Ever since Britain voted to leave the EU, commentators have been trying to fathom why North East England voted to leave despite seemingly having the most to lose in terms of EU funding and exports.
Speaking to leave voters in the region, two themes emerge:
- Wage suppression owing to mass migration;
- The feeling that the region has been ignored and marginalised for too long. The referendum provided people with an opportunity to show the Westminster establishment what they really think of them and their policies.
This seems counter intuitive. Why use a referendum on the EU to show discontent at domestic policy? The answer is simple: the UK electoral system is broken.
Under first past the post, if you live in a safe seat and don’t vote for the incumbent party, your vote counts for very little. 79.3% of constituencies in the North East were considered safe seats at the 2015 election and nearly all of these were safe Labour seats. Adding insult to injury, only 25% of the North East voted Conservative, yet we find ourselves under the rule of a Conservative majority and our Labour MP’s belong to a completely ineffective opposition. If people feel disenfranchised, it’s because they are.
In this context, it can surely be no surprise that when people were presented with a referendum where every vote carried equal weight, turnout was high and the outcome was radical. People took their chance to be heard.
Those of us committed to devolution have seen this discontent building. Indeed, the reason we’re so committed to devolution is that we feel it ourselves. The whole point of devolution is to bring the decision-making process closer to the people affected by those decisions.
It therefore follows that electoral reform should be a cornerstone of every regionalist party’s manifesto. Not everybody has a say in how Britain is run and devolution alone cannot remedy this. Britain needs electoral reform and smaller parties from across the political spectrum can work together to achieve this.
With their shared goals, the UK’s regionalist parties are best placed to spearhead such an alliance.
In the aftermath of the historic British vote to leave the EU, openDemocracy is asking for our readers' thoughts on Brexit and what needs to happen next in 350 words. We've had an extraordinary response and you can read them all here.
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