Friday, 24 June 2016

Some thoughts on the day after the night before

As I start typing I'm not sure quite where this will go but yesterday's referendum marks such an important and pivotal moment in time that I want to capture some thoughts.

For context let me start by saying I believed strongly that the right thing was for us to remain.  I get that there are issues with the EU but that's true with pretty much every group of people I've ever worked with who come together around some common cause.  There will always be fallings out and disagreements but my belief is that we get the best outcome by working through the issues.  Much better to be together and at least talking than apart I think.  Remaining and engaging and leading in Europe was my preferred course rather than leaving.

I value the opinion of experts as one input to my thinking and like to try and anchor my views in evidence based reasoning.  I also feel that voting is important and think it is true to say that I have voted in every formal election ( be that at the local, county, national or European level) since I got the vote.

Of all the things I have voted on in those many years this was the one where I felt most strongly that there was a clear right answer - normally I am much more of a relativist.

I've plenty of experience of voting and having the result not be in line with my vote but today I have  felt a real sadness and worry about the way the vote has gone that I have not experienced before.

I'f I'm honest I'm also angry with both sides for the posturing, wild assertions, and distinctly questionable use of some statistics.  This was a big and important issue and I think deserving of a better quality of debate than we got.  Some of the blame for that must also rest on us as a society generally as what we are fed is what is known to have worked before.   If it's necessary to make us angry or scared before we will turn out and vote then it's perhaps no surprise that this is the diet we are then fed.

There was also a real absence of discussion about what the impact on others might be of us choosing to remain or leave.   Any country leaving would have an impact on the others and I think we carry responsibility for how our actions affect those around us.  For me, being one of the bigger countries in the EU brought with it additional responsibility.

It worries me hugely that people will have voted ( on either side ) based on hyperbole and misleading information.  We don't know what the future holds but one scenario certainly is that we get a growing understanding of the consequences of leaving to the point where we end up exiting at a point where the balance of public opinion has shifted in favour of staying.   The reverse of course is also possible that we discover that things actually work out a lot better than anticipated.  I find myself fearing the former but hoping for the latter.

The result was close in terms of percentages for and against but we can't deny that the electorate has spoken and, thankfully, with a good turnout.  There are clips appearing online purporting to be of people saying they regret their choice of vote but I think these are most likely outliers and the overwhelming majority of the people voting to leave did so because they believed that this was the right thing to do - just as determinedly and passionately as those voting to remain.

Having reached this point it will be interesting to see what happens next as clearly a referendum is just a chance for the electorate to answer the question before them.   Today we have the same laws in force as yesterday and the same agreements and are still members of the EU - all be it that we may well have burnt some bridges in spectacular fashion.   My understanding is that to change any of this and to actually remove us from the EU will need parliament to act.

Even if it is not legally binding it would be surprising, having asked the question, for parliament not to act on the answer.  But I'm not clear what the proposed timescale is for any action.   We have various people saying different things and it seems as though any action will wait on the election of a new leader for the Conservatives.

Given there will be a gap, how long would it be before MPs might feel they weren't beholden to what was said yesterday?  How long before they might say ... ah well that is what you said but look at how xyz has changed since then...?  What if the gap is such that we end up having a general election before action is taken - what happens then if MPs are elected on Pro EU manifestos ?

We also have the dynamic that we are told the majority of MPs in today's parliament favoured remaining in the EU - that's got to be a real dilemma when then asked to vote in a way contrary to what you believe is the best course of action.  Under our brand of democracy my understanding has always been that we elect people to represent us and charge them to vote on matters on our behalf, not necessarily by reflecting what we think.

Much as I passionately would like to see us remain, delaying and then ignoring the expressed will of the people would seem a route to trouble, but on the other hand sticking with a course of action in the light of new information would also seem potentially troublesome.  Maybe the coming days will bring clarity but right now I can't help feeling that we have voted to do something but aren't too clear when or how we will do it.

David Cameron announcing he will stand down introduces additional uncertainty into the process but I can't see how his position was tenable.    There is the lack of authority brought on by being on the loosing side of the debate but also had he gone ahead and led the move towards the EU exit any issues which arose in the economy or our relationships as a consequence would I'm sure have been laid at his feet.  You can hear the accusatory cries ..."you never wanted to leave so you've messed up the negotiations ..." and so forth.  Can't help wondering if that was in part behind the desire of the Leave campaign to see him stay in post and lead the exit.

We are definitely in uncharted, and most likely turbulent, waters but collectively for better or for worse that is where we have chosen to sail this particular ship ( to borrow the PM's captain metaphor).

We will never know what might have been had we taken a different course, life is always full of challenges and problems and it would be easy to put on the rose tinted glasses and forget that bad things would have happened had we chosen to remain because from time to time things outside your control just happen.  We'll also need to resist the urge to blame every bad thing that happens from now on the vote - yes there will be some obvious things attributable to the decision and the negotiations that follow but blaming everything on it, or indeed the people who voted to leave, won't help.

The 23rd June will definitely be a date that historians of the future look back to.  There is no doubt that I woke up in a country this morning that had changed from when I went to sleep in a few hours earlier.  Quite how it has changed will only become clear over time.

1 comment:

  1. Very thoughtful Michael. When I was in the UK earlier this year I too was struck by the poor quality of debate and the prominence of opinion over evidence.
    Hard to see that a people's referendum would ever do justuice to such a complex topic, and it hasn't.