Brexit Reflections - When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die

Kirstein Rummery explains that the key to the outcome (as indeed to the independence referendum in 2014) seems to be people’s attitude to risk.

So, the decision to take a fight that was never really finished in the Eton tuck shop about the leadership of the Conservative party out onto the streets of the UK appears to have backfired. Over 17m people in the UK voted to leave the EU in a result that took everyone, particularly the leaders of both sides, by surprise.

Lord Ashcroft’s poll indicates that people votes on clear income, age, class and regional divides. Older voters, low income voters, people without children; people living in deprived areas of Wales, the Northwest and Southwest voted overwhelmingly to leave; younger voters, voters in the higher income and education bracket, people with children, and Scotland, Northern Ireland and London voted overwhelmingly to remain.

The key to the outcome (as indeed to the independence referendum in 2014) seems to be people’s attitude to risk. Ashcroft summed it up thus:

  • More than three quarters (77%) of those who voted to remain thought “the decision we make in the referendum could have disastrous consequences for us as a country if we get it wrong”. More than two thirds (69%) of leavers, by contrast, thought the decision “might make us a bit better or worse off as a country, but there probably isn’t much in it either way”.

In the short term, of course, the Remain camp called it right: we see a leadership crisis and a fundamental political split in both the Conservative and Labour parties, the economy has gone into freefall, and there has been a significant and worrying rise in racial abuse reported. My own inbox is filled with worried emails from EU students and colleagues worried not just about their future but about their present circumstances: the shock of waking up to a country where, if Ashcroft is to be believed, over 5 million of your fellow citizens actively want you GONE is profound.

It is too soon to predict the long term outcome: the most dramatic scenario is that the UK never recovers from the current economic freefall predicted by both sides; that we do our Walk of Shame as we exit the EU punished as brutally as possible to deter future possible Exiters; that this triggers a second independence referendum in Scotland won under the seemingly calm leadership of Nicola Sturgeon ; and that the shockwaves across Europe in terms of economic instability and the rise of the Far Right last beyond a generation.

Or, possibly, there’s a wee bit of tumult as the Game of Thrones is played out in the corridors of Brussels and Westminster, an amicable Article 50 settlement is reached (or indeed they never call our bluff and the EU gives enough concessions to make the triggering of it unnecessary), everyone calms down and ordinary citizens go on with their lives, travelling, working, studying as if nothing happened.

I don’t believe this, but then again, I never thought Jon Snow would come back to life either, so I am one of the hundreds of ‘experts’ who got this wrong. I hope I am wrong again.


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University of Stirling
27th June 2016
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