But what is the UK to be, now?

The identity of the UK is in a crisis of much longer-standing than the disgusting populism that currently discerns it by such criteria as your socio-economic influence, what colour your skin is, whether you lean Left or Right, what religion you might practise or where your parents were born. Politically, that is as much about how certain people so badly need to mark or choose our personal identities for us as it is about how we might or might not identify ourselves – because finger-pointing and division serve their social comfort and agenda.

Also apparent, particularly since the first Scottish independence referendum, is the severity of the identity crisis of the UK, itself, which, post the Brexit result, is now a direct, overt and rather urgent matter. We should all care, whether petty tribalist or sincere patriot; scapegoated or scapegoater.

Unionists, Nationalists, Independents and Federalists; centralisation, devolution, globalism and localism; Brexit-Remain; Left-centrist-Right: somewheres and anywheres: we’re all being stitched up, in whichever part of the UK we live, howsoever we identify or have been categorised.

Conflict within and between our individual and collective identities are not recent phenomena. Anyone who reads history and/or literature, has lived long enough or just pays general attention to human nature knows there has always been friction and tension between the micro and macro. At this point in our timeline, though, when malice, mischievous tinkering and authoritarianism are determining the future at a confluence of circumstances, it behoves us to think more deeply, sensibly and bravely.

What and who and how is the UK to be, now?

One big country with one central government (beneficial democratic reforms notwithstanding)? Four separate countries joined in equal union? I said equal. Four co-dependent states under a mishmash of overlapping powers and inconsistent arbitration, secretly content in their mutual aggravation?

Or are we four ideologically disparate nations, who merely happen to share a lot of history, mostly by quirk of geographical proximity but who should just call time and separate? Or is it too easy and too terrible to think that? I hope so.

Whichever we are, we need to decide. And fast. If we can’t even negotiate and co-operate with each other – with ourselves – with mutual respect and for mutual benefit, then what of our prognosis, with the rest of the world?

Do do re-run

“Let’s not re-run the referendum campaign” – Those that say this might have a vaguely reasonable point if a rational and more honest campaign had been run. The reason that arguments still need to be had is because they were not actually had at the appropriate time; because politicians and journalists did not know or understand the substance requiring consideration nor their various consequences, any better than voters. And because some simply did not care. But the electorate needed to know all manner of what questions to ask and precious few people ever asked them.

If you think about it, every plebiscite re-runs arguments. It’s part of the messy, ongoing nature of Democracy. Politicians do it all the time – and social media, too, now. Hell, people are re-running arguments from decades, even centuries ago. Whether or not they are helpful or even relevant, still. This one is.

I don’t particularly want to want another referendum, either. Certainly not several (Scotland and Ireland.. Wales..?) You know I always thought the first EU ref was reckless and unnecessary and that the result was swung by a misdirected hissy fit. But, seriously, Brexit: what the heck did you expect? That Remain would cave and go quietly into catastrophic but preventable repercussions?

And it is foolish and weak to cry voter fatigue when, short of Parliament coming to its senses and riskily circumventing the People’s much-fêted Will, another public vote is the best available solution to settling something properly. Anyway, it serves ‘us’ right for not doing it properly, in the first place. We could have had a double majority. Cameron said no. We could have had a minimum differential. Cameron said no. We could have let 16/17ers vote on their futures. Cameron said no.

That tick in the ballot box: it was just the start. Now comes the hard bit. A healthy democracy requires ongoing engagement and active participation. What a sorry lot we are if voters can’t take some responsibility for the “will of the people” and the downside of political choices and show keenness for a better understanding and a sharper attention to detail. After years of voters protesting that politicians don’t listen, it is surreal to imagine people preferring to make sure they don’t.

If all things now have a Brexity lens and if Brexit suddenly looks and sounds more complicated than sold, well, too bad. It always was going to be and if clarifying “the will of the people” sounds like too much effort, too threatening, too divisive or patience-testing, especially after having actively supplied the need, then, tough shit. Can’t willingly open cans of worms and then complain about the tangled fallout because “people are tired of elections”. Another tedious plebiscite is surely more sensible than simply rushing into a permanent mistake.

And it has to be a referendum rather than a general election, not just because the choice needs to be clear of party promises but because the latter option gives us no viable, electorally palatable alternative. No matter the demonstrable tunnel-vision and incompetence of the Tories, Labour offers a demonstrably incompetent ideologue. Both have bought into Brexit. Faced with yet another least-worst-option choice, the Conservatives would likely get another mandate. And then they will be Brexit on Viagra.

[PS: If any anti-Brexit moderates of the Conservative and Labour parties should conclude that their party is a democratic dud and decide to stand up for the best interests of a United Kingdom by giving their numbers to the Lib Dem benches – and voters a real choice, thereby – I reckon I could live with that.]

neither democrats nor patriots

The times are crazy, so, perhaps it is not surprising that those who deliberately frame Brexit as an act of patriotism and every reasonable challenge to it as being anti-democratic would be the same people who are actively undermining both. Still, it is shocking. Depressing enough that Brexit was allowed to be framed this way, in the first place. But, since it is…

The dumb vitriol and intimidation of our wilfully ignorant right-wing press is a disgusting assault on intelligence and the shortsightedness and selective deafness of our MPs and certain celebrity lobbyists beggars belief. Almost.

Hardened Brexiteers who cheer Theresa May on, as she and her team rush to craft our cultural and economic suicide and who bay indignantly, at all thoughtful doubters; influential Brexiteers, who manufacture, insist, threaten and coerce, in order to act, self-evidently, against the national interest and well-being of the citizens. They are neither democrats nor patriots. They are nihilists.

