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Post Referendum - Garen Ewing [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Garen Ewing

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Post Referendum [Jul. 1st, 2016|12:21 am]
Garen Ewing
I was quite an idealistic kid. When I was young I had an Usborne picture book about the future - it had a couple of illustrations that showed two possibilities ... One was positive, with monorails, greenery, clear blue skies, shiny technology and open spaces. The other was grimy and dark, polluted, it was overcrowded and people had to wear masks to breathe. I was very aware that either of these was a real possibility depending on how we treated our planet and its people, and those images have always stayed with me.

I grew up in the 1970s and even as a kid I was vaguely aware of power cuts, strikes, the IRA, and something called politics, but it was all very distant to a young child who preferred to live in a world of adventure stories, comics and science fiction. In the 1980s however, things changed. The world suddenly seemed a more dangerous place, with the USA and the USSR at each other's throats and nuclear war seeming a very real possibility. We watched Threads at school and I took instructions on how to build a fallout shelter at home very seriously. Mum bought a little store of tinned foods and essentials that she kept in her wardrobe - just in case.

Then came the 1990s. Nelson Mandela was released from prison and Apartheid ended in South Africa. The Berlin Wall came down and Germany was reunified. Margaret Thatcher resigned. Gorbachev was reforming the Soviet Union, and the Communist bloc fell apart. The IRA called a ceasefire. The Israeli Prime Minister shook hands with Yasser Arafat. Of course not everything was rosy, but there was a feeling of optimism, of the possibility that the world might actually be getting better. People were coming together to try and make it happen.

That all pretty much ended on 11 September 2001. It wasn't just the attack on New York, it was the response: war. But worse than that, it was war based on lies. I've always had a strong sense of justice - of believing in what is right. Things should be done for the right reason, people should be treated as fellow human beings. For someone whose childhood was rammed full of war comics and toy soldiers, I ended up as quite the pacifist. Again, that naive idealism - as I was discovering music I was captivated by the Woodstock film and the ideals the movement strained for. I knew they were unachievable, but I couldn't help falling for it.

A week ago, the British public voted to leave the European Union, 52% to 48%, it was a close-run thing, but in a one-person/one-vote poll, the answer is unequivocal - of the people who voted, the majority think we're better off out. As a 'Remainer' (see my last post) I was devastated. Most of my friends have been devastated too, and across social media we've been discussing the fallout, sharing links and trying to understand what happened - and why.

'Leave' voters have often been unsympathetic, confused by our reaction, and even angry at us. Why don't we just accept the will of the people and shut up? Why are we such sore losers? The fact is, it's not about losing - that's fine, I've been on the losing side far more than I've experienced victory - I'm a very good loser.

No, this is the feeling that an injustice has been done. Before the day of the vote it was clear that most people who intended to vote Leave were doing so largely based on lies and misinformation, either distributed directly from the leaders of the 'Out' campaign, or borne of prejudice that had no connection to the EU, as well as ignorance of the EU itself.

£350 million will be saved and will go to the NHS, they said - a lie so often debunked, but repeated and bluffed through right up until voting day (and then brazenly denied after it). Our economy will improve, they said - a prediction that blatantly flew in the face of the advice of almost every financial and business expert out there. We're ruled by an undemocratic elite who impose on us the majority of our laws, they said - a soundbite misunderstanding of a system that is complex, but actually just as democratic as the UK government (if you care to look) and whose laws are not as numerous or binding as is often claimed, many of which greatly benefit us and protect us from greedy government and over-reaching big business.

And then the big one, the issue on which the vote was probably won: immigration. We'll take back control of our borders, they said, we'll stop them leeching off the system and taking over our jobs and towns, we'll stop the hordes of refugees piling into the country. It seemed they were trying to out-Trump Trump. The Remain camp were not effective in getting the truth of the matter out: we already have control of our borders, they are not open like those of countries who are part of the Schengen Agreement; leaving the EU will not curb immigrants and refugees who are not EU citizens; the refugees you saw crossing into mainland Europe will not be coming to the British Isles, Turkey are years away from joining the EU, immigrants contribute more to our economy than they cost; they staff our NHS, our universities, our laboratories, they are our friends and our neighbours.

But prejudice won out. Sometimes the reasoning was genuine but misplaced - there are people with real grievances, who cannot get employment, for instance, but who look to immigrants for blame. Much of the feeling is anti-Muslim, some of it just plain old xenophobia aimed at anyone with a different accent, language or shade of skin tone. It's nothing to do with the EU (unless you believe the conspiracy theories of Eurabia - and many do, just as Anders Breivik did).

The racist group Britain First has seen a huge rise in membership of its Facebook page since polling day, and currently has the support of almost 1.5 million people. The gap between the winning Leave vote and the Remain vote was 1.2 million people. Since the referendum results were announced, UK hate crime has increased by 400% - some of the stories have been heartbreaking.

This was not a General Election. Leaving the EU will have international ramifications, but the epicentre is here in the UK, and those most affected will be the young - many of whom could not vote. The EU has its problems, not everything about it is good - but, in my view, the good far outweighs the bad. It has helped to keep the peace, it has provided a united voice, it has helped countries to raise their game. It was born in the hope of post-war Europe and updated in the renewed hope of the 1990s. Britain was a maverick member, we refused to sign up to everything - we forced compromises. We kept our sovereignty, but we had a voice - and we could have still had a voice in the development of a better EU, one that could have genuinely made the world a better place.

Now the EU hates us - they don't want to give us concessions, it's in danger of falling apart. The far-right have been emboldened across the continent, rubbing their hands with glee at the result in the UK. All the people I admire - artists, creators, authors, scientists and thinkers, said it would be in our best interest to Remain. The Leave camp was full of people who I disliked - people with hateful ideologies, people who lied for their own political gain, people who had a disdain for rationality and the advice of professionals. The aftermath has seen a collapse of our political parties, an abandonment of responsibility, and a power-grab by people who hate the NHS and want to dismantle human rights. The right decision was almost a no-brainer (though I still read around both sides of the arguments as much as possible).

This is the tragedy: the referendum was won on lies and ignorance. It should never have been held (or should at least have had rules for a bigger clear majority). Many, according to reports, are already regretting their 'Leave' vote. We've made the wrong decision for the wrong reasons, and while I hope things will settle down at some point - who knows when - I fear we've taken a big step closer to the possibility of a darker future, not a brighter one. For my children's sake, I really hope I'm wrong.

Further reading: A Note to My Friends Who Voted Leave by Jeff Lynn