“The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy…”
– Charles de Montesquieu
The Problem of Democracy
Never before has one word caused so much damage in Britain. It can spark arguments between the closest of friends. It has been responsible for relationship breakdowns. In half of us it ignites fear and frustration; the other half it has become an ideograph for Nationalism, a resurgence of the Great British Empire that ruled the seas and squandered the world for its own idle gains.
In the past two years I have been involved in two massive referendums. The Scottish #Indyref, as it was coined for Twitter feeds everywhere, was the biggest question that had ever been posed to the Scottish people. As a child growing up in the Highlands during the 90s, it was practically a right of passage to mildly hate the English. It seemed a genetic memory of all the grief that they had once given us, like banning the kilt and outlawing the bagpipes. As children we scarcely understood what we were saying. We hated them because we should, or because our parents did.
When I was around seven my family ventured to Norway for our summer holiday. The journey took us via Newcastle to catch the overnight ferry to Bergen. As we stopped off at the carpark at the port, waiting to board, I remember refusing to step out on to the tarmac. It was England. I didn’t want to touch it, have any association with it. My parents laughed – and teased me about it years afterwards. But it was an incident that stayed with me as I tried to understand the reasoning behind it. It wasn’t the same game as Don’t Stand on the Cracks in the Pavement. It wasn’t lava. Over time I cared less about the English in the same way that I had done.
There was still that friendly rivalry and certainly I will continue to support any team England plays in football, but that’s an intricate logic in itself. Scotland has always been the underdog and therefore we have always supported our fellow subterranean canines. For a long time England, the driving force behind the United Kingdom, was the dominance of the globe. As such there is a slight psyche of arrogance that has been passed down the generations – it’s a stereotype that is frequently overcome by individuals, but given fresh energy by the latent media. It is a humorous distinction between Scottish and English football fans. Without a glimmer of hope, Scotland supporters will bat and forth between them as to what degree we are going to lose by; which is why we laugh at the English media who rather than weighing up realistic scenarios in the good game, automatically think they are going to win it.
It is that kind of arrogance that Scottish people dislike and actively mock when we support England’s opponents. We are humbly pessimistic when it comes to our achievements and outlook on life – which is probably what irritates most people about Andy Murray. Scottish people can be loud and crass and fat and drunk – just as much as English people can. But I think the main difference between us is our ability not to take ourselves too seriously, which unfortunately something that I believe many English people have become a victim of. Whether it’s a media instilled way of thinking or purely just a hereditary accident passed down from a generation long since dead, it is probably the one thing that divides our two nations.
This leads me to the Independence Referendum. On one side there was the Scottish Nationalist Party – the parent of Independence. For many their arguments were compelling. Their Utopia painted out in their White Paper was indeed a future worth having. However, as we have skeptically come to realise in our aging adulthood: you can’t get all the things that you want. Unless the Overlords from Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke swoop down to sort us all out, we are going to have to pay for the things that we want. Free Higher Education is something that I benefited from, but should I expect not to pay back into the system to fund the next generation? The paradox of government is that in every general election they promise to lower taxes and raise funding. Ultimately the SNP’s plans were rejected by the population, but to a narrow margin of 55% against.
I didn’t sleep the night of the election. I was worried that it would be my last night in my own country. All day I was concerned, unable to concentrate at work. Afterwards I held an Election Party and we embraced our patriotism for Scotland, despite every single one of us having voted to No. I created games such as Pin the Kilt on the Scotsman (said Scotsman being a rather dishy looking Peter Capaldi as The Doctor), and printed off a massive map of my country along with photographs of famous locations and my guests had to figure out where they were located. Fortunately a little more than eight hours later my nightmares didn’t come true. Scotland chose to stay, to stick with its fellow landlubbers. And for just under two whole years I was allowed to be proud of not only being Scottish, but British as well.
And then Brexit.
A decision was put to us that should never have been. What had originated as a way for our former PM David Cameron to crack the proverbial party whip had backfired, and who really could not understand why? The Remain Campaign was even more lacklustre than the Better Together one for the Indyref. Scotland didn’t vote to remain in the UK because their minds had been changed by Better Together. Broad-brushing the general public, it is safe to say that most of the 55% were always going to vote No because they themselves had never believed in Independence or creating borders in an already small world. A substantial number of them were also worried for the economic security of their country – but it wasn’t Better Together that pointed that one out to them.
So the Remain Campaign suffered because it rested on the laurels of Indyref. They assumed that people were frightened of change and therefore wouldn’t vote for another decade of instability akin to the 2008 crash. They were half wrong, sort of.
But this decision should never have been ours to make. For forty years the EU has been integrating into our laws, ensuring a deeper more stable level of security and rights that the government of the day could not overturn on a whim. Access to the Single Market has made it easier to trade and has removed customs charges for us lowly consumers – our food prices are kept low and we are able to buy and sell goods within the EU without additional cost. The financial hub of the UK has made trillions from the Passporting that allows banks to trade throughout the EU so long as it has established a base in any one of its member states. Luckily for us that main hub is London. There are no visas to complete when we roam around Europe on our family holidays, and we can freely hop from country to country without worry or border police checking every passport.
