Thousands marched to protest about Donald Trump’s suspect election and anarchic presidency yet we learn the Brexit vote was corrupt and the streets are empty.
Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow all had demos against Trump numbering in the thousands.
There have been anti-Brexit marches in the capital, attended by small crowds. It seems we are appalled at the destructive Trump but restrained on the corruption of our nation.
The Electoral Commission found Vote Leave broke spending limits by nearly £500,000. In all elections and referendums there are fixed budgets to prevent democracy becoming a poker game for high rollers. Vote Leave have been fined.
Two people have been referred to police, which suggests something criminal may have occurred.
This comes on top of the evidence that two people heavily involved in the other main Brexit campaign, Leave.EU, Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore, had multiple meetings with Russian officials in the run-up to the referendum.
The vote to leave the EU was in June 2016. In November of that year, the US held its general election. There was much talk among the American electorate about how the Brexit vote showed people-power could triumph over established government. Trump was to the US what Brexit was to the UK. And Trump prevailed.
Both seem to have had close connections to Russia. This week, the US Justice Department indicted 12 Russian nationals on charges on hacking the emails and computers of senior Democratic party officials before the 2016 presidential vote. We already know there were meetings between Trump associates and Russian officials prior to the ballot. The former security adviser Michael Flynn has admitted lying to the FBI about these.
Due to the investigative work by journalist Carole Cadwalladr, we know there were multiple meetings between Banks and Wigmore.
She has also revealed private email exchanges between the two show a desire to defend Russia against accusations of being set to benefit from Brexit. Trump dazzles us with his brazen behaviour to the point we are distracted from our own crisis. Perhaps this is what Russia intended – a grand misdirection from the crime of dismantling the post-war European order?
In the US, Russian involvement in the presidential campaign is being investigated by a special prosecutor.
Robert Mueller has the power to call anyone in, to raid the president’s lawyers’ offices, to indict whoever he sees fit. We laugh at American democracy, unable to notice it has checks and balances absent from the UK.
There is no special prosecutor linking the use of poison on British soil, apparently from Russian sources, with the evidence Russia has also interfered in our democracy. No one is tasked with linking the involvement of Russian hacking in the Scottish referendum with the Brexit vote in Brexit.
No prosecutor is asking why so little has been done to challenge Russia on the poisoning or ask about Boris Johnson, who was intimately linked with the Vote Leave campaign and was foreign secretary at the time of the poison attacks.
Some of this is habit – we are used to protesting at the US presidents thought to be stupid, venal or both. Shouting at America is an old sport that carries no risk. British criticism of the USA has always implied a moral superiority. Yet the evidence shows we are a far lesser democracy, unable to hold an honest vote, unable to hold power to account.
We muddle through. Sure, the vote may have been corrupt in parts, but did that really make a difference to the outcome? We have yet to see a link between Russian meddling and budget excess with the electorate of Dundee so how can we be sure the foul play had any effect?
This feeling continues into the proposal of another vote – how would a second vote be different to the first one?
The issue – Brexit – is far more confused and complex than it was two years ago. It is not clear what question a second vote would ask, and if that would be any better at getting at the truth of what is possible and what isn’t.
This is to miss the point. Muddling through won’t cut it. It’s not another referendum we need – it’s a criminal inquiry into the conduct of British democracy. Asking for another vote before we have worked out what was wrong and corrupt about the first seems foolish. Dubbing it a “people’s vote” smacks of a horrible snobbery – as if the people were pro-European and the Brexiteers were not.
We need a full investigation by an independent agency, able to call any witness and access any information, in the style of a US special prosecutor.
Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – the latter was also closely linked to Vote Leave – need to account for what they knew. Banks and Wigmore need to be investigated for what they traded in return for any Russian support.
Before we vote again, we need to rebuild our democracy, creating stronger checks on a reckless political class. Right now, Trump isn’t the joke – we are.