A nation in a great tumult, a people unsure of their place in the world, and a test of democracy itself.
1215 AD was a time of brutal unrest upon a small island in the northern hemisphere. But amid the savage conflicts between the Barons and the Monarchy, King John of England reluctantly placed his royal seal upon a document that would reverberate throughout time itself. The Magna Carta. Arguably the first step towards the modern Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as it is now formally known. Modern democracy took its first breath in England.
Of course, the Monarchy at the time rebelled against it and the Barons declared war for it. Democracy has never come easy to most lands as it means those whom hold power must relinquish some, or much, of it. But democracy did, and still does, reign in the United Kingdom.
Public discourse is nothing new in a country renowned for cynicism and complaint. But recent years have brought division to the people that comes around once in a generation. That being the deceptively simple Brexit.
To leave or to remain in the European Union, of which the United Kingdom is one of twenty-eight member states. However, this is not the first time the U.K.’s standing in the European community has been discussed and voted upon.
In the first ever referendum the entirety of the United Kingdom had participated in, the EEC (European Economic Community) membership referendum of 1975 resulted in a similar tumult to what we are seeing today. However, the voters responded with a 67% majority to remain in the EEC, what would later become the European Union. This decision split and tested Parliament just as it has today. The parallels between these two referendums are abundant and apparent.
The difference between 1975 and today is that the world is a much smaller place, figuratively speaking of course, with the advent of the internet and the likes of social media. I’m sure that if Twitter existed in 1975 we would have heard the same online sermons and fervent discourse that we hear to this day surrounding our latest referendum. When you give the public two opposing answers — yes or no, leave or remain — you are bound to have dramatic polarisation in opinions, as this polarisation is what the referendum is testing. But the social fallout echoes throughout the daily lives of the British people to this day, as it will tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrow.
If you were to distil democracy down to one, possibly overly simplistic, concept it is that, in essence, most people get what they want. However of course, this naturally leads to some people not getting what they wanted and, quite frankly, that feeling is rather infuriating. I sympathise. Democracy is unrelenting and unapologetic, as it well needs to be to function as intended.
Three years ago I took to the ballots and voted the same way forty-eight percent of the voters did and put my tick in that “Remain” box. A vote that, at the time, I believed to be the right thing for my country, the country that I have inexorable pride in, the country that I love, the country that I want to see prosper and become better than it was yesterday. But forty-eight percent is not a majority. We lost. The “Leave” vote won. And I felt that infuriating pain of defeat. I was angry, and like so many of us twenty-first century inhabitants, I vented my anger across the internet. But after I had exhaled my last sigh I made peace with the result and took solace in knowing that democracy had been served.
Now, I know what you may be thinking, as I have thought it all myself. You are thinking about certain promises, possible lies, and maybe something about busses. And, again, I sympathise. But politicians lying is not a new concept, in fact I’ve come to believe that it is part and parcel of being a politician, so let us not act the naïve child tricked by the wicked Ministers. The internet exists and resides in most of our pockets. The information was out there for all to find but only for those willing to look. I myself attempted to do some impartial fact checking and disinformation busting around the time of the referendum but many only wanted to hear enforcement of their own already cemented opinions. And, as much as I discourage that way of thinking, it is absolutely their right to do so. That is democracy.
Immediately after the 2016 referendum, a second referendum was demanded by upset voters and has been demanded ever since. They say it is fairer now that we know the price of Brexit. That it is only fair that we get a second chance. However, after years of exhaustive thought on this subject I have come to the conclusion that this would result in further unprecedented social upheaval, and the damage to our democracy would be irreversible.
To hold a second referendum now would be to call into question the legitimacy of the first and the validity of its result. It would essentially tell those fifty-two percent that their votes, their voices, were either unacceptable or illegitimate. This could be an unprecedented discouragement of voting in any future elections, and risks eroding our democracy; only listening to the voters when it’s convenient and simply ignoring the majority vote when the government disagrees with us, the people. Once we become a democracy of convenience, turning back is almost impossible. You set a precedent for ignoring democracy. The damage is irreversible.
And if a second referendum were to occur and this time the result be a majority vote to remain in the European Union then which vote takes precedence? The original or the revision? Or do we simply drag the process on another three years and have yet another referendum? Best two out of three. Is that what has become of our democracy? Is that how all voting will proceed in the future? If enough people or a particular political party don’t care for a result then we will simply have another vote, and another vote, and another.
This is why democracy must be unwavering, unapologetic, and impartial. A monolith by which the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is ruled. Yes, that means sometimes not getting what we want, what we thought was best. Yes, that means sometimes upholding a difficult result, despite our grievances. And yes, that means sometimes having to swallow our pride and carry on. But these are small prices to pay for the privilege that so few across history have been granted, that so many in our own time still do not possess: the right to vote and to have our say on how we are governed.
I have come to realise that when voting there are no winners and losers. To participate in this democratic process, to have our voice heard, is to be a part of the country regardless of which party governs or whether we remove ourselves from unions. Prime Ministers and Members of Parliament come and go but democracy must always remain. And we must protect that democracy even — no, especially — when we disagree with its result.
The democracy we know and love today began over eight hundred years ago and has been tested many times, throughout many crises. It will endure Brexit. And I have faith that we will, also.
I did not vote for Brexit, but democracy did and democracy dictates that it is now our course of action. Otherwise what is the point in democracy at all?