03/07/16In the recent referendum on whether we should stay in the EU I voted to remain. I not only voted but I also campaigned for us to remain, trudging the streets putting leaflets through letterboxes. The result - to leave - was not what I had anticipated and my reaction, like that of many people, was one of shock. It appears that a number of those who voted to remain, possibly a large number, are now proposing that we reject the result. In my view, we must accept it.
It has been a long campaign, more than ten weeks of argument and debate nationwide. Neither side in my view covered themselves in glory. The claims and counter claims were often exaggerated, untenable, and sometimes downright lies. Most of what was claimed by both sides was speculation dressed up as facts and were blatant attempts to frighten people one way or another. From my perspective, much of the argument missed the point and the real issues received very little exposure as they were drowned out by the governing party's bitter civil war focusing, as usual, on their neoliberal agenda.
However, all that said, this was a democratic process in which every eligible adult in the UK had a right to vote and everyone who exercised that right had a vote that counted equally. At no time throughout the long campaign did I hear claims that the outcome of the referendum would not be implemented; on the contrary, the leading figures of both campaigns said explicitly that they would honour the outcome and that this would determine our future for a generation. There has been no suggestion that the votes were not counted fairly or that the election has, in some way, been rigged. No, we had a democratic vote and we got a result.
Much as I feel sad, shocked and frustrated by this result, I cannot support attempts to overturn it. I don't believe in a democracy you can ask citizens to express their view in a referendum, subject them to weeks of campaigning, conduct the referendum in which over 33 million people cast a vote and then turn round and say, "sorry, that's not the outcome we wanted, we must run it again". That's what dictators do. They ignore the will of the people, overturn elections, take power because they think they know best. We live in a democracy and when you ask people what they think you must expect they won't necessarily give you the answer you wanted. Telling them that they are idiots and they don't understand the issues is patronising and dangerously elitist.
I maintain that it is morally indefensible to reject the referendum result. Furthermore, if we did so, or attempted to do so, this would set a very dangerous precedent and sometime in the future we may see it used as a weapon to undermine the democracy we have, such as it is. No, I believe our response to this setback in the life of our nation should be to clamour for MORE democracy. It probably is no coincidence that in large swathes of the country which voted to leave the EU reside poor, working-class people who feel unrepresented by the political elite, whose lives have been badly affected by the austerity of recent years and who feel powerless to influence decisions made on their behalf. The cause of their powerlessness was perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be manifested in Brussels and the so-called "unelected bureaucrats" that we hear so much about. If now our future is to be outside the EU, and we will no longer be able to blame the EU and all its minions, what is going to happen to that aspiration we heard so much about during the referendum campaign - to take back control of our lives? Unlike the referendum, in which everyone's vote was counted in the final result, the next time we elect a government, millions of people may as well not bother to vote because, depending on which constituency they live in, their vote cannot possible affect the election result. First-passed-the-post system in a multi-party democracy produces deeply distorted and unfair outcomes. Only if we change that can we look forward to a brighter future and a more consensual society.