Did Britain really vote to leave the EU?
Today the news headlines are plastered with reports announcing the outcome of the Brexit referendum…
“Britain votes to leave EU!”
“See EU goodbye!!”
While Britain as a whole voted to leave the European Union it is important to recognize almost half of the voting population wanted to stay (51.9% Leave, 48.1% Stay).
The Brexit Affair…
I wonder if for many British people, being carried along by the Leave campaign is going to end with similar consequences to having an affair while married.
If you’re unhappy with what you’ve got (and the status quo always has shortcomings) getting involved in something new that offers tantalizing changes can carry you along with great excitement… for a time. However, when the shortcomings of your new relationship inevitably emerge, you are very likely to wake up in bed one morning thinking “What on earth have I done??” You may also find not only do you have a broken marriage, but your new relationship is falling apart as well.
While the possibility (likelihood?) of disastrous economic impacts for Britain, the EU and the rest of the world are of huge concern there is another potentially serious, but less obvious, impact on Britain as well.
The Brexit campaign highlighted and powerfully reinforced deep divisions in public opinion between the Stay and Leave camps. The outcome of the referendum will likely deepen those divisions further as the British public experience negative impacts of a decision only half of them supported. Those who voted to stay are not going to remain silent… the end result may be a nation divided against itself.
In Scotland 62% of voters opted to stay in the EU. Now the Brexit has succeeded a second referendum is likely to be held on the issue of Scottish independence, followed by Scotland subsequently rejoining the EU! What Britain is now facing is the potential breakup of the United Kingdom itself!
Democracy can be dangerous…
The Brexit referendum has highlighted one of the deep flaws in our democratic system of government.
Leaving it up to the public to make decisions on issues which have profound long-term impacts on the future of a country does not guarantee that wise decisions will be made.
Very few members of the public have the necessary understanding and expertise to analyze extremely complex issues (such as leaving the EU), and independently make a truly competent decision. In the case of the Brexit, as with all complex political issues, not even the experts can agree on how beneficial or disastrous the outcomes will be.
In practice, the outcome of a referendum (or election of a new government) depends on which ‘side’ can mount the most persuasive campaign. This in turn can be heavily influenced by how much funding each side attracts from vested interests in their policies, along with the vested interests of media owners.
In addition, public opinion can be powerfully influenced by fear. The current Australian federal election campaign provides an excellent example. Leaders on both sides have shown little hesitation resorting to “three word slogans” and deceitful scare campaigns, both of which vastly oversimplify and distort complex issues, in order to frighten the public into voting for their party.
While I fully support our democratic system, we should all take heed of the wisdom of Winston Churchill…
“Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”