It’s been four days since I woke up to the result of the EU referendum and it has taken a while for the stress hormones to settle. I voted Remain because my instinct is internationalist not nationalist. I believe that connection is better than disconnection, that there are changes on the way that we need to address together, not by dividing and closing each other off. And on a more pragmatic note, I believe that the cost of undoing our ties to the EU will be higher than any possible benefit.
So of course I am dismayed, not to say devastated, by this result and even more by the outburst of xenophobia that has followed, as the closet racists come out, feeling free to voice and act their hate in the belief that their view has been vindicated. I am sure that they are wrong, and that most of the 52% who voted Leave are no more racist than anyone else.
But I am also dismayed by the repeated description of the result by the media and politicians in terms of ‘the voice of the people’ or ‘the country has spoken’. This panders to the idea that there is a unified thing, the country, that has spoken with one voice, expressed one view, in this referendum. But that is absolutely clearly not the case. 52%/48% (of a 72% turnout) is not by any stretch of the imagination unity. If anything it demonstrates two views, almost equally balanced. If only 2% more had voted Remain the balance would be perfect and no decision could be made based on this referendum. (And Farage, who is now claiming a win while squirming out of promises and forgetting that a good person died not two weeks ago, said before the vote that 52/48 the other way would not count as conclusive!)
Apparently some Leave voters are already regretting or doubting their choice, as the promises made start to unravel and real things are happening affecting real people. And some are saying they never expected Leave to win, they were voting on the assumption that it would make no difference to the status quo, as a protest against the powers that be, or a gut instinct in favour of ‘sovereignty’ and against ‘those bureaucrats in Brussels’. This assumption is not surprising as for years it has seemed that voting does make no difference, the parties pursue much the same policies as each other, politicians regularly break their promises and are ‘all as bad as each other’. The only votes that have an effect are frivolous ones, on reality shows, for would-be pop idols and chefs. Democracy seems to be broken, but this referendum has done nothing to repair it.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could follow the example set by Boaty McBoatface, and summon David Attenborough to sort it all out? Or failing that, that people of good will, whether Leave or Remain, stand up together and say clearly we reject bigotry and demand a more honest politics.
Copyright ©2016 F. Watts