Perhaps I should have posted a lot of this before now. Because…last week. Ohh…last week.
What the heck, UK? What the heck?
Well. Actually…what the hell England and Wales….
We had a referendum (yes, another one. Scottish people everywhere are feeling like our polling station is becoming a second home as we’ve had since 2014: a European Parliamentary election, referendum on independence, a UK election and a Scottish parliamentary election and the EU referendum).
I did fear the results. Many of my friends thought it was mad of me to think there was a possibility that the UK would vote to leave the EU. Living in Scotland where the benefit of the independence referendum was that our country became much more politically aware, and also much more able to see through the news media’s BS. My hope was that it would encourage our friends in England and Wales to follow in Scotland’s footsteps. But alas…it did not. Politicians of left wing parties betrayed the working class voters by breaking a key promise (Lib Dems and the tuition fees debacle) and we saw the continuation of Labour politicians really being so far from the roots of the labour party and extremely out of touch with the communities that have traditionally voted to represent them. Because they no longer felt like they represented them.
UKIP is led by a man who is quite frankly our Donald Trump. A character that if I described him, his behaviours, his rhetoric and the things that come out his mouth in public interviews, debates and speeches, it would sound like I was making it up.
But oh how they have as the underdogs taken strongholds while the main parties have been too busy fighting amongst themselves and one upping each other. They’ve reached out to the forgotten, underrepresented and disenfranchised….and they’ve told them. “We understand” and then fed them lies about why they have become disadvantaged.
I’ve heard a lot of things about what folks down south have been fed about the EU. The folks who hadn’t been involved in the Europe wide campaign about TTIP, they were suddenly told about what we’d already prevented. Our NHS is in danger they told folks in England (funny, we never got that message up here in Scotland?). Your contracts would be better if it weren’t for the EU. There’d be more money for new treatments. Actually the opposite is true. The EU has created the working time directive which, for my generation and fellow medical school graduates meant as junior doctors they could fight against ridiculous working hours (they are still ridiculous, but not as bad as they once were). But a key element is that every European country has interpreted it into their own country’s law differently. And for the most part our contracts are crap because of global recessions, trade unions that aren’t as radical as they once were, greedy (and corrupt) people running everything and country’s budget choices. As for funding for research and new expensive drugs – we will now lose funding we get in addition to the country’s budget. The EU doesn’t take funding from our NHS. It adds to it through providing money to universities (often connected to teaching hospitals) for research and facilities to do said research. And as for the costs – go have a word with drug companies.
Education. How I have benefitted from the EU’s funding for education. I wouldn’t have my university degree without it. And as my friend said… “we wouldn’t have known each other if it wasn’t for the EU”.
Immigration. “You’d have a job if it wasn’t for the immigrants”. “There’d be more benefits for you if it wasn’t for the immigrants”. “If we aren’t in the EU we could control our borders better”. Firstly, we do have border controls between England and France – at the request of the UK. Secondly, Norway, who isn’t part of the EU still have to accept immigrants to be part of the common market. What this vote has actually created is an emboldening of fascists and racists who exist in our country. Hate crime has gone up in the last week at a rate I cannot believe.
Oh yeah, and um, I’m friends with some Leave voters. They aren’t all racists.
And on the subject of borders…Northern Ireland. Like Scotland, Northern Ireland voted to remain in Europe. You see, not too long ago, the EU (and others) helped bring about a thing called the Good Friday Agreement after decades of war and terrorism. I still remember having to get a background check to go to my friend’s wedding in County Down. I still remember the Manchester bombing. I still remember how regularly we had to vacate shopping centres next to government buildings because of bomb threats. Ireland is still part of the EU. Many Northern Irish folk identify as Irish, not British. Many Northern Irish folk work in Ireland and have a twenty minute or less commute. Lots of elements of that peace agreement are likely about to be taken away if we leave the EU. I think it’s very likely that if that happens…’the troubles’ will return.
On the subject of Ireland…there’s a petition going around that a lot of ‘Leave’ voters are unhappy about calling for a second referendum. Well, Ireland had a second ‘in/out EU’ referendum. And according to legislation, the fact that not enough people turned out to vote and the majority was so small (less than 2%) it does qualify for a second referendum. Add to that the fact that there do seem to be people who voted based on misinformation or (frighteningly) because they “didn’t think their vote counted” – so used to a First Past The Post system where many now vote tactically they forgot this was a ‘every vote counts’ type of vote. Same as the Scottish independence referendum.
So what now?
Well…we have a lot of work to do to prevent war. The result of this has created a situation in Scotland where we are considering another independence vote, and a situation in Northern Ireland that is well…a disaster waiting to happen. Not to mention emboldening right wing parties and movements that have been coming out of the woodwork in recent years across Europe. We also have Russia who would quite like to start a war…and weakened unity across European countries I’m pretty sure won’t help.
We need to stand up against hate, and strive for unity. As Jo Cox said – far more unites us than divides us.
There’s an awful meme going around with young people (who had a very low turn out) complaining that the ‘old people’ voted against them and ‘have more of a say than I do’. The elderly have just as much of a right to vote, and they don’t get more votes than the rest of us. Perhaps we need to look at how we cross generations and learn about one another face to face rather than through what the media tells us about each other.
We need to urge our elected representatives – MEPs, MPs, MSPs (or Welsh/NI equivalent) – to voice our concerns and hold them accountable. Are they one of the ones in hiding? Don’t stand for that. Have they revealed that their promises were ones they knew they couldn’t keep? Let them know how you feel about it. We need to discuss how we go forward…do we definitely leave, do we have a second referendum to check that the reality is truly what people want? What are the facts you want to know. What are the facts you wish you’d had before last Thursday…?
And to my American friends. You didn’t learn from us about gun control in 1997, but I beg of you, learn from the UK’s mistakes this week. I’ve seen a lot of you say you want to not vote out of protest, or stick to your party. Take a look at what your options are. Because if the UK learned anything this week, it’s that yes – it DOES make a difference. The repercussions can be huge on the culture you might create – which is actually more difficult to change than laws you may not like about guns and abortions. 51% of UK went along with the campaign led by our version of Donald Trump. An MP was killed by a man with similar views to the ones Trump has been spouting. People have been attacked on buses. Had hateful letters shoved through their doors. Kids have turned up to school with neo-nazi and right wing nationalist groups placarding their schools telling them to “go home” even shouting racist slurs at them. Some of you have memories of the days of the civil rights movement when similar things were happening in your country. My friends in Germany and Holland have grandparents who remember what it was like in the years leading up to the Holocaust. I don’t think it is taking it too far to say that there are eerie similarities to rise of nazism happening. So. Think about what kind of country you want to live in. Write to the party and the candidate you don’t like and see what can be changed to give you folks you want to actually vote for. Because you hold the power to keep the world from a very slippery slope.
Useful websites for UK folks unsure of the facts or who/how to contact your elected representatives