Brexit: What's the most pro-European city in Britain?

Well, at least this lot were pro-EU. Image: AFP/Getty.

Last Thursday, Britain held a referendum, and – sit down, this may come as a shock - voted to leave the European Union. The result was close, but clear: 51.9 per cent voted leave, against 48.1 per cent for remain. (The turnout was 72.2 per cent.)

Individual areas though showed much more decisive results. Scotland and Northern Ireland went remain; England and Wales went leave. London, too, was much more enthusiastic for EU membership than either of the countries of which it's meant to be capital.

So what of Britain's other cities? What do they think of the whole thing? 

As ever, we need to define terms first. The figures in the chart below are based on local authority boundaries, which inevitably throws up oddities. It kind of makes sense for some of the smaller cities (Oxford City is as good a definition of Oxford as you’re likely to get). But it means that Manchester's number doesn't take into account the votes of people who live five minutes walk from the city centre in Salford, Birmingham's include Longbridge but not Solihull, and so forth.

It also means it's pretty difficult to come up with a fair comparison with London's vote – the only "London" authority is conurbation-wide, and so includes the sort of places that don’t make the cut in most of the other major cities. There's no right answer as to how to make the fairest comparison; so I've included stats for both Inner London, and Greater London, just to get a sense. 

Now that’s all out of the way, here's a chart showing the percentage of voters opting for remain in 30 selected British cities.

Click to expand.

Major cities are generally more pro-European than the UK-wide average: of the 30 on this chart, only seven fall below the national average. (That doesn't necessarily translate to "Remain" getting more than 50 per cent of the vote, however, and Leave won a majority in five more.)

Inner London is more EU-friendly than any British city except Edinburgh (another place heavily dependent on financial services), and Cambridge (university town, pretty international, and a place, one imagines, where the EU's spending on science is at its most visible).

For once, the standard regional pattern that tends to pop up in these things is nowhere to be seen. Scottish cities are generally more pro-remain, but otherwise, the results are all over the map. If there is a trend, it’s that struggling post-industrial cities are generally more Eurosceptic than those with big cultural or service industries.

There are exceptions, though: Dundee is quite pro-European (the Scotland effect at work); Southend and Portsmouth aren't. It was said before the vote that the biggest predictor of whether someone was voting Remain was whether they had a degree; that would seem to fit with these results.

The big question, though, is – what on earth is going on Birmingham that makes it so much less pro-European than every other of Britain's major conurbations?

As we noted at the start, though, in the larger conurbations, these figures only represent the key local authority, rather than the larger city region. We'll look at those another day.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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Vanilla Skybus: George Romero and Pittsburgh’s metro to nowhere

A prototype Skybus on display near Pittsburgh. Image: BongWarrior/Wikimedia Commons.

The late director George A Romero’s films are mainly known for their zombies, an association stretching from his first film, 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, to his last as director, 2009’s Survival of the Dead.

But many of them are also a record of Pittsburgh, the city he lived and worked in, and other locations in the state of Pennsylvania in the late 20th century. Martin (1978), for example, isn’t just a movie about a kid who thinks he’s a vampire: it’s a moving portrayal of the post-industrial decay of the Pittsburgh borough of Braddock.

Though born in New York, Romero studied in Pittsburgh and stayed in the city after graduation, shooting commercials as part of the successful Latent Image agency. It was in collaboration with advertising colleagues that he shot his debut Night of the Living Dead. On both that movie and subsequent films, Romero and his colleagues used their experience and connections from the agency to secure cheap and striking locations around the city and state. 

It’s in Romero’s little-seen second film, 1971’s romantic drama There’s Always Vanilla, that a crucial scene touches on a dead end in the history of urban transport in Steel City.

In the scene Vietnam vet Chris, only recently returned to town after a failed music career, sees his father off on a train platform, after an evening where Chris got his dad stoned and set him up with a stripper. (It was the early 1970s, remember.) An odd little two-carriage metro train pulls up on an elevated concrete platform, Chris’ father rides away on it, and then Chris literally bumps into Lynn, whom he then both gaslights and negs. (It was the ‘70s.) You can see the scene here.

A screenshot from There's Always Vanilla, showing the Skybus through a chain link fence.

If you don’t live in Pittsburgh, you might assume that funny little train, still futuristic forty years on, is just an everyday way of getting around in the exciting New World. Who knows what amazing technology they have over there, right?

In fact, the Transit Expressway Revenue Line, more snappily referred to as the Skybus, not only doesn’t exist today: it hardly existed at all, beyond what we see in that short scene. In the 1960s there were plans to replace Pittsburgh’s street car system with a more up to date urban transit system. The Skybus – driverless, running on rubber tires on an elevated concrete track with power provided with an under rail system – drew enough support from the Port Authority and Federal Government for them to fund a short demonstration track at the Allegheny County Fair, at that point a local institution.

It’s this demonstration track and train that appears in There’s Always Vanilla. Film makers love isolated systems like this, or the UK’s many heritage railways, because they allow for multiple takes and a controlled environment. So it made sense for Romero to use this local curio rather than seek access to an in-use station.


The sequence in Vanilla shows that the Skybus system worked, and as a potential metro system it looks quite striking to this day with its curved windows and distinctive logo. But the proposed system wasn’t popular with everyone, and cost concerns and political wrangling stalled the project – until it was finally rejected in favour of a more conventional steel wheel on steel rail transit system.

The demonstration track was pulled up in 1980, although the small station and platform seen in the movie remains: Romero expert Lawrence Devincentz narrates a photo tour of the building on the blu ray of There’s Always Vanilla.

Vanilla was renamed and barely seen on release, but is now available as part of a boxset of Romero’s early works from Arrow Video, in ridiculously pristine 2K digital transfer. The Skybus is there too, a curio of Pittsburgh history caught on a few short minutes of film. Neglected back then, both seem considerably more interesting now.

‘There’s Always Vanilla’ is available on blu ray as part of Arrow’s ‘George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn’ box set, and will receive a standalone release later this year.

Mark Clapham used to work in rail regulation, but now writes things like this. He tweets as @markclapham.