In March 2018, there was a public scandal about the data firm Cambridge Analytica, which had illegally used Facebook data to manipulate voting intentions to influence the 2016 EU Referendum. Remainers everywhere took this as a sign that clearly the vote was illegitimate, because people could not be trusted to understand what they were voting on. Those of us who voted Leave from principle saw things somewhat differently.

Published below is a Facebook post of a friend of mine that she posted in March 2018, and one of the sub-threads that followed. I publish it in full, rather than extracting my own comments, because I think the arguments raised show up a constant assumption on the part of Remain voters that the Leave vote was illegitimate because Leave voters are too stupid to understand what they were voting for. When I call this out, I often end up with a motte-and-bailey response from Remain voters that they weren’t saying that at all, even though they quite blatantly were. This conversation, in which we ended up discussing demographic data about the respective education levels and travel opportunities of Remain versus Leave voters even though all of the Leave proponents involved have degrees and travel regularly, was the most egregious example of this that I have encountered. When I have such conversations, it feels like when you’re having arguments over scientific racism: you can feel like you’re just discussing statistics, but at the end of the day, you are trying to prove one demographic group as inferior to another from a place of bigotry looking for a justification. If you believe in democracy, then everyone’s vote is equally valid, and you cannot reasonably argue that people should have less of a voice compared to others on grounds of age or education.

Hannah: “So now it’s campaign funding that swung the Leave vote? After the ‘liberals’ have exhausted racism, lack of education, age, regional provenance and (apparently) dislike of cheap holidays (rather than the systemic issues of the EU which they promised to fix during the campaigning)…this is getting ridiculous. It’s 18 months later and everyone would be better served fighting for a good deal rather than still having a strop at not getting their own way, especially given the way we’re currently being treated by EU leaders.”

Andrea: “”After the ‘liberals’ have exhausted racism, lack of education, age, regional provenance and (apparently) dislike of cheap holidays”

Well that’s slightly prejudiced isn’t it? :D both Remain and Leave votes have overall demographics, that’s a statistical fact. Being judgemental about it is a whole other story.

It matters to me that e.g. there is a higher proportion of people who do not travel amongst leave voters. Or a higher proportion of older people. Or a higher proportion of poorly educated people.

It matters to me that older ( =different, shorter outlook on life), less travelled and less educated ( =less likely to understand complex events) voters may have restricted the ability of younger, better travelled, better educated people to thrive and go about their lives.

To me, this is the equivalent of accountants ruling that GPs must not give flu jabs to children. It’s just not their competence.

That’s the harm people do when they dumb down a subject as complex as this to a Yes or No question.”

Hannah: “But it’s all phrased in a way implying that the speaker is immune to propaganda and cleverer than everyone else, which I find irritating at best and prejudiced at worst. Why are young people better at voting for the ‘right’ thing? They’re typically impulsive and short sighted whilst older people voted for the EU the first time and have seen the last thirty years of history and change. And not going to university doesn’t make you incapable of understanding complex issues.”

Daniel: “On this point, what do you make of the fact that numerous surveys have found a clear divide in education levels? Those who left school before their A Levels voted 70% for Leave compared with 32% of those with degrees (YouGov). 61% of managerial or professional workers voted Remain, while 66% of manual or non-workers voted Leave.

Contrary to what you claim, it actually does appear that in a very objective way, Remain voters were “cleverer”.”

Hannah: “Does that automatically mean that they make better decisions or should be allowed votes over less ‘clever’ people?

Daniel: “Furthermore, of voters who admitted to researchers that they paid “little or no attention” to political issues, 63% (YouGov) or 58% (Ashcroft) voted for Leave. Those who said they paid “a lot aof attention” to such debates backed Remain 55 to 45 (YouGov) or were split 50-50 (Ashcroft).

“And not going to university doesn’t make you incapable of understanding complex issues.”

Of course not, in the same way that driving a car blindfolded doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to crash. It just makes it a lot more likely.”

Sarah: “Do you think the Remainers who kept telling me that if I just voted Remain, everything would be fine, we would reform the EU from within, don’t worry, actually had some plan for how this would occur or were they also just repeating what their side told them? Or is it just Leavers who were expected to have a strategy for every aspect of Britain’s position in the international order for the next 15 years? Such great expectations for such poorly educated peons.

Andrea: “Sarah, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. To quote James O’Brien of LBC radio, I am still waiting to hear what European laws are oppressing us and we are so excited to repeal.”

Reuben: “As a left wing exiter I’m surrounded by people who disagree with me on the European question. Most of them don’t approach the issue with unwarranted superciliousness about how many foreign holidays their opponents have been on.

Andrea: “And you are implying I did that?”

Sarah: “That’s exactly what you did, yeah: “It matters to me that e.g. there is a higher proportion of people who do not travel amongst leave voters. “”

James: “Is a dangerous one to ask to both Reuben and Sarah who have both written about specific laws they hate but particularly the process for making them (such as how hard it is to physically protest against the EU unlike being able to march outside parliament square despite them trying not to)

They have talked about it and blogged out it quite a bit:

Admittedly its less serious about the specific law and more about the process.”

James: “(For me its the customs union which I see as very racist concept of old white colonialists uniting to keep the blacks, browns and yellows of Africa, India and China.

I find it uncomfortable making it basically easy for white people to come to the UK with the EU freedom of movement but really hard again for people from those countries. Whenever people in the UK talk about the EU they go on about how much better it is to except loads of immigrants, but the EU suddenly stop talking about the positives of immigration if its africans trying to move here)

I’m looking forward to being able to make trade deals with India… if Teresa May doesn’t screw it up again.

