Sunday, 26 June 2016

The questions you ask yourself when you lose a referendum

Could I have done more?

I researched and read endlessly. Propaganda from both sides, and neutral stuff. I wrote a blog or two. I shared and commented on Facebook and Twitter. I talked to friends, most of whom were already Remainers, a few who weren't. But I could have formally joined the campaign. I could have done and said more. I didn't because I naively assumed we wouldn't actually leave.  That we couldn't possibly actually leave, because that would be an utterly insane thing to do.  Apparently half the nation didn't get that memo, and I wish now I had shouted it repeatedly from the social media rooftops.  I would have bored the pants of everyone, but I would feel better now that I did all I could.

Does this make me wrong?

I am in the minority. I always am with the way I vote, but this felt different. Binary. Personal. More people than me felt Brexit was a good way to go and were convinced of the arguments. I felt they were being duped, but perhaps I was the blind one. The Leave campaign's facts were certainly demonstrably wrong, but maybe their hope was not...? Alas, I still don't think so. I want to believe our country will be better off going it alone, I really do.  I want to believe the Gove and Johnson promises. But the first few days post-referendum have not exactly filled me with confidence. I remain quite certain that for all its faults, the ethos of the EU, what it represented, and the stability and benefits it brought was too important to cast aside. Brexit is going to be horrifically detrimental to the UK, as countless very well informed people have said loudly and repeatedly (see here and here and here and here - I could go on... ) not to mention the damage it may do to the EU and the rest of Europe.

Why oh why did I imply Brexiters were idiots?

A friend called me out on a Facebook post that suggested people who paid no attention to expertise, history, evidence, reality and fact in any other context would be branded idiots. It was a 2am post borne of anger (not just because Duckling wouldn't sleep). I felt uneasy posting it, though I stupidly did not remove it. Fatal social media mistake. She said arrogance like that would not persuade the undecided to vote my way. She was no doubt right (though annoyingly criticism of other's reactions was her only contribution to the debate) and I wish now I had not said it, as it invalidated the more considered arguments I had made before. I guess when you think half your country is about to do something idiotic though, you open yourself up to doing idiotic things yourself.

Am I just angry at people who voted leave because I'm a member of the white, middle class, privileged elite and I don't understand them?

Oh the handwringing... I am undoubtedly white, privileged and middle class. Not a lot I can do about that. I earn well and am married to a man who earns well too. Does that mean that I cannot understand why Leavers - mostly working class - voted as they did? No, I don't think so. For a start, not all Leavers were working class. My 'idiot' posts were directed squarely at various fellow comfortable, educated, middle class friends (mostly of my parents) who voted 'out' based on a massively rose tinted view of the past, and information that a two second search could show to be false. BUT I can see why they - and everyone else - were swayed by the message of "taking back control" delivered by the Leave campaign. They presented some very convincing, solid-sounding arguments and made appealing promises that people thought would change their lives for the better. They evoked feelings of hope, nostalgia and national pride. They also played beautifully to those most affected by the very real social and economic inequalities in this country, who rarely get such a direct say in how our politics are shaped. I don't for a moment assume that Leavers didn't do any research or were all raving racists.

Nonetheless, smouldering beneath it all, fanned by the tabloids, was the immigration issue. It is not wrong to talk about immigration, to look at the positives and negatives and debate how it might best be managed (because it does need to be). It is not wrong to question how those arriving affect those already resident.  It is wrong to distort the facts about migration to make it look 'bad', simply to play to the fears of those with most to lose. I do not know what it is like to live on the breadline, and feel like outsiders are taking away what should be rightfully mine. I would probably get a bit pissed off too. This is why fear of foreigners is always the first thing to rear its ugly head when times are tough - it's an evolutionary instinct that has driven the rise and fall of civilisations over millennia. Understanding where xenophobia comes from does not mean condoning it though. So if I am angry at some sectors of the Leave camp, it's not because I'm a white middle class snob who doesn't understand them, but because racism - unacknowledged, subtle or overt - is never, ever, a good reason to make a decision on anything. If it is privileged and elitist of me to say that, then please call me the queen of snobbery. 

Oh, and the fact people adulate Boris when he's a tricksy bald faced liar makes me a teensy bit cross too.

Can I still be friends with people who voted out?

Yes. It's probably a good thing I'm currently on holiday though. It could take me a while to calm down enough to speak to them through ungritted teeth.

Why am I so angry / sad / scared?

So many reasons. My anger is explained above.  Mostly though, I think I am grieving. Grieving for the loss of a country I felt I knew. Grieving for the bonds we just severed. Grieving for my belief in the majority of people being rational, open minded and pragmatic. Grieving for the lost opportunities for my son. Also, I know that most people will have voted based on heart foremost, and used their head to back that decision up. I did. So that means a majority of people don't feel and think like me, and that's hard to accept, however open minded you might consider yourself to be. 

As predicted, I am ashamed of my country's choice, and what the decision says to the world at large.  As the Brexiters so often accused, I am scared of change too, but who wouldn't be when you fear that change could be catastrophic and will cost an insane amount in administration and legal fees to boot?

Finally, I feel just a little worried for my family. My father is Dutch and does not have a UK passport. He's never needed one (a shame really, as he didn't get to vote). I don't know what will be decided about his right to remain and I'm sure it won't be impossible to sort whatever happens but with stories such as these emerging, he feels distinctly uneasy right now. Quite frankly, so do I.

What is going to happen now?

Who the fuck knows. At one end of the scale, you have a massive recession, endless political in-fighting, race wars, general chaos and the break up of the UK. At the other you have a reasonably orderly exit, minimal disruption and a series of trade deals that mirror what we had before. Most likely we'll end up with something in the middle - or no exit at all because nobody has a plan and nobody can agree on anything. We will get through it. But it isn't going to be quick and it isn't going to be pretty. The key is not to give up.  The liberal minded may have lost this one, but this should be all the more reason to fight for the best possible outcome as the fall out begins.

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