Yesterday I wanted to write something because it seemed appropriate to claim my loss and attempt to express my sadness and bitter disappointment. Today I want to talk about the fallout. Not the political fallout or the economic implications; I want to talk about what’s happening out there at street level and on social media.
I want to talk about the range of emotions being expressed on both sides. From the Remain camp I have seen everything from gracious acceptance to poisonous vitriol. And from the Brexit side there has been both quiet celebration and cruel derision. Friends and family have clashed, angry words have been splattered on the walls. Remain wants to tell Brexit that they are stupid and racist. Brexit wants to tell Remain that they are petulant and don’t understand democracy.
The thing is, I don’t really think Remain are angry because they don’t understand democracy; they’re angry because this doesn’t feel like democracy. Let’s think back to the Scottish Referendum in 2014. Those who wanted independence were angry with those who did not when the result of the voting was announced. But not to this extent. And I can’t help but to think that there’s one simple reason for that: The possibility of Scottish Independence had not completely disappeared. There was always the chance of a second bite at the cherry. Perhaps not for more than a generation, but it was there. The result was not irrevocable. With Brexit, 48% of the electorate have been dragged into something they not only didn’t want, but which is also irreversible. There will never be anything that can be done to change this decision if the outcome is not favourable. So to tell over 16 million people to grow up and pipe down is, when you look at it like that, more than a little lacking in empathy.
That being said, I do not advocate the insults that I have seen and heard being bandied about since yesterday morning. It is not acceptable to cry “racist!” at every person who voted to leave. It is, frankly, offensive to tell another person they are stupid because their beliefs do not mirror your own. Maybe not everyone who voted to leave the EU did so off the back of sound research and reasoned argument, but that doesn’t mean that you get to call them an idiot.
I have grown accustomed to losing. It’s synonymous with wanting the best for everyone. So yesterday’s result came as no surprise to me. But it was, all the same, a terrible shock. And shock and surprise are not the same thing. At a party at which Surprise and Shock are both guests, Surprise delicately sips rose wine at a quiet table while Shock slams vodka shots at the bar. They know each other and are often in the same room together, but they are very different animals. Shock is a bit of a dick after a few shots, and he often encourages people to say and do things that they would not normally say and do. I’m not excusing bad behaviour, violence or offensive language borne of Shock, but sometimes it is an undesirable side-effect.
Here’s what I hope for the future of this country: I hope that we can heal. Forget the stuff we don’t know, forget the uncertainty of our future. There is only this; that we must not let our differences drive us apart. If we do, we are letting the worst amongst us win. We are legitimising everything they believe in and stand for, and we become no better than the racists, bigots and xenophobes – and they exist – whom we are so quick to decry. I know that it won’t be easy for us to forgive each other, and I equally know that it could well be a slow process, but it’s important that we try.
Yesterday, the first person I hugged (aside from my husband and sons) was a colleague who had backed Brexit. When she realised that we had voted for opposing sides, she asked me, “Are we going to fight?” I replied that of course we weren’t going to fight and gave her a cuddle. The second person I hugged was an elderly lady who came into my work with her husband. She asked me why it was so quiet in town and I suggested that perhaps everyone was at home watching TV. I make no exaggeration when I say that she literally welled up as she said, very quietly, “I can’t talk about that. I feel as though I’ve lost a limb. What have they done to us?” I told her that I was very sad too and we embraced in solidarity. I believe that this is what we need. We need to support one another through this transitional period. We need to tell each other, “It is going to be alright”.
I hope that this rift will heal before our children can inherit it alongside whatever consequences – good or bad – that Brexit may have in store for us.