If the referendum result has shown us one thing, it is that our nation is divided.
There is no doubt that the referendum has thrown up some serious questions for our country as a whole to deal with. But it has also brought into contention the issues and the divisions within it.
Not only do we see division on the issue of the EU, but on wider issues of the economy and immigration, the latter in recent years having seen a (largely unmerited) huge increase in public importance.
And more than that, the nation is divided with itself.
We see a nation where the people who will have to deal with this decision for the longest period and in the most direct manner, with it affecting not only our future careers but our current study and our future life prospects in a world where such things are becoming increasingly uncertain as it is, were wholeheartedly and unequivocally against our leaving. Unlike in Scotland’s referendum, 16 and 17 year olds were deemed unworthy of deciding their own future. I wonder what number that decision comes in at on David Cameron’s list of regrets.
“I wonder what number that decision comes in at on David Cameron’s list of regrets”
Ironically, for the first time in my life, I feel like I may want to spend my adulthood elsewhere, though my opportunity to do so has likely just been curtailed.
In contrast, pensioners as a whole were largely in favour of Brexit. Clearly there is a generational divide emerging in the UK, with a progressive, socially liberal, and largely left-wing youth emerging – indeed, the General Election showed that votes for Labour and the Greens were higher the younger the voters were. I hope such voters do not feel further disenfranchised by this result, although it would be hard to blame them if they rejected the political establishment afresh after it. Our best chance of recovering from this result – and, for that matter, the havoc wreaked by the Tories – is to engage the youth of our nation in its politics, however defeated they may feel at its current state.
But our nation is not just divided by age. Scotland especially and Northern Ireland as well were both strongly in favour of Remain, with every district in Scotland voting to stay. Surely, depending on the clout they can carry into our negotiations with the EU, a second referendum for Scotland is not far away, and nor is an independent Scotland.
“In England, London was the only region to vote Remain”
In Northern Ireland, too, Sinn Féin have already put forward a case for reunification with the Republic, and a curtailing of free movement within the EU would surely cause problems for Ireland.
But at least they will have the right to complain if things go wrong. The same will not be possible for the working class districts in England which voted to leave.
Both my home city, Newcastle, and my adopted home city, Nottingham, have been huge recipients of EU funds over the years, as well as many other traditionally industrial towns and cities across the UK. Ironically, funds received from the EU were negatively correlated to the amount of people who voted to carry on receiving such support; support which is at the heart of the EU’s mission to alleviate poverty and promote equality. In fact, in England, London was the only region to vote Remain.
“I fear for the fortunes of the neglected working class”
I fear for the fortunes of the neglected working class, especially in the ignored north of the country. I would be thoroughly unsurprised if George Osborne’s so called Northern Powerhouse, which has done little to help anyway, was cut back as part of the Chancellor’s emergency measures. Perhaps the government’s relative economic abandoning of these areas in the first place is what has led to such a strong showing for Leave there.
But such a vote is not an empowering act of establishment rebellion or a manifestation of chagrin at decades of southern-orientated financial policy, rather an astonishing case of misdirected anger, unjustified scapegoating, and economic self-harm.
Make no mistake, in the east and the midlands, where UKIP polled highly at the General Election, this vote is one laced with concern about immigration, despite low levels in many parts of these regions.
But reduced immigration, even if it does come – which, if it does, will certainly take several years and probably trade concessions to achieve – will not be the answer to the working class’s woes.
As we move through our Brexit, the economy will suffer. Funding will be cut. Jobs will go. Support will be slashed. This is the journey we are now embarking on. Yes, immigration may fall, but if it does it will not be to the benefit of the working class and their communities. And it will undoubtedly not make up for the losses they and their local economies will face.
Their disdain should be with the austerity and wage cuts brought by a Tory government, not the EU that funds vital projects in the areas, or the immigrants who contribute to their struggling economies. Any downward pressure on wages that they may bring could be solved by implementing a real Living Wage rather than the government’s phoney version, cracking down on employers who pay under the Minimum Wage, getting rid of zero hours contracts, and firmly punishing exploitative employers.
“But it is for immigrants that I fear the most”
But despite my fears for the working class, the economy, workers’ rights, environmental protection, animal welfare, global security, and much more, it is for immigrants that I fear the most in the wake of this result.
Throughout the referendum campaign, the Leave side has consistently highlighted immigration and immigrants as a drain on the economy, a pressure on public services. This result is a justification of that sentiment.
We need look no further than celebrations of “Independence Day” for the UK to see the views behind many – not all, of course – Leave campaigners. In a country they see as under attack, traditional values they see as being threatened, their scapegoating and xenophobia has just been dealt a massive legitimisation and a huge boost.
“We must try to patch up our rifts, not push scapegoats into the chasm that we have created”
For the sake of the immigrants living here and our country as a whole, I hope we are able to crush this viewpoint. Perhaps, even, Brexit will serve to show that economic policy and not immigration is to blame for many of the problems our country has. Perhaps it will show that we are better cooperating and working with our neighbours, rather than breaking away from them. But until that happens, the scapegoating and ostracizing of immigrants will only escalate. I am afraid on their behalf of the increased prejudice they will face.
And make no mistake, we are the pace-setters and the flag-bearers here. Other countries in Europe will follow, buoyed on by our “success”. A European climate that is already feeling the effects of a far right resurgence is about to change dramatically, unless it is seriously combatted. Legitimate concerns on immigration and national identity must be addressed without slipping into nationalism and xenophobia.
Our country is divided, there is no question of that. But we must try to patch up our rifts, not push scapegoats into the chasm that we have created.
Image: Futureatlas.com via flickr