Dr Stuart Connor, Reader in Social Welfare
In a time of ‘bregrets’, Dr Stuart Connor, Reader in Social Welfare at the University of Wolverhampton, reveals how research at the University of Wolverhampton is identifying and developing potential scenarios for medium to long term futures.
Following the results of the European referendum, we may now know that a slim majority of the United Kingdom no longer wishes to be in the European Union, but beyond this, we appear to be faced with an ever growing sense of uncertainty as to what happens next? There are a number of immediate unknowns and related speculations. Who will be the next Conservative leader? Will there be a Labour leadership contest? Will there be an Irish unity poll? Will Scotland seek a second independence referendum? What will happen to the economy? What will be the terms of Brexit? Will Parliament reject the result and block Brexit? And in the absence of a clear mandate, will there an early general election or second EU referendum? As it stands, there are already a number of people feeling 'bregret' and that little will be done to address the many concerns expressed during the course of the campaign. Beyond these immediate concerns, what will be the impact of Brexit on our medium and long term futures?
The result of the EU referendum does appear to show that those campaigning to leave were effective in campaigning for what they were against, but less effective or interested in showing what they were for. Given the diverse range of opinion on both sides EU debate, it is not surprising that it is more difficult to identify a clear vision or plan for what a post EU UK could or should be. The referendum also appeared to reveal an appetite for facts in the debate and although a desire to negotiate the maze of claims and counter claims made by both sides is understandable, particularly given what has come to light since the vote closed, it should also be remembered that there are no future facts, only probabilities and possibilities.
In the 'competition state' scenario, the UK seeks to position itself as a strong competitor in a global marketplace. Freed from the restrictive practices of Brussels, tariffs, regulations, taxes and public spending are all cut to ensure that the UK is the place for business. As with any competition there are winners and losers. The economy and consumerism grows, as does inequality and insecurity. Ordoliberalism replaces neoliberalism, as a strong state is needed to ensure a free market. Policing and surveillance is increased to prevent anti-competitive behaviour and maintain the social order.
In contrast, in a 'green and pleasant' land scenario, leaving the EU signals the beginning of the UK's exit from the world stage towards a land that seeks to be self-sufficient and self-governing. Sustainability, community and wellbeing become the key words as the UK downscales and becomes a set of connected eco-villages and e-towns. Growth is zero and life exhibits a slower rhythm. Small and local is seen as beautiful, as regional co-operation and co-production supersedes global trade and competition.
In a 'wired world' scenario, Brexit signals the first of a number of exits and withdrawals, regionally and nationally, that lead to boundaries and regions being redrawn if not dissolved. In time, the UK, the EU or any national or regional label become seen as anachronistic, where global and cosmopolitan citizens live through a networked world. Technology becomes a driving force where the political and economic institutions of the 20th century are unable to sustain or respond to the pressures of a fast changing and complex world and are replaced with a myriad of wired governance and commercial relations, networks and practices. Jobs increasingly become automated and a global citizens' income and intelligence led feedback systems help ensure sustainable lifestyles.
Finally, in a 'Fortress World' scenario a global crisis leads to near apocalyptic and catastrophic events. The world is marked by fragmentation, environmental crisis, institutional failure and economic collapse. Control over the world's diminishing natural resources is secured by authoritarian elites and militarised groups within protected enclaves. The UK is chaotic and disordered. An impoverished and increasingly nomadic majority seek to survive by crossing borders and gaining access to the remaining fortified areas of relative order and security.
On first reading, some of these scenarios may seem familiar, others, far-fetched. However, these scenarios are not intended as predictions of what is to come, but to help explore, create, and assess the broadest set of conditions that we may all potentially face. A closer look also reveals that what may appear to be an outlandish future to some is an all too real present for others. In this way, scenarios can help us to consider the actual and potential relationships between possible, probable and desirable futures and the diverse realities that people across the UK and the world live in today.
Returning to the referendum and the question of 'what happens next?' what is clear is that the Brexit debate is far from over? The EU referendum has helped shed considerable light on where we are now, but has done little to illuminate or determine where we will be in the future. For those hoping that a vote for Brexit would send a clear message, as it stands the message is mixed and its implications for the future unclear. Scenarios can help us to consider how we could and should move towards our possible and probable futures and in which direction political and economic leaders are hoping to take us. It is argued that it is this ability to anticipate and help shape the future where an appetite for control is to be sated and how we can all begin to take responsibility for what happens next?
Stuart Connor has a background in policy analysis and is currently a Reader in Social Welfare at the University of Wolverhampton. In books published to date, 'Social Policy for Social Welfare professionals', co-authored with Graeme Simpson, and 'What's Your Problem?, a recurrent theme is to not only understand the impact that policies have on people's lives, but to also explore how people can and should have an impact on policies and future practices. This is reflected in Stuart’s current research on the future of social welfare and the nature and role of utopias in policy and practice.