Oh and I am very nervous about the EU’s laws regarding the right to be forgotten. Something I find quite upsetting about criminals being able to force google to hide what they did… I don’t know exactly what I think about it but I saw no public debate about it and have no idea how I’d go about campaigning against it if I wanted to)”

Andrea: “(data source: Office for National Statistics) Chart 3

James: “They aren’t suggesting you’re incorrect about how many holidays the majority of leave voters have been on but they are saying that it’s both an irrelevant fact to bring up in this particular debate and also is a point that comes across in a “haughty manner” i.e., suggesting you’re better then everyone else.

The graph won’t help because even if it’s true 1) it doesn’t apply to Hannah, Sarah or Reuben and 2) it doesn’t matter if it was true. It’s an ad hominem. (I had to look up the work superciliousness to understand it, generally I am not a fan of larger words)

Andrea: “Thanks James. The data hopefully clarifies that there was no judgement on my part when mentioning (among other facts) that leave voters (as a whole) appear to be less-travelled than remain voters. Most importantly, there was never an implication that this should apply to Hannah, Sarah or Rubens – the conversation was about the Leave and Remain campaigns in general. It is significant because it suggest that it is (mostly) people who chose *not* to exercise a right who are taking that same right away from others.”

James: “I don’t see how it is significant and in fact it’s a normal part of politics. People who wanted to ban fox hunting usually didn’t go fox hunting themselves.

But its not that relevant because its just going to make it harder to travel to specific mostly white countries again, and probably not that hard either as travelling to the US isn’t really that hard.

Its hard to take your point genuinely because most people do not use the term “less-travelled” as a mere neutral description. Usually calling someone less travelled has negative connotations that they are usually less wise to the way the world works and therefore their views are less valid then others.

So 1) it’s normal for a group to vote in a such a way that impedes other people doing something. That is literally why we have politics because unfortunately sometimes things that benefit me might not benefit you.

2) it’s a dangerous phrase to use without sounding superior

And finally 3) it’s not really relevant to Cambridge Analytica which was what Hannah was initially talking about.”

Andrea: ““For me its the customs union which I see as very racist concept of old white colonialists uniting to keep the blacks, browns and yellows of Africa, India and China.”

Fair enough! That’s a great point actually. Why not reform the EU from within and make Britain the leading force in the bloc? Instead, over the years the UK has mostly looked at Brussels with disdain. We kept our currency (thank goodness for that), opted out of Schengen, and retained a number of other privileges which effectively put the UK “half-in-half-out” making many other member states quite envious. People on the continent don’t really understand why we joined in the first place, if our intention was to piss on the EU and act like snobs.

Also (although it is an important issue!) would it justify, alone, embarking on the referendum and all the mess that followed?”

James: “I would love reform from within as I like some aspects of the EU a great deal. I didn’t personally vote leave but more and more wished I had at the time. For a good couple of years before the referendum I followed with great interest any credible individual putting forward a plan of exactly how we might reform the EU. I saw a talk with Yannis [Varoufakis] the Greek ex minister and Slavoj Žižek where Yannis put forward his views on how to reform it (both terrible, not enough and doomed to fail). Sarah wrote an excellent blog post about the history of EU reforms and how they always went in the wrong direction. There is a movement now that is much more credible, but it’s still too little, too late and I really can’t see it succeeding.

The reason why we joined in the first place is because of the people at the time who voted for it. We were told it was just a trading community. It’s become more than that and we didn’t vote for more than that.”

Sarah: “We have never reformed the EU from within. The EU do not care about our thoughts on reform. The only time Remainers started talking earnestly about reforming the EU was when they realised the power of the vote lies in every citizen and not just in the hands of Europhiles, and they would have to something other than the smug contempt of the safe seat. I never heard what exactly this reform campaign would look like or how people intended to support it when we weren’t in the middle of a referendum campaign, but I assure you, I have been banging on about this for at least the last 15 years and not one subsequent Remainer gave a damn about EU reform in any of those years, so forgive my (Euro)skepticism. I was completely shocked, as indeed was everyone who voted Leave in this thread that we actually won, because this has been a cause I have been hopelessly fighting for a very very long time and most of us thought the march to federalism was unstoppable. Alhamdulillah!

“The data hopefully clarifies that there was no judgement on my part when mentioning (among other facts) that leave voters (as a whole) appear to be less-travelled than remain voters.”

I really don’t know what it means to you to judge something, but that is literally the definition on what you are doing here. Of all the facts in the world, you looked at them, and then decided that “what matters to me”, ie, you reached a judgement, is it is of significance that Leavers travel abroad less often than Remainers. The implication, given the other facts that you chosen to present about education level, is that Leavers are too uncouth to understand the benefits of EU membership and if only they got out a bit more, they might develop the sophistication and aspirational ambitions of the Remainers.

The fact that maybe the reason that the demographics of people who voted Leave is such that they are much less likely to be able to afford to travel, at all, let alone internationally; the fact that maybe that because they are older and more working class, Leavers are more likely to have children and caring responsibilities and thus cannot just take off backpacking round Europe; or the fact that being more working class means the work Leavers do is more likely to be in precarious work which may be zero hours, or require multiple part time jobs in order to pay the bills, so taking leave to take a minibreak to Iceland is a frivolous option not open to them, all appear to be facts that did not occur to you when you made your comment. I wonder why you could not consider more charitable explanations for the correlations you described as important when determining their relevance to your argument – but you did not. That is why you’re being judgemental.”