“People don’t remember what you say, they remember how you made them feel,” says Magid Magid, a campaigner for the UK’s Green Party.
The 29-year-old from Sheffield doesn’t lack energy, enthusiasm or bravery for that matter: a Somali-born bloke campaigning in a black T-shirt that proclaims ‘Immigrants make Britain Great’.
The reaction to the message has been 90% positive, he says, although voters in ex-mining towns like Barnsley and Pontefract are more likely to have a go than in more genteel York.
Born in Somaliland, Magid and his family moved to Britain as refugees when he was four. In 2016, he was elected as a Sheffield councillor for the Green party, becoming Lord Mayor of the city in 2018, and establishing a reputation as a vocal champion of the city.
“I’m not someone who sits on the fence. People either like me or hate me,” says the Green’s lead candidate in the region.
The Greens have never won one of the region’s six seats before, but are set to do so on Thursday. Regional polls put them on 13% in Yorkshire and the Humber. Anything more than 10% will probably be enough to take a seat.
“I’ve never had a clear plan or anything and I never saw myself running as a politician… One of the reasons I got into politics was this campaign in 2014, when I saw the rise of Nigel Farage and all this rhetoric of hate and division…and I remember telling myself to make my part of Sheffield better,” says Magid
There was certainly no plan to become an MEP, but as his term as Lord Mayor came to a close, a Twitter storm gave his campaign the momentum “before I’d even declared as a candidate”, he says.
“Then I thought ‘fuck what have I got myself into?’”.
When I put it to Magid that the UK is in the midst of a culture war he agreed “100%”.
“We need to win that culture war about what it means to be British because Britain is having a massive identity crisis,” he says.
“If you live in a left-behind community and men in suits are telling you to vote Remain or your life’s going to get worse, you’re just going to say ‘my life already is worse’”.
The Greens have steadily built support in the region’s main cities – Leeds, Sheffield, Hull and York, and performed strongly in local elections at the start of May, gaining several hundred local councillors.
This time they are benefiting from Labour’s ambivalence over whether to support a second referendum, which has pleased neither its Remain nor Leave voters.
Anecdotal evidence in Yorkshire suggests that the Greens are picking up support from disaffected Labour voters who can’t bring themselves to vote Lib Dem, remembering the Liberal Democrats’ role in driving the austerity policies of David Cameron’s government. The Lib Dems, meanwhile, are mopping up what’s left of the pro-Remain Conservative vote.
“It’s been as a good as it could be,” Magid says of the campaign itself, having organised a ‘Tour de Magid’ of the region, “to get out there to as many people as possible.”
Despite the febrile atmosphere, the campaign has been good-natured.
“I feel like I’m quite good at disarming people even if they disagree with me. Online, I get a lot of shit,” says Magid.
“People are seeing this as a second referendum, but I wish they wouldn’t because there’s so much more to the European Union than Brexit.”
“One of the things that frustrate me about the Lib Dems is that apart from stopping Brexit I don’t really know what they stand for”
“If you want a party that wants to stop Brexit and take action on the climate emergency…you’ve got to vote Green. We are also anti-austerity,” he says.
Magid sees his role as to be visible and communicate with voters.
“I spoke to 300 people in Sheffield and said ‘can you name a single one of your MEPs’, and not a single one did. And that’s one of the problems, that MEPs are not engaging with their electorate.”
“The European Parliament doesn’t do a very good job. People just don’t know. That’s why it’s important to have a visible MEP who actually communicates,” he says.
He also talks about how the EU should set up an ‘Erasmus for Artists’ scheme.
“I would love to see an Erasmus scheme for artists, to help export our talent to Europe. In these polarising times, arts and culture is such a great way to bring people together and build a lot of bridges.”
But what happens after the results come out on Sunday evening?
“Win or lose I’ve got absolutely no idea. I’ve no plan apart from continuing to be an activist”.
“It could be five weeks, five months or five years”, he says of his plans as an MEP. “It’s hard to plan beyond a three-month strategy to try and build the most publicity.”
But a second referendum is likely to dominate the future, he thinks.
“Slowly but surely I think it’s inevitable that we’re going to have a People’s Vote. I just can’t see a way past it.”
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]