Not surprisingly, as with the Scottish independence referendum, Brexit has been the topic of thousands of impassioned debates on Mumsnet and Gransnet.
We’re often told that the British electorate is apathetic and disengaged, but these two referendums indicate that it’s more a case of them being uninspired by what’s on offer. Presented with an issue of real significance and a genuine choice between two very different outcomes, it’s a different story. I sometimes describe Mumsnet as being the digital equivalent of conversations in a pub or around the kettle at work; in both contexts, Brexit was up for debate.
Since 23 June, the Brexit conversations have continued with gusto. Initially, the tone was emotional; disbelief and anger among Remainers, jubilance among Leavers. Quite quickly, though, our users also engaged with the meat of the matter, and many are now fluent in the New Brexit Vocabulary of non-tariff trade barriers, four freedoms and banking passports.
Those who work in finance, manufacturing or multinational corporations bring a certain level of expertise to the table; many are glum, but some are reporting upturns in takings and trade as the pound tumbles.
Among those who are less well-versed, there’s a sense that if someone is in charge, it would be welcomed if they could make themselves known. The government’s refusal to give a running commentary on its negotiating strategy may make tactical sense, but it isn’t doing much to reassure people who have never previously had to pay much attention to WTO rules.
More immediate questions concern what will happen in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Quite a few non-Scottish Mumsnet users are now saying that they would understand if the Scots chose to break away; among Leave voters there seems to be a mixture of acceptance and irritation, as well as a belief that economic realities will prevent a new referendum any time soon.
Discussions about the borders and potential customs posts between the Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland are shot through with some genuine anxiety about upsetting the delicate balance of peace in the region; many Mumsnet users are old enough to remember the violence of earlier decades.
The mention of borders brings us to the other main debating point: immigration to the UK, and parallel questions about the status of UK nationals who live abroad in EU countries.
Mumsnet discussions reflect those taking place elsewhere, with a meeting of minds between those who advocate for the benefits of freedom of movement, and those who believe that its impact on local communities and services has been underestimated.
Perhaps most strikingly, there’s still a lot of emotion on all sides, and little consensus.
Three months after the Scottish referendum, it had largely ceased to be a matter of active debate on Mumsnet – but there’s no sign of the wind going out of the Brexit sails in the same way. And goodwill and understanding seem to be in short supply.
NB: When we surveyed the users of Mumsnet and Gransnet before the referendum, they reflected Lord Ashcroft’s demographic findings pretty accurately; Mumsnet users (mostly under 40 and degree educated) broke in favour of Remain by roughly two-thirds to a third, while Gransnet users (mostly aged between 50 and 70, and more likely to have left education without degrees) broke almost the same way towards Leave.
Measurement and evaluation