Initial non binding thoughts on a non binding EU referendum.


Update: Since posting these thoughts, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, has spoken and brought a calm of sorts. David Cameron has announced he will step down as Prime Minister, and Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish First Minister, has announced her intention to begin the process of working towards a second Scottish independence referendum.

Warning…long post, early thoughts and subject to revision:

So the UK is leaving the EU.

In the midst of inevitable short term panic from some quarters it’s worth remembering that after the Prime Minister invokes Article 50 regarding EU membership (which he doesn’t have to do straight away), there is, I think, a two year period of negotiations before the UK would actually leave the EU. Everything doesn’t have to be decided in the next 24 hours.

On a side note it’s also worth pointing out that the referendum is not, as far as I can tell, actually legally binding. Parliament is sovereign in the UK (unless it’s overruled by the EU – not any more…) and Cameron could (in theory) ignore the wishes of the country and put it to a vote in Parliament if he thought he could win, or even argue for a second referendum. Of course he’s not going to do that.

No matter how you voted I think it’s vitally important to work together now in a common cause to reform, build and rebuild. I confess I honestly thought the Remain vote would win. The very word Leave can have negative connotations depending on context. I heard David Cameron on tv recently saying Britain wasn’t a nation of quitters, we stay and fight. I couldn’t help thinking that there are some relationships where the balance of ‘power’ means one party having the power and the other party being on the receiving end of it, and not in a good way. In some relationships quitting, leaving, while a supremely tough decision, can also be a life saver, not without pain and anguish and not without a time of uncertainty, but nonetheless a route to a better, healthier life. At the time I wasn’t necessarily thinking of that in terms of the EU debate, more in terms of Cameron’s words about not quitting. Sometimes quitting is essential, or rather quitting one situation in order to free yourself to move into another.

Yes, leaving the EU is a seismic shift but there have been many seismic shifts in history, sometimes seismic shifts are what moves history on to its next stage. As with all such shifts there will be turmoil and uncertainty but frankly this should be completely expected with a Leave vote and once things settle and calm minds have their say (expect calculatedly calming statements from George Osborne and Mark Carney – one would hope anyway) a sense of calm should return, maybe not immediately but in time. After campaigns which have far too often been infected with emotional mud slinging with little attention paid to actual data, what we now need are calm minds and reasoned thinking.

The Leave campaign now have to step up to the plate and chart a course forward that gives people hope and calms fears, both for the financial markets and immigrants. The Remain camp now have to realise, and quickly, that their battle is lost, and rethink and come up with ways to benefit from a situation they never wanted to be in. Yet such is life. Time and time again we have to accommodate and make the best of situations we never wanted to be in and sometimes we discover that our creativity, lateral thinking, and sheer determination brings unexpected and welcome results. Many intelligent minds argued for Remain. We now need these same minds to work from within a Leave framework and find a way through to a better and brighter future, for everyone. It is in no-one’s interests to talk Britain down or endlessly say what a disaster this is. It is in everyone’s interests to use our strengths and show how strong a force for good the UK can be in the world. Do you think I’m using too utopian language? I disagree. History tells of the carnage that utopian dreams can result in but we’re not in the business of building utopia, we’re in the business of using this time as an opportunity, an opportunity for everyone, young and old, rich and poor.

I have little doubt that in the coming days there will be mud slinging and blaming with emotions running high but this is a time when, above all else, both sides need to come together and work together to make the very best we can of where the UK goes from here. Boris Johnson campaigned for Leave. I’ve just listened to Boris’s father on tv, advising that we all need to work together now to move forward. Boris Johnson’s father was in the Remain campaign. I remember the Scottish Independence referendum. I was on the losing side of that one and was gutted. I know that feeling well, of being on the losing side of something you truly and deeply believe in. But we have to work with where we are and not where we’d prefer to be and not let anger or disappointment or bitterness consume us for then we will miss new opportunities to grow in unexpected ways. Like any seismic shift, turmoil and uncertainty result but as well as bringing great disappointment and fear, it also brings great opportunity to reform, remould, reshape and move forward. That’s what we need to do now, together, not apart.

Curiously, while the UK as a whole has voted to Leave, Scotland voted, in every single constituency, without exception, to Remain. This is a salient point because, as the SNP knew, if the UK voted Leave, which it has, but Scotland voted to Remain, which it has, then Scotland could say it’s being forced out of the EU against its will and trigger a second independence referendum. It’s not quite that simple but it’s one scenario. I heard alot about Nicola Sturgeon being in favour of Remain. Although she does favour an independent Scotland within the EU, it’s also in her interests to have precisely the scenario she now has, Scotland in a strong position to demand a second referendum. Again curiously, Wales, usually a Labour stronghold, has voted to Leave. If a Leave vote puts David Cameron in a tricky position, to say the least, a Leave vote in Wales could also arguably leave Jeremy Corbyn in a tricky position, as he campaigned for Remain. Northern Ireland has voted to Remain and the Deputy Northern Ireland First Minister immediately called for a referendum on a United Ireland. Consequences of a Leave vote are many and equally seismic.

There is much more to say. I said very little on social media in the run up to the referendum, by choice. Maybe I’ll say more now. One thing I want to say before closing is this. There seems to be an impression in some quarters that if you voted Remain you’re only in favour of big multi-national companies and financial institutions, and the mega rich who benefit from the EU. That’s not the case. There are plenty of non mega rich people and small businesses who supported Remain. Equally, some people think that if you voted Leave you are a hate filled anti immigrant racist. This is also not the case and if I can say so, far far too simplistic. At the risk of offending, if the extent of your thinking is to say that if you voted Remain you don’t care about the poor, or if you voted Leave you’ve voted for hate, then you need to expand your thinking, as a minimum requirement, to move forward.

I also heard Keith Vaz of the Remain camp on television. After saying how catastrophic this result is, he also said that Leave voters had voted on emotion, not facts. Ironically though understandably, he was speaking through deep emotion. Actually, I think there has been a huge amount of emotion on both sides, Remain and Leave, and also support from academics on both sides, Remain and Leave. Voting Remain does not mean standing shoulder to shoulder with David Cameron and unelected European Commissioners, and voting Leave does not mean standing shoulder to shoulder with Nigel Farage and hating immigrants. If that’s what you think then sorry but you don’t understand all the arguments enough. Let’s not tar everyone with a far too easily grasped communal brush.

There will be anger and bitterness, to think otherwise is naive, but what is of paramount importance is not to bury and suppress this, but to air our feelings, preferably in non insulting ways (alot to hope for I know) and then to focus on building a bright future for us all.

Let’s use this time, whether we wanted this situation or not, to rebuild, reshape, reform and create a fairer, more just and welcoming society.

Thanks for reading.

Be nice, be contrary, but don't be rude :-)

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