The EU is much more intricate and complex than anything I can write. I am not expert in it, despite being well versed. I am a lowly citizen who takes an interest in politics, but I have no right to claim an opinion on the EU. I admire it as one might admire the UN, or companies such as Google or Facebook. My surface knowledge could never weigh up against the experts who every day are running the show. Should I have a say in how a brain surgeon operates when I have no experience or exposure to medicine?
On the 23rd June the country apparently decided. On a margin of less than 4%, the government decided that a non-binding referendum was a clear mandate to leave the EU. Whether your voted Remain or Leave, I don’t think that that is a clear message at all, and that’s not even taking into account the shambles of what came after. If the Scottish Independence Referendum was a close call at 55-45 against, then how on earth could anyone claim the Brexit choice was the voice of the British People?
The Campaign to Leave
The main slogans for the Leave campaign turned out – big surprise – to be lies. Even if you could slide passed the very obvious rhetoric of politics, the campaign was fought on lies. By any standards that should be fraudulent?
However, who could blame them really for making this all up? Boris Johnson seemed utterly devastated that he’d won, which is not unsurprising given that a few weeks before spearheading the Leave camp, he was pro-EU. Flip-flop politics aside, what was the campaign to leave really about? As Alex Salmond said on the morning of the results, just hours before the result was declared – you don’t call referendums to reinforce the norms, but for change. But what was the Change that Leave were hoping for?
The SNP at least had a White Paper – a plan for their utopian future. What had Boris Johnson or Michael Gove? Nothing. They had no initiatives to pick apart the intricate laws, no back up plans and no policies on what laws may or may not be kept. Now the nation has inherited that negligence.
And what had the Leave voters thought might have happened? Did they believe that it was like cancelling a gym membership? Maybe we’d have to pay three months up front, you know as part of EU policy to break contract. Did they think that Churchill would rise from the grave and point his rigor mortis set finger at Europe, and dictate all the terms at the negotiating table? Would we, Dad’s Army Opening Titles sequence style, march those namby pamby Europeans back across the Channel?
What did they think they were going to gain their sovereignty back from?
Did they think that immigrants who keep our services running would still feel welcome when the vast majority of the campaign to leave had been based on what many called rampant immigration?
Did they expect the UK to thrive back to Victorian times, ruling the waves just as Britannia should?
It is exactly this kind of backwards patriotism that destroys countries. We are sixty million people on this tiny island in a small quarter of the globe. We are insignificant in the Universe’s timeline and sooner than we think we will be fossils in the ground. But these primitive opinions do exist and maybe it is time that history should teach them a thing about Britain and what we have done to shape the world.
Engineering, the Industrial Revolution, Scientists such as James Clerk Maxwell and Isaac Newton, Monty Python, Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, JK Rowling through to Arthur C. Clarke, Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell and Jane Austen. For centuries we have shaped the world. It is a pity that not all of it was as great as we sometimes choose to believe.
With our European collaborators, we triggered WW1, and on the 11th Day of the 11th Month we couldn’t be bothered to carry our weapons home so we shot at the enemy we had sworn to end that bloody war with until there were no more bullets and there were no more artillery shells. As victors we helped dictate to Germany the terms of their loss: The Treaty of Versailles, which in retrospect was a huge driving force behind the rise of Hitler. Even after 1945 we treated Germany like the spoils of war; helping to tear up Berlin by sectioning it off and building a wall that would separate and segregate for decades to come. We took a ruler to Africa and divided it up like a cake. We took to India and made the Caste system the central mechanism for administration that to this day causes vast problems in the country. We slaughtered the natives of America and the Far East, of Australia and New Zealand. We have a bloodied history and anyone who should seek to return to glory days of our Empire or even the those of the mid-twentieth century should really consider at whose cost that arrogance and triumph came.
The EU is not perfect and no one ever attested that it is. However, it is a marriage of nations striving for something better than what plagued our continent for centuries. Marriages need work, they evolve over time they involve compromise and dedication.
The government seems set on ploughing on with Brexit. No politician seems able to bring themselves to admitting that this would be a disaster. We have already seen the effects in the markets – and that is before we have even pressed the trigger. It seems that we are in an age where our parents are too frightened to tell their children that they know better. And so determined are our political guardians to save face and to pretend that they uphold the core values of democracy, we are going to enter an age of uncertainty and economic difficulty all for the sake of not upsetting a few million racists who blame their problems on immigrants and some dogmatic patriots who would detest Utopia itself if they couldn’t fly the Union Jack.