It is also difficult to stomach those politicians and journalists who spend their print space and airtime expressing very real concerns over all aspects of this Brexit foolishness, only to vote, anyway, with those who are intent on driving us as deeply and quickly into it as possible. Would-be Remain politicos who buy into Brexit’s illogical crap, for fear of a mythologised Will, are turning themselves into the sorry enablers of Britain’s treacherous course.

Adding to this vainglorious chapter is the cognitive dissonance of ’ordinary’ Leave voters who, impatient or bored already, suddenly cannot fathom how Brexit is now the default prism through which all our social, political, economic policies and debates – domestic and global – will be expressed for at least another generation. This, despite their own stuck record insistence that they all knew, absolutely, exactly what they were all voting for, all along.

Hubris and Denial continue to need scapegoats for the myriad political betrayals that they could have smelled, with or without a referendum. Not surprising, perhaps. After all, scapegoaters scapegoating is what started this folly. Still, it is shocking.

I can’t stand it.

The democrats and the patriots are those who are openly resisting or at least earnestly trying to mitigate a national act of completely unnecessary self-sabotage. You’d have to be very cowardly or arrogant, indeed, to think that their caution, scrutiny and counsel are bad things. Or a bit thick.

base-mood

What if arithmetic were underpinned by the base-mood system:
if its virtues were no more than the sum of
popular feelings, mischievous algorithms and smoke-filled echo chambers?

Funny how

Funny how the will of just over half of the electorate, on one specific day, translates as an overwhelming majority, signifying the fixed and absolute will of the people. Funny how Parliament cares so much about respecting the will of the people.

Funny how the will of the people for a well-resourced, easy-access NHS, free at the point of use, is not respected.
Funny how the will of the people for affordable (free at the point of use), compassionate, dignified and accessible social care is not respected.
Funny how the will of the people for a decent, guaranteed state pension and a dignified old age for all is not respected.
Funny how the will of the people to have justifiable rights to end their lives and receive assistance to do so is not respected.
Funny how the will of the people for state ownership and control of an affordable, reliable, interconnected railway system is not respected.
Funny how the will of the people for local authority-run libraries, pools, parks and recreation is not respected.
Funny how the will of the people for a national network of local, comprehensive post offices is not respected.
Funny how the will of the people for state investment in council/social housing is not respected.
Funny how the will of the people for a visible police presence and 24/7 local stations is not respected.
Funny how the will of the people for a national programme of ‘green’ investment and jobs is not respected.
Funny how the will of the people for personal privacy and data security is not respected.
Funny how the will of the people for a fair and responsible tax system is not respected.
Funny how the will of the people for a reliable, liveable income is not respected.
Funny how the will of the people for a compulsory national school curriculum is not respected.
Funny how the will of the people for local state schools to be so good as to be the first choice is not respected.
Funny how the will of the people for even a simple, weekly rubbish collection is not respected.

What do you mean: not everyone wants those things?

The thing about MPs respecting “the will of the people”

The general will of a people is considered by some and desired by others to be that which is conducive to the common good; the national interest. Inasmuch as it can be measured, it reflects, at best, an assumption that everyone agrees on a point or points of principle. Principle, not detail.

In the current context of Brexit, it certainly cannot be discerned by a near fifty-fifty referendum vote. This is neither “the will of the people” nor the entirety of ‘public opinion’. Not even where and when politicians cite their constituencies as expedient justification for the fact that they are very likely sacrificing the long-term common good to a short-term effort at self-preservation, on the back of a pre- and post-referendum campaign of wilful ignorance and manipulation. The result of that referendum wasn’t representative of ‘the People’ but a collection of leanings based on a spectrum of individual understandings and expectations versus another collection of leanings based on a spectrum of individual understandings and expectations. But one side’s will and opinion is not to be countenanced, apparently. It is as if Remain were not of the People but an irritant for which the solution is to try to ignore it.

The thing about MPs respecting “the will of the people” and being led by public opinion is 1) that it does not follow that said will or opinion is correct or directed towards the common good; 2) that it is simplistic and cynical to assume that a majority or even just the loudest voice automatically represents either collective will or opinion; 3) that MPs, themselves, collectively, are usually behind the curve, not with it and rarely in front of it; 4) that the public is no better generally or singularly informed than the medium of the message and each individual’s capacity for critical thinking and the time and opportunity in which to use it. And 5): As the Brexit debates show, though MPs are best-placed for access to facts and well-informed opinion, they often start with no more understanding than the rest of us because they are no more expert, intelligent or open-minded, than the rest of us, either. Because they are not a special species of Human. They are just us. But, that they are elevated, voluntarily, to a high office of public service means they have a civic and moral duty to the national interest and our common good. Our, not a narrow selection of their. Parliamentarians are part of that rising tide that is supposed to lift all boats. They are also the planners, architects, builders and providers of boats.

Besides, all too often, the loudest voice of influence on the governing class is not the electorate in general but the most arbitrarily muscular newspapers and best-scheduled television and radio broadcasters. They can lead, reflect and project opinion far more effectively than any other demographic. One might reasonably question, then, which will and what opinion it is that MPs are really respecting. At the moment, “the will of the people” is merely a disingenuous and dangerous demand for narrow political patriotism. One might wonder if there is any such thing as the former and why on earth there is such a demand for the latter. If only there were ways by which to know…