangers to each other and will likely never meet. Whichever definition of ‘nation’ you choose to employ, Dumgall is as much a ‘nation’ as Scotland is.

            Nationalism is consequently an ‘invented tradition’, in which shared sentiment provides a form of collective identity and binds individuals together in political solidarity. Dumgall, the Borders, the Lothians, the Gàidhealtachd, Orkney, Shetland, Glasgow, Aberdeen, etc. all have such ‘invented traditions’ and ‘narratives of belonging’, all of which have their own political jurisdictions. Why would you deny any of them nationhood? Why would you subordinate them as mere ‘regions’ to larger imagined communities like Scotland, the UK, or Europe?

            Nations are curiously interdependent phenomena; they can nest inside one other like Russian dolls or overlap like Venn diagrams. They can never be entirely independent of one another. They also shift like shoals in the vast sea of human history.

  7. Paddy Farrington says:

    “Dugdale’s buyers regret is understandable but would be more palatable if there was a bit more remorse and a lot more contrition.” This jarred with me. Those who voted NO in 2014, and who campaigned for a No vote, are not monsters who need to apologise for anything. There is something vaguely Maoist (or is it Calvinist?) about requiring them to express contrition. Can’t we just celebrate, and welcome them with open arms? I’m just really happy that Kezia Dugdale has changed her view, and hope many others do so as well.

    1. I know what you mean Paddy, but I suppose two things: one she’s not just any No voter she was at the heart of that campaign, so i think its slightly different, second she didnt really say she’d vote Yes just she was a bit less sure now?

      1. John says:

        While I agree we should differentiate between people who voted No and politicians who campaigned for No I think there are plenty of politicians who have not questioned their No vote to criticise.
        Someone who campaigned for No but is considering switching to Yes will be of enormous benefit in helping persuade No voters to support independence. It is also a high profile acknowledgement they could have got it wrong in 2014 no matter how they explain it away and politicians rarely admit they were wrong publicly in such a manner.
        Annoying as it may be to many the potential benefits of KS and other politicians switching will be of enormous benefit in getting No voters to consider switching.
        A bit of magnanimity, no matter how bitter it may taste, will, in my opinion, achieve a lot more to achieve independence.
        We can see the effects of wrangling and bitterness already in independence movement between Alba & SNP politicians and supporters and only winners ultimately are Westminster parties.
        Post independence we need as many people in Scotland to work together to make Scotland a successful nation and we should be starting this work by ensuring all people know that regardless whether they campaigned or voted Yes or No they will be looked upon as valuable citizens in an independent Scotland.

      2. 230821 says:

        She most definitely didn’t say that she’d vote ‘Yes’. All she said was that ‘presented with a binary choice between an independent Scotland in a progressive Europe or little Boris Brexit Britain, I know where my cards would fall down’.

        Perhaps the future Scotland she envisions isn’t constrained by the implicit hierarchy of this artificial (and phallocratic, patriarchal and masculinist) dichotomy. Perhaps her feminism (which, from those of her interventions on the matter that I’ve read, seems intended to deconstruct such binary choices and open up a greater plurality of possibility) provides the contextuality of her remark.

  8. mark says:

    where do these careerists disappear to every winter, I mean I don’t expect them to be out doing actual work, but do they hibernate or what?

  9. John says:

    Reply to 230823 post of 9.54pm
    To state ‘Dumgal is as much a nation as Scotland’ can only be written by someone with total disregard for history or how their fellow countrymen see themselves.
    I give up.

    1. 230824 says:

      I’m a trained and practising historian, who has studied the history of nationalism, and I do as such appreciate why, for historical reasons, people have generally come to consider Scotland to be a ‘nation’ while Dumgall is not.

      I’m also a trained and practising philosopher, whose calling as such is to challenge – and to never give up challenging – all such traditional or inherited ways of thinking.

      1. John says:

        Well it just goes to prove that being educated doesn’t protect one from talking nonsense from time to time.
        I too have a honours science degree and diploma but I am also prone to talk crap on occasions asI am sure my friend and family would only too happily confirm.

        1. 230825 says:

          Indeed! We are all enormously complicated as individuals. We should not be afraid to contradict ourselves often and to ‘erupt like a volcano, emitting not only flame but also a lot of rubbish’ (Hugh MacDiarmid). ‘One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star’ (Friedrich Nietzsche). ‘It’s the only way I ken/To dodge the curst conceit o’ bein’ richt/That damns the vast majority o’ men (MacDiarmid again!).

  10. Joe Middleton says:

    This is good news. I quite like Dugdale and it is good she is rethinking her position. Henry McLeish has also been moving in the right direction for some time. I just wish these prominent Labour figures would do something about their anti-independence stance while they are in power rather than when they have effectively left politics and can do little about it. Still support from any quarter for independence is welcome and it takes guts to change your mind after campaigning for the other side for years.

    1. John says:

      I agree Joe especially as there appears to be an impasse with no obvious route to independence with S30 rejected and public support stuck at around 50% . I think that high profile members of unionist parties coming out in favour of independence (especially Labour members) could be a way to persuading voters currently sceptical of independence to switch to Yes side.
      While it would have been better if they had been more voluble when in office the reality is they would have been sacked for expressing these views. It may also be that it is the experience of office that has informed their current views.
      Whatever the case it is good news they are now more open minded about independence and challenging their previous convictions- something that it is not easy especially for a high profile politician.
      If we criticise them all we are doing is pushing them back to their previous held position and making it more difficult for others, who are thinking of changing their position to make the move and be public about.
      Annoying as their previous support for No vote was their is nothing for Yes side to gain by not welcoming them to potentially independence.

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