Posted to Facebook 25th June, 2016. Edited for clarity.
So, it’s been a couple of days since we decided to leave the European Union. Many people have had extreme feels on the result, but I think the shock is wearing off. So some thoughts on what people have been saying:
1. Democracy doesn’t start or end with the ballot box. It’s a process of having an idea, developing it, talking to people about it, building public support for it, utilising events to draw attention to it, engaging influential institutions to bring them on board and lobbying our elected representatives until it becomes a no brainer reality (Universal Basic Income’s journey from a fringe policy of the Green Party to a serious proposal of several major think tanks now under consideration by Labour’s policy unit is a really great example if you want to watch this happening live). Actually, democracy is hundreds or thousands of groups working through various stages of that process simultaneously and having to decide what you personally support or care about and prioritising your efforts accordingly. That means that every individual makes political decisions based on multiple levels and competing considerations, many of which conflict with each other.
I say this because saying that everyone who voted in a particular way on any given binary question did so because of a single reason is not just mistaken, it’s pretty ignorant of how democracy works. Not everyone who voted Leave is a racist, not everyone who voted Remain believes in intersectionality. Some people are racists but also concerned about democratic legitimacy and some people wanted to vote Remain because despite their qualms about the EU’s crushing of Greece they really cared about subsidies for northern former industrial areas. What I’m saying is, until someone does a qualitative survey of why people voted the way they did in this referendum, saying that people or groups of people you didn’t talk to went one way or the other definitively because of their views on X isn’t based on anything other than one’s own assumptions.
(And I am guilty of this: I never met anyone who ever mentioned it so until the media started producing shocked voters saying they’d voted Leave to protest the government, not to actually leave, it hadn’t occurred to me that anyone would actually do this.)
2. The only good Tory is a suppository, so whether David Cameron or Boris Johnson is Prime Minister doesn’t matter that much to me. A Tory is a Tory – tax cuts, assaults on the marginalised and dog whistle politics are the order of the day while the Tories are in power regardless of who is leading them. Boris managed to run London for eight years without it burning down, so it’s not like we’re looking at Trumpian levels of disaster if he takes over. The blue-on-blue psychodrama is their problem, not mine.
(I’d also point out that 42% of Conservative Party voters voted to remain, so it’s not actually a done deal that Boris will be elected. Theresa May, for example, supported Remain and is one of several cabinet-level Tories thinking of standing. That’s not at all comforting, but what I am saying is that Tory party members and not the thatched-hair-enamoured media are going to decide the outcome of that election.)
3. To people saying that we should just ignore the result of the referendum because it isn’t legally binding and other associated head-in-clouds reactions such as demanding an immediate re-run: are you absolutely mad? I see why the EU membership appeals to you so much if you think so little of democracy. The people have spoken, and however you feel about it, we now have to make this work. You wouldn’t be muttering about close results if you’d won.
4. ZOMG, the Leave campaign told loads of lies during the campaign, I’m sooooo shocked. Come on. Everyone lied. Well, I didn’t, but pretty much everyone else threatened, cajoled and made promises that they had no intention of keeping. How many were actually planning to launch a campaign to reform the EU if we’d remained or support a second membership referendum if Jeremy Corbyn becomes Prime Minister? How many paid any attention to the Smith Commission or campaigned for further devolution once Scottish independence was off the cards?
5. We should remove age from our list of protected characteristics. We should forcibly retire people at a certain age to make jobs available to younger people. We should rejig our voting system so that as you age, your vote counts for less and less proportionate to your life expectancy. Sound ridiculous? Right, so stop dumping on people for having lived longer than you because they didn’t do what you wanted. It’s discrimination.
6. Scotland: so, a small, committed group of people patiently built a mass social movement over thirty years, won a thumping democratic mandate to hold a national plebiscite on independence from the nation that has treated them like crap for the last three hundred years, got felled at the last hurdle by a combination of empty promises about a better deal for Scotland and rampant fear-mongering about economic collapse, so grew their movement by another hundred thousand members, swept the next general election, and then announced that with the threat of economic collapse removed by the Leave vote, they were going to hold another referendum to reflect the fact that an equally thumping majority of Scottish voters support EU membership – and this is some kind of tragedy? I think not. Best of luck, guys.
7. Ireland: so, Sinn Fein literally exist to campaign for a united Ireland and it is no surprise that they want to call an Irish unity referendum off the back of the Leave vote. They’re also the junior partner in a coalition with the DUP who have flatly said they do not support such a referendum, and the Good Friday agreement requires consent from both British and NI governments before one can be held, so this is something of a fear that’s all fur coat and no knickers.
But IF such a referendum were held, and IF such a referendum were unexpectedly won, and Northern Ireland was transferred back from its British colonialist owners to the rest of Ireland, democratically and on the basis of a shared vision of their place in Europe rather than sectarian, religious or ethnic affiliations…this would be a bad thing…? You can’t condemn us as a former imperialist colonial power and then get all butthurt about the prospect of having to give back what we took to the people we conquered.
8. The UK has dropped from the fifth biggest economy to the sixth biggest: We live in a capitalist society, and when you say that, you’re basically saying, “God, isn’t it terrible that our capitalists aren’t generating as much profit off the backs of their workers as other countries”. Obviously the contraction isn’t good news for our marginalised workers (most of whom voted Leave) or our wallets but I find it an odd metric to choose to cite if you’re not a ideological capitalist, personally.
9. The EEA: The first minister of Scotland, the first minister of Wales, and the Mayor of London have basically now all come out and said that they are going to take a place in the exit negotiation team and they are going to advocate to remain in the European Economic Area, so this isn’t a policy proposal I just pulled out that is technically possible but realistically ridiculous (unlike just ignoring the outcome of the referendum: *WHAT* do you think you’re doing, srsly?). In the coming months we need to strengthen their hands, demonstrate our own support and make the case to the voters who want to close our borders that immigration and offering asylum to refugees is both economically positive and morally obligatory.
It’s not even just the left saying this: Daniel Hannan, one of the most Euroskeptic Tory MEPs to have ever lived, went on Newsnight last night to say we wants us to join the EEA. Look.
Some European leaders, particularly the German ones, want to cause us pain to punish us and discourage anyone else from leaving the EU. I don’t know enough German to be able to follow along that national conversation but the initial implications of what I read this week suggested that some consider forcing us to accept freedom of movement in return for access to the single market to be a fitting punishment. Which would be fine, because that will be terrible for the racists and great for those of us who believe in no borders. But that is more speculative that most of the other things I’ve said here, don’t take that as read.
10. Migrant solidarity and anti-racism: well, obviously. We have to do everything we can to love on and defend people who are being maltreated because of their immigrant status or their race; British, EU, non-EU and refugee. It was necessary before this referendum was ever a thing and it’s necessary now.
I acknowledge the fear and the worry and the abuse that people have received. I do believe it would have been worse if we had narrowly Remained, but whatever, I am sorry that we live in a nation where whatever way I voted I brought fire and brimstone down on the heads on immigrants and people of colour. I am sorry that people are suffering at the hands of the ignorant and the prejudiced. Whatever the numbers, a bunch of people DID vote Leave because they’re racist and they ARE jubilantly taking it out on every immigrant and PoC they see this weekend. I hear you. I’m sorry that’s happening. Everyone who can do something should, especially those of us with white privilege and *especially* those of us who voted Leave and said we weren’t ok with all the racism around it. Time to prove that statement. (Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants is that way if you’re queer.)
I won’t be getting into the habit of writing essays, but I have just refrained from using social media for two days out of respect and there was a lot to come back to…