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Never mind a Brexit recession, Leave voters don't believe in climate change

Leave voters' disregard for the facts extends far beyond the NHS and the economy. 

Last night, lead campaigners from both the Leave and the Remain camps participated in the BBC’s live “Great Debate” on the EU referendum at Wembley Arena.
 
Pounding the table with arguments about unelected Brussels burdening us with regulations, the Leave campaign again did its best to avoid facts. Instead, the appeal was to hard-wired instincts of English exceptionalism  The New York Times refers to this as a campaign “with sharp tones of xenophobia, racism, nativism and Islamophobia.” 
 
How does the Leave campaign get away with this on such a consistent basis?
 
Facts appear not to be a major priority for many Leave voters. That is clear when you look at science. In a ComRes poll of 1,616 prospective voters, Leave supporters were revealed to be much more likely to question science, climate change and evolution.

Vote Leave for climate change denial

Many on the Leave side seem to distrust both the scientific community and British media. Nearly half think scientists and academics have too much influence over British politics. Two in three believe that the media exaggerates the level of scientific consensus on climate change.

This divide is particularly clear when it comes to climate change. One in five Brexit supporters disagree that humans cause climate change. In fact, Leave voters are almost twice as likely as Remain voters to deny manmade climate change. 

And when it comes to a far more well-established scientific theory, evolution, Brexit supporters are even more sceptical. Nearly half of Leave voters agree that those who question evolution “have a point”.
 
This discord does not only pose a challenge for British academics and journalists. Such beliefs also create fertile ground for false claims and emotive statements which are not grounded in reality. And that extends to arbitrary allegations about Europe and immigration.
 
One of the defining moments of the referendum campaign came when Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston loudly quit Leave. She called the claim Brexit would free up £350 million a week for the NHS "simply not true". Yet the Leave campaign continued to plaster the false claim on buses. And with one week to go to the vote, pollsters Ipsos Mori found nearly half of Brits still believed it.

The facts point in one direction

Drawing the line directly from science to the uncomfortable referendum debate we find ourselves in may not be clear cut. 
 
But the case of NHS statistics show the way people choose to judge – or not to judge – facts has everything to do with the referendum debate.
 
After all, there is overwhelming consensus of the damage Britain could do to its economy by leaving the EU. There is evidence from the Bank of England, HM Treasury, the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, PwC, Oxford Economics, the Centre for Economic Performance and others. 
 
The Leave campaign would never have been able to make many of its claims if more voters were prone to fact-checking and less prone to fear-mongering. 
 
It’s also worth asking why climate change isn’t higher on the agenda. This is particularly odd given that immigration has been a main point of discussion. Unless we increase our efforts against climate change significantly, future levels of climate refugees will dwarf what we see in Europe today
 
Serious topics, however, require careful examination of the facts. And these make it clear that remaining in the EU is the best choice for Britain’s future and for the climate.

Assaad W. Razzouk is a Lebanese-British clean energy entrepreneur, investor and commentator. He is Group Chief Executive and Co-Founder of Sindicatum Sustainable Resources.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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