Caution – some strong language ahead.
So. How about that referendum, eh? Pretty wild stuff. Pretty wild.
I’ve had a day or so to process the result (51.9% in favour of leaving the European Union, in case you haven’t been keeping an eye out), but it still makes my mind reel a bit. I feel disappointed, angry, but most of all I feel just a little bit sweary. So let’s get into it.
There are several things about this result that make me worried, but let’s start with the numbers. The total turnout for the vote was 72.2% according the BBC, which is historically high. That’s important on its own merits – people caring enough about the issues to actually get out and take an active role in democracy should be encouraged. But we shouldn’t miss the fact that this still leaves over a quarter of the electorate missing from an historic and important vote – almost 13 million people.
When I see a number that large I’m confirmed in my support of compulsory voting laws, which Australia, for example, has been making use of since the early 20th century. Don’t support any candidates in an election, or any options in an open vote like this? That’s totally fine – get down to your polling station anyway and spoil your ballot. I cannot stress this enough: this is an option. Your voice gets heard, and your politicians don’t get to sideline your views by saying ‘well, they didn’t vote so obviously they don’t care anyway’. I’m obviously not saying that every single one of those votes would have joined the Remain camp and seen us soar into victory, but it would at least have been (a) truly representative and (b) possibly a little more decisive.
Which brings me onto my next point – I, for one, feel extraordinarily uncomfortable about the closeness of the result. If everything goes ahead and Britain activates Article 50 to leave the EU (and there are a few dim rays of hope on that front), I don’t like the idea that 48% of the country is essentially being told to go and, if you’ll pardon the language, fuck themselves. I felt the same in the wake of the Scottish independence referendum a couple of years ago, where the results came out 55:45. I was totally in support of Scotland remaining the UK at the time, but I recognised then and now that much work needed to be done to improve the relationship between the country and Westminster. But when the results came in, it was treated as an overwhelming victory, despite the fact that almost 2 million people were so disillusioned with the way the country stood in the United Kingdom that they would rather brave independence than carry on with it. How’s that for the democratic process?
I don’t see why we don’t have something like a two-thirds majority rule on things like this (and it plays into our first-past-the-post system in general elections as well, but that’s a rant for another day). If a vote doesn’t hit that sweet spot, well, hey – perhaps it’s a complicated and nuanced issue that shouldn’t be decided by a disillusioned and overwhelmed public with no experience or in-depth knowledge of the issues presented and bogged down with misinformation and scaremongering from all angles? Perhaps it’s time to see what experts think (oh, hang on, never mind, Michael Gove says that we’ve had enough of these pesky ‘experts’ with their ‘facts’ and ‘experience’)?
In the run-up to the vote, the idea that this question should not have been a referendum at all was, to a lot of people, anathema. I suspect that many people are changing their tune on that front since yesterday, if reports of Leave voters immediately regretting their decision are anything to go by. Every fibre of my being wants to scream at these people ‘well, what the ever-loving fuck did you think was going to happen?’ for not realising that a vote to Leave was, surprisingly enough, a vote to Leave. But I get it. I do.
We, the British public, have been taken for a ride by the political class. David Cameron called this referendum in a cynical and short-sighted attempt to score some cheap political points, massaging our egos and saying ‘yes, yes, you’re all so smart, tell us what to do on this whole EU question OK? What’s the worst that could happen?’ The fallout has been devastating – pretty much the only good news (and in context it’s not even that good) is that Cameron’s little stunt has led to his resignation. Let’s run down the ways in which we’ve all (Leave and Remain alike) been fucked over by Cameron, Boris Johnson and the other lovely and colourful characters sitting in Westminster, shall we? Altogether now!
- Nigel Farage – not an MP, not even an official member of the Leave campaign despite being one of its most vocal proponents, and yet inexplicably on every TV channel at once within minutes of the results being announced – has stated that the much-vaunted ‘give the £350 million we spend on EU membership to the NHS’ was a ‘mistake’. Now, since he has no actual political power here it’s difficult to say what this means for the Leave campaign as a whole – but if the country suddenly starts growing hospitals like an unsightly rash, I for one will be extraordinarily surprised (especially considering the real figure we pay to the EU is much lower).
- UPDATE: this NHS back-pedalling has now been echoed by Iain Duncan Smith, which gives it a bit more credibility. Hooray.
- MEP Daniel Hannan, another voice of Leave, has backtracked on his immigration policy, from ‘no more immigrants’ to ‘well, uh, we want to be part of the European single market so I guess free movement then!’, prompting Newsnight presenter Evan Davis to point out the gulf between campaign promises and reality. I would obviously like to make it clear that I support free movement and immigration – but when a bunch of people have just voted Leave in order to stamp down on that sort of thing, this is a colossal betrayal on the part of the campaign.
- David Cameron has announced his resignation, with a new Tory leader to be elected by October, prolonging the break-up between the UK and the EU. I understand not wanting to go through with it after campaigning on the side of Remain, but on the other hand – this is your own fucking fault, you spineless giblet. This is what you get when you force a referendum on such a complex and emotionally-resonant issue as this.
- The pound hit its lowest value since 1985 on Friday morning, and the markets have been struggling to recover since. Probably unrelated.
