Hello world – this is Great Britain calling. You may have seen us in the news this week because we’ve been having a referendum. We had a choice of whether to remain in the EU or to leave and the majority of us who voted wanted to leave.
In the months leading up to be big day there were claims and counter-claims from the two sides and the whole thing got extremely unpleasant. People told lies, people made up numbers and much was said that was not supported by evidence. It became impossible to tell fact from fiction. In addition, some areas received almost no coverage – there was lots of talk about immigration but barely a mention of the environment, for example. All this meant that, when it came to it, a lot of the decision for many people was based on a gut-feeling. As a scientist, this was something that I personally was not happy about. I wanted to see numbers, I wanted to see facts and I certainly did not want to see sniping and personal attacks.
Unfortunately, however, facts were in short supply. This was mainly because the choice was not between two things, it was between one thing (remain) and not that thing (leave). This meant that whilst it was possible to find genuine information about our history within the EU, what might happen if we left (and even if we stayed) was all conjecture, if not pure fantasy in some cases. The ‘leave’ position was not linked to any specific plan or model, so it was impossible to extrapolate and then assess the implications. In my opinion, the referendum was poorly framed, because we really didn’t know exactly what we were voting for.
Thus, when the vote went the way of the ‘leavers’ the immediate situation was that nobody knew what was going to happen. Uncertainty breeds fear and this was manifested immediately in the responses of individuals. I saw the result at about 6:45 in the morning just before my swim, so I then spent a calm 40 minutes mulling things over as I progressed up and down the pool. I find swimming a rather peaceful activity and one that allows ample opportunity for calm consideration.
It might have been better if everyone had gone for a swim rather than immediately taking to social media, as so many did, to express their feelings. There were messages of joy and messages of doom; there were racist comments and offensive comments; aspersions were cast by some members of the losing side about the intelligence of the winning side; some young people claimed that old people had wrecked their future…. and on it went. As the morning progressed, social media allowed a sort of mass hysteria to develop and much that was ill-considered was written- by both sides. The trouble is, once a snowball starts rolling down a hill it gains speed and it gets bigger. I watched with dismay as this happened, as the remainers fuelled each other’s fear with doom-laden statements and accusations…
… and then I turned off my computer, went out for lunch and finally made a little toy tent. The sun shone, vegetables grew, raspberries ripened and there was no rioting in the streets.
I am shocked about the implication that all those who voted to leave the EU are racist bigots or, indeed, haters of Europe (as distinct form the European Union). I expect that many who voted to leave had a dream of starting again with a clean slate, of a better future without the unwieldy bureaucracy widely associated with the EU. Now, you could say that this is naive… our country has layer upon layer of bureaucracy all of its own and its government is built around a long-established and out-dated hierarchy including an unelected House of Lords and many civil-servants and politicians linked through an old-boys network. However, I know that many people voted ‘leave’ in the expectation of change for the better. And that is what needs to be the goal now… change for the better… irrespective of how I, or any other individual voted.