Ramblings about stuff

United Kingdom leaving the European Union

I awoke to the news yesterday morning with shock and upset. I voted Remain and genuinely thought Remain would win, that we’d all breathe a sigh of relief and move on. Instead, rather than this being the end of the campaign circus, it is instead the beginning of something more serious.

Younger voters voted overwhelmingly to Remain and it’s their future lives that have been damaged, in my opinion.

We have a heavily divided country right now and this needs to be addressed.

I’ve got lots of thoughts in my head about this right now and this blog post is partly just a vehicle for me to get them out:

  • I’m pleased and proud that my local city, Oxford, voted 70% to remain. A similar result (with strong majority to remain, these figures are approximate) happened in London (60%), Cambridge (70%), Bristol (60%), Bath (60%), Exeter (55%), Brighton (70%), plus strong pro-Remain votes in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • While everyone’s vote must be respected, I believe that many people made their decision for the wrong reasons, especially (but not exclusively) on the Leave side. People who voted to see immigration reduced won’t see that any time soon, nor is it likely have any effect on those non-UK EU citizens already living here. (If it does have such an effect, i.e. some kind of of forced repatriation, then we’ve reached a very dark place indeed.) I also don’t believe that the “take back control” mantra, which admittedly was a superb campaigning tool, ultimately means very much. People in this country will only have control if the government can be elected to represent a majority of the people. If we end up with just a different bunch of elites, well that doesn’t get us very far.
  • Many people have raised the issue that there was a large age effect on voting intention, as measured by opinion polls in advance of the vote. If one assumes this to have carried through to the vote itself, this means that younger voters were likely to vote Remain and older voters likely to vote Leave. Given that the true effects of this decision will not be felt for a number of years, it seems very unfair that we have been subject to a result where many of those voting for it will be least affected by it. At the same time, a positive voice I heard said that a grandparent asked her just-too-young-to-vote grandchild how she should vote, for exactly this reason.
  • The negative campaign fought by the Leave campaign while undoubtedly effective, left me feeling very sour. It felt extremely anti-foreigner (sometimes sickeningly so) and ultimately very divisive. This was reinforced by the usual right-wing media into a relentless torrent of very unsavoury front page headlines blaming our ills on Them. Anything which exposes people to such a continual message of negativity is not healthy, in my opinion. Clearly this hit home with many voters, however. My further concern is that this media approach worked, in that Leave won, and thus there will be more of it in future now it’s seen to be effective.
  • The Remain campaign was fought with logic and reason, on the whole. However, this was clearly not such an important message for some of the undecided voters. In fact from a campaigning point of view it may even have backfired: the Leave campaign fought against it by claiming directly that “people have had enough of experts”! I find that very sad and a very sorry reflection on the electorate as a whole.
  • Both campaigns were very active on social media, as expected. In my own little bubble I had an almost continual feed of positive messages about Remain, which says as much about my choice of friends and online social contacts as anything else, I suppose. I’m aware others will have had their own bubbles on both sides. I’ve seen it pointed out that the argument in favour of Remain was a much harder one to engage with online, simply because an argument for the status quo is always difficult to get fired up about. The Leave campaign had a clear message, including the “take back control” rhetoric, which fit very well with the kind of viral online environment and was thus, ultimately, more successful. In my opinion: logic failed, emotion won.
  • It’s uncertain what the vote to Leave means economically. I think that price rises and suppressed pay is quite a likely outcome. My work is in academic medical research: an area which has historically had a lot of EU funding, so that’s a concern.
  • I’m disappointed at the general feeling of division and isolation that the vote has given rise to. Yesterday I was a little embarrassed when talking to (non-UK) EU colleagues (some of whom were quite clearly worried and upset by the result) and felt the need to tell them “I didn’t vote for this, we still love you!” Perhaps it will be like this when travelling overseas too: “Yeah, sorry, I didn’t vote for it” etc. Maybe I should get some T-shirts made up…
  • David Cameron carries a lot of responsibility for this result. His decision to hold the referendum, hoping simply that it would (one presumes) “make UKIP go away, make the Euro-sceptic backbenchers shut up” has backfired catastrophically. If David Cameron wanted a legacy, he’s got it: the break-up of the EU and, possibly, the potential break-up of the UK. In the end, the Referendum became about so much more than just the EU membership and that worked against him. He is correct to resign, although I’m unclear whether the timescale is correct. (As of the day I’m writing this, Cameron has said he expects to remain PM until October.) And I have divided opinion on whether I would like to see a Leave-campaigning person become PM, because it was what they wanted, they ‘won’, so they get to run the show leading to renegotiation. But at the same time I don’t personally want any of them in charge!
  • The country is divided and already a lot has happened in immediate response to the vote. Scotland’s First Minister has said a new Referendum is highly likely and, I think, would likely succeed this time. In Northern Ireland, questions have been raised regarding a possible future outside the UK. Both these calls were in response to the UK’s vote to leave, yet in Scotland and Northern Ireland a majority voted to remain.

So is there any scope for optimism? Well, perhaps. Caroline Lucas of the Green Party has made a fresh call for electoral reform, in effect asking politicians to honour the “take back control” message. I welcome her call and hope it leads to something, but I fear it will simply be lost in the noise of the post-Brexit chaos. In more general terms, any kind of constitutional reform should be seen as positive providing it doesn’t simply cement a new elite in post.

I believe the best way forward is to do our best to fight against division and to work together in the best interests of everyone. That includes trying to heal the bad-feeling that has arisen between those who voted Leave and those who voted Remain and I’ll need to work at that as much as anyone!