In the last 36 hours, many people I know have passed through the various stages of the Kübler-Ross model of grief (denial, anger, bargaining etc.) in the wake of the EU referendum. Most of them now seem to be reaching stage five, acceptance: “I’m not happy with the result of this referendum, but the people have spoken, that’s democracy, I respect and I accept it.”
I am not sure to what extent my feelings have mirrored this model. I actually felt a crushing acceptance the minute I stirred to a sombre-looking Daisy saying, “you’re not going to believe it”. Followed by the radio relaying a crowing Nigel Farage declaring “independence day”. What I do know is that unlike many people I know, I most certainly do not respect the outcome of the referendum, and I never will.
Referenda are a terrible method for a country to make a decision. A lot of people don’t seem to get this, they see a referendum as the most pure form of democracy. The problem is that politics is a complicated business. And the reason we hardly ever have referenda is because it’s a complicated business. For a demonstration of this, watch almost any comedy, drama, soap or play about politics. It’s really easy to outline a simple argument and come to a quick decision to do, or not do almost anything. But just by watching something like Yes, Prime Minister, you realise that every decision has a whole raft of unforeseen consequences.
Keeping up with the full details of each and every political issue in this country is more than a full-time job. It is for this reason that we elect and pay people to work as politicians full-time. We have a representative democracy. It’s a long way from perfect, but it is what it is. And at the very least, most important issues are debated at length by people who are, to some extent, versed in the matter at hand.
In this referendum, every issue has been boiled down to a succinct and misleading soundbite. We spend £350 million a week on the EU which we could spend on the NHS. If we leave the EU we’ll need to get a visa to go to France. We can stop immigration by leaving the EU. If we leave, people won’t get maternity or holiday pay any more. (Note that I’m using an even balance of very misleading statements that were made by both sides.)
This has led to a broadly uninformed, and misled, public. The most popular newspapers in the country, like the Daily Mail and The Sun, have run with their usual made-up shit. The most balanced and reasoned newspapers, like the Financial Times and The Economist, are read by a tiny percentage of the population. And opportunistic politicians have ridden a wave of discontent of hard-up people living in post-industrial towns in order to gain power. Just incidentally, opportunistic politicians who don’t even give their jobs as politicians their full-time attention (Boris Johnson makes hundreds of thousands of pounds a year working as a journalist, author and broadcaster).
All of this is, in a sense, by the by. The real problem here is that a decision to leave the EU is very complicated. It might not seem it. We stay or we leave, simple. Only it’s not, because the reasons we might want to stay or leave are all completely subjective. This is the fundamental problem with trying to get the whole nation on board to decide what we should do. As a country outside of the EU, we could operate in a way that would, as far as the comman man or woman is concerned, seem more integrated than we ever have been. Norway and Switzerland for example are part of Schengen (fully open borders without passport checks), and are part of the common market. To an outsider, Norway and Switzerland probably appear to be proper members of the EU in a way that the UK hasn’t been.
On the other hand, as a country outside of the EU, we could completely cut ourselves off and be like North Korea. We could have no trade agreements at all and have really strict visa requirements for anyone entering the country (and thus inflict the same pain upon our own travelling citizens).
The point is, whether or not we do any of those things has nothing to do with the campaigns to remain or leave. The reason the Vote Leave campaign couldn’t tell you what would actually happen if we left, is that they didn’t know because they weren’t trying to get elected as a government. They were a cross-party campaign that comprised everyone from Douglas Carswell (quite right-wing, UKIP MP) to Jenny Jones (quite left-wing, Green Party peer). The campaign had no coherent idea of what would happen because a) they fundamentally disagreed on loads of issues anyway, and b) it wouldn’t be up to them. It’s a very similar story in the Remain campaign.
So, voting to leave to reduce immigration is already unravelling to have probably been a waste of time. Daniel Hannan, a man who has been campaigning for us to leave the EU for ages, has already said that he would personally support free movement of labour and membership of the common market. Which to the common man, is pretty much exactly what we have right now. And this is probably what any future government will negotiate.
If you voted leave so that we could spend more money on the NHS, I pity you. Whether we do or not is not up to the people who wanted us to leave, and the maths behind the pledge were almost entirely fabricated. And I’m afraid to say that Nigel Farage actually didn’t support that statement. The Leave camp were so divided that Nigel Farage wasn’t even officially part of it. So when he says that he didn’t make that claim, he is telling the truth. He had nothing to do with Vote Leave. His campaign was called Leave.EU.
The Leave campaign promised that Scotland wouldn’t have another independence referendum, but that was not their promise to make.
In this way, there are so many factors that might have swung this referendum one way or the other. And this is my fundamental issue with it. It’s just too close. If we had had this referendum last year, it might have been different. If we were to have had it next year, it might have been different. When the opinion of a nation is so divided, a referendum like this just feels like a terrible way to decide something as fundamental as our membership of the European Union.
The saddest part of all this is that, for all its flaws, the EU is good at pouring money into deprived parts of countries. Something you might have noticed Westminster isn’t very good at. Liverpool is probably one of the best examples of this. Its transformation over the past 20 years has been incredible, and it has been largely driven by the EU. Cornwall is another area that has done very well out of the EU, though people there don’t seem to have realised and are now hoping that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove will keep shovelling money their way like the EU did. Again, the problem is it might not be Johnson or Gove’s decision to make. There are already rumours that should Boris Johnson become the new Tory leader, he’ll hold a general election.
Now we’re through the looking glass, and project “fear” has become project reality, here’s a reality check. Immigration probably isn’t going to change. All of the leading contenders for the Tory leadership support our staying within the common market and abiding by the EU directives on free movement of people. The NHS almost certainly won’t be getting another £350 million a week. We’ll probably still abide by most EU regulations in terms of manufacturing and production because any goods that we want to export to EU nations will have to meet them. Scotland is going to have a second independence referendum, and they’ll almost certainly leave the UK this time. Northern Ireland is going to have to establish some sort of Schengen-like agreement with Ireland or the Good Friday agreement will fall apart (see above about immigration). We’ll still be governed by an elite of mostly privately schooled, white, privileged men who absolutely do not give a flying fuck about the working man from Sunderland, Barnsley or Basildon. Oh, and they’ve now got a free rein to do whatever they like when it comes to employment laws, maternity pay, holiday pay, and the rest. The working people of the North of England, and Wales, and the West Country, and East Anglia have not taken back control. They’ve just given more of it to people like Iain Duncan Smith. Do you remember what he did with the power he had before?
In conclusion, I think it’s very sad that a lot of already desperate people are going to be bitterly disappointed that they have been led on and used in a fight against “the establishment” by newspapers run by mega-rich cunts; and opportunistic, publicly schooled, politicians who couldn’t be more establishment if their middle name was “de Pfeffel”. Oh wait, that is Boris Johnson’s middle name.
I don’t respect this referendum at all. It can go fuck itself as far as I’m concerned.
Good luck Britain. I hope I’m wrong, but alas, things are already panning out pretty much exactly as the experts said they would. But then again, what do experts know? Oh, wait…
Image courtesy of: freestocks.org/Flickr