- Despite promises of continued unity within Britain from both sides, Nicola Sturgeon has announced her intention to push for a second referendum on Scottish independence, and Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness has renewed calls for a vote on Irish reunification. Again, I’m sure that’s unrelated.
There’s more – plenty more. But I need to leave for a gig in 4 minutes, so I’ll wrap this up.
Whatever has happened, whatever will happen, remember this – if you feel disillusioned about what’s going on, whether you’re a Remain voter who feels disenfranchised or a Leave voter seething with righteous rage following the campaign’s furious back-pedalling, do something about it. This website has several options, including direct contacts for political parties, organisation dedicated to governmental reform, and plenty more. Protests are happening right now (though you’ll likely need to look hard for them – somehow they never seem to make it into the mainstream media) – get out there and make your voice heard. If you don’t feel represented by the political class, tell them so. They sit in the House of Commons because we put them there, and we must make sure they follow our needs and wants in a truly democratic way. I’m rooting for all y’all.
UPDATE 28/6/16 – A few more points that have struck me the last couple of days.
- That petition for a second referendum has been going crazy. I wrote at length about it on Facebook so I won’t get too into it here, but I’ll sum up by saying that my feelings on it are to treat it, in essence, as a real protest and challenge to the political elite lying to us, messing us around and expecting to get away with it.
- There’s been an awful lot of information passed around concerning the age brackets in the vote – specifically, that older voters were significantly more likely to vote to Leave, while the young (who, it has been argued, have longer to live with the consequences of this vote) overwhelmingly voted to Remain. A YouGov poll from the day suggested that while 75% of those aged 18-24 voted to Remain, just 39% of those aged 65+ did.
- This is a tough one, as it seems momentously unfair and is so easy to jump straight into ‘the older generation have fucked us over, I hate them so much’. This is dangerous territory, though, and ageism isn’t the way to sort this whole debacle out. I know plenty of older voters who, for example, voted Remain or voted Leave under false pretences. Just as, while there are xenophobic bigots who voted Leave, not all Leave voters are xenophobic bigots, there are plenty of older voters who aren’t out to wreck your futures. In addition, turnout figures have indicated that turnout amongst the 18-25 bracket was significantly lower than in higher brackets, which can’t have helped. We need to keep our focus on challenging the power structures and systems that led to a crisis like this, rather than squabbling amongst ourselves and ladling in ad hominem arguments – like a call for lowering the voting age as in Scotland, finding ways to enthuse the younger generation on the subject of politics, and making sure that people know there are better ways to protest than simply not voting (see above re: spoiling one’s ballot).
- I heard an interesting suggestion that, amongst the even older crowd (we’re talking 80+ here) the vote was significantly more geared towards Remain – the theory runs that the generations who can better remember the perils of world wars were less willing to undermine the tentative peace of the European Union. I can’t seem to find much to support this though, so if anyone finds anything let me know!
- Much has also been made of the idea of a pro-Brexit working-class revolt within the traditionally Labour heartlands of northern England and Wales – Owen Jones has written a lot about it at the Guardian. This has no doubt contributed to Labour’s own troubles in recent days, including the no-confidence vote, the results of which have just been announced. This, I think, is one of the elements that saddens me the most – the EU has been painted as the big bad bureaucratic behemoth that has been responsible for many of the plights of the working class, and to be sure it has plenty of problems and issues, but it seems to me that in voting out the political elite of Brussels, they’ve merely legitimised the political elite of Westminster. I’m sure I’m simplifying this particular issue though, so please feel free to comment about it!
- Interestingly, it seems that the Leave vote was often strongest in areas most reliant on EU funding. I’m not sure exactly what this means – perhaps it’s that they had more interaction with the EU than other areas and got more of an insight into its inner workings, or perhaps it’s because it is easier to blame the EU, as a primary contributor to these local economies, for whatever problems have plagued them. Most infamous of these, arguably, has been Cornwall, who voted overwhelmingly in favour of Brexit but now stand to lose a significant amount of funding if it all goes through.
- An odd little, mildly ironic addendum – it seems that new member states of the European Union have to adopt the euro as a currency. So if we leave the EU and decide, a decade or two down the line, that we actually want back in, it looks likely that we’d have to adopt that hated single currency that has so many up in arms. Sad trombone indeed.
- My friend and I are on a small segment of Radio 4’s The World Tonight talking about our Brexit reactions. I’m somewhat disappointed that they only included the ‘angry, wanna break some plates’ soundbite, considering that we talked the issue through from various angles. I feel like it’s doing nothing to dispel the idea that Remainers are just throwing their toys out of the pram, and makes our justifiable anger out to be far more one-dimensional. It’s a shame, because it could have been a real platform for informed but non-officially-aligned voters like us to say our piece. Ho hum.
All in all, it’s been a weird and stressful few days. There’s still much we can do – protests and marches are happening right now, so you can get down to Trafalgar Square or Parliament and show your politicians how you feel. Half the population cannot simply have the voice ripped from their throat, not when there’s so much on the line. And especially not when it makes Donald Trump so happy (bonus points for him claiming that Scotland was overjoyed with the vote, when they as a country voted to Remain).