If there’s one positive we can take from Brexit then it’s the sense of sadness, resignation and desolation that everyone who didn’t want this feels. That sadness is the feeling that this was the wrong choice and that somehow it’s our fault. That resignation is what it feels like when you lose, and you know that it’s democratic, and you know that your anger is pointless. That desolation is that feeling of shame, the collective sense of being somehow sullied, and the thought that those too young to vote are the ones who face the true implications of the choices older generations made. The positive is that we can learn from all this.
I think the choice to leave is, above all else, a selfish one. The great charge against the Remain campaign was that they used scare tactics and played on fears to attempt to force people to stay. That’s what Leave did too, it’s just that they were encouraging the fears already present in those who wanted out. They played on fears of loss of national identity, of loss of jobs, of bureaucracy trumping democracy.
Perhaps above all else they spoke to a fear of being told what to do – asking the British public if they were brave enough to take this one chance to stand up and defy the lefties, the tories, the PC, the foreign. It was a chance to make the decision no one thought you could make to prove that you could make whatever decision you want. To prove that independence, that bulldog spirit, that stubborn sort of selfishness that made Britain great was still there.
I think that’s selfish. I think it’s short-sighted, too. Talk abounds that the sharp drop in the financial markets is a short term wobble, one soon to be followed by financial prosperity. Talk also abounds that now we can make our own trade deals with the rest of the world (who are presumably grovelling at the door of the country that just sliced billions from global finances) and that we’ll reap the rewards in the long term. People say that this will spur other member states to stake their claim for independence too. Presumably they’ll have a short term wobble too. A few countries might wobble simultaneously. We might still be wobbling when they start going. With the EU it’s a bit of a conga line, they all sort of wobble together. That’s one of the benefits of being out and not being tied to the Euro (but then that’s a benefit we already had, of course). When the EU wobbles other countries might wobble, and so on and so on. But in the long-term we’ll be fine.
The jobs that foreign migrants are preventing natives from getting haven’t been ‘taken’. They just ‘got’ them. It’s a meritocracy; or exploitation, depending on how low down the ladder the jobs are. At this point it’s worth noting that leaving throws our human rights up in the air somewhat. Again, blaming the ills of the natives on those arriving is a selfish act, a surrender of accountability for the fact that someone who arrived in this country with almost nothing and English as a second, third or fourth language (or not at all) managed to get a job and you didn’t. It’s competitive out here and it always has been – a side-effect of having the fortune to live in an elite nation. Turning your frustrations, failures and fears of inadequacy into an attack on others is selfish.
So too is taking away opportunities. It may not matter to many who voted, but freedom of movement is a useful thing for young people making their way in a world has never been more open, or more globalised and competitive. Erasmus schemes in universities are just one example of a route in life that faces being closed down. These problems of increasing insularity are ones that frankly won’t affect older generations the way they affect the younger, especially those too young to vote and too young perhaps to realise that avenues are closing.
This is a decision that resonates. Its implications affect those who live in its wake in ever widening waves. For many they’re not truly gambling with their own lives, they’ve already got to where they’re going to go and they’re likely going to stay there. It’s those that follow them that are really going to be affected by our island nation asserting its apartness, and I’m not sure how many really realise that.
But it’s a lesson we can learn from. You hope that the shock, sadness and incredulity that has accompanied the vote will imprint on Remain voters, old and young, and leave a brand to remind them to vote for others as much, or more, than themselves. You hope that this helps future generations to recognise the complacency that accompanies a feeling of being right, and the knowledge that that counts for nothing if you don’t work to make sure that rightness is realised. You hope that the bitterness that accompanies a defeat that you can’t challenge empowers people to prevent a repeat, to recognise that democracy only ever gives people what people vote for, and to push them to make sure that democracy isn’t just the right principle, but that it upholds the right principles.
Of course, for the leave side, which technically is a majority of British people with an opinion on the matter, they think they’re right, and that we’re selfish. That we’re too selfish to trade a bit of political incorrectness for national identity, job security and room for everyone. That we’re too selfish and too afraid to give the nation a chance at self-governance rather than straining at the yoke of the EU. I think that puts a lot of faith in our own political system and I think that wilfully ignores how little the UK has tried to be part of the EU’s. For example, we elected Nigel Farage as an MEP. I’ve never felt particularly oppressed by the minutiae that makes up the majority of EU law either, just as I don’t sweat over the stream of laws passed by Parliament that I know nothing about. And if we’re being invaded by migrants then it’s not exactly Genghis Khan stuff, they just live here.
For what it’s worth, I think if this referendum was a best-of-three affair the Leave campaign would suffer for the diminished sense of impulsive, ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ mania that helped drive the decision to leave. If this campaign took place over years rather than months, then I think that the Leave campaign would suffer. If we could go forward six months from now and vote again, then I think that the Leave campaign would suffer.
Another quick thought: if you’re reading this you’re probably my friend. If you’re my friend you’re probably young, you’re probably kind of liberal, and you probably voted remain. Now reflect on the fact that most people you know are probably similar, and that most people you know want to stay. Now think about people you know that are under 18 and what they wanted from this. Now consider that we’re all the ones taking the hit down the line. Now remember that this is a once in a lifetime event. Now note that the only way it isn’t and we get to vote again is if things go so badly we have to make a U-turn. Sorry, this was meant to be kind of hopeful. I guess we’ll just have to make Brexit work then.