With the High Court Ruling on Thursday 3rd November, at least the government – led by our unelected Prime Minister – now must go through Parliament to trigger Article 50. However, it is not too late to stop. It appears that we are the passengers of the Titanic, and our captain has ordered full steam ahead for the iceberg that everyone saw, but who a lot chose to believe would melt by the time we reached it.
It does not take a genius to acknowledge that this referendum was less a stance on Europe and more a Fuck You from the British People to its Government. For years the politicians have failed to listen to us and we have been shoved through recessions and industrial strikes, to the privatizations of railways and problems with the NHS that we simply have to put up with for the time being. And yes they are out of touch. They live in their Whitehall offices and London expensed flats. Many don’t even live in the constituencies that they claim to represent.
The real paradox though is that how can they listen when we are not even talking? We sit in our homes and we submerse ourselves in X Factor on a Saturday, Strictly on a Sunday, Corrie and Eastenders midweek. We drink heavily on a Friday, regret it the next morning. We eat and consume and we barely look up from our Twitter pages and Instagram accounts. We take selfies not for the record of a good time but to tell the world that we did have one. Our lives revolve around a work that crushes our souls. We drink to forget, but also because for a lot of us it’s all we have. Annual holidays in unimaginative places, to sit and lie like a beached whale, drinking endless cocktails and complaining of the modern struggle to get out of bed.
When the politicians talk of raising taxes, we get annoyed. We have forgotten that the free NHS didn’t mean no cost, it meant access to all. We pay for it through our taxes and our National Insurance. What we give out in taxes we get back in services – at least in a perfect world. But the modern world has detached us from reality. We care about our world, but it’s someone else’s job to clean it up. After all someone always does. Global warming isn’t our problem to tackle. Teachers will raise our kids and teach them morals, and we can blame them when it call goes wrong. So long as it’s not us. We complain that our politicians are crooked – but we do not stand ourselves. We do not get involved in community projects, but we do complain when they are taken away from us. Somehow in our little bubbles we have the luxury of time to complain, but when we are asked to do something above and beyond our lives we find that there is not enough. And so we blame those who did find the time, who maybe did care beyond their little driveway. After all it is easier to blame those who did than those who didn’t.
So, Brexit. If we continue, then we must face the storm to come. The NHS will crumble, the racism will rise. The cost of living will soar, but the pennies in our pockets won’t. It will be harder to buy a home. We will face unemployment. Scotland is highly likely to leave the UK. It seems silly to think that in an effort to regain this squidgy nostalgia for sovereignty, we will have destroyed the United Kingdom. But that’s okay, because God will save our Queen?
Now is the time to hook this essay into The Dark Places Trilogy.
In my dystopian series, no one cares beyond their own lives. They do not look up and see the sinister government forming around them. They blindly accept the laws coming into force. They push the blame that they should carry on to others. As such the United Kingdom has become bitter. They have become disinterested in the world because everyone is disinterested in them.
Nearly a decade before the book is set, there has been a global economic crash. The country is back on Rations. The cost of living is immense. All those hopes over careers and overseas opportunities are dead. People work to survive, just as they used to. There is no luxury to life. Alcohol abuse is socially normal. Those that fight back are deemed terrorists, criminals and dissidents. They upset the balance of the passive negativity that has taken hold of the country. And through this apathy malevolence has weaved and is used to enable cruel social engineering by a government that is given free reign because no one really cares.
With democracy comes responsibility. We cannot simply vote every few years on policies that are specifically designed to please. As citizens we must educate ourselves in the world that we live in and actively take part in it, fighting for a better future. We criticise politicians for always lying to us – but who could blame them for when they tell the truth we eat them alive. To err is to be human and if we accept that of ourselves then we must of others. We elect these politicians to solve problems that are above and beyond us – but do not make the mistake of attributing infallibility to them in the hustings and then tearing them to shreds when you find that they are just as fallible as you are. Of course there are MPs who are shockingly bad at their jobs, placed in departments they have no experience in or have lived their whole lives inside the gleaming white walls of Whitehall. It is easy to criticise someone for not having the answer – but perhaps it is only prudent to do so when you have them all yourself.
The Dark Places Trilogy explores a society not unlike the one we live in. It follows a character who is as disinterested in politics as many people are. It forces a situation for him to take a look beyond his own life, and to tackle ideas and moral dilemmas that maybe have no clear answers. Sound familiar?
Leave Voters Abusive Message Retorts:
If you have replied to this post on various social media with abusive or threatening language, then please see my prepared responses below.
If you have sent death threats, please be directed to the Dignitas sales team: +41 43 366 10 70
As you clearly are an evolutionary throwback, it’s probably in the good of humanity that you simply “end it all” yourself, but in the comfort of knowing that you aren’t in an EU country.
If you have accused me of being a Remoaner because I didn’t get my way, please may I direct you to the entire history of the Woman’s Suffrage movement where campaigners were classified as moaning women with nothing else to do with their time. Remember that us Remainers were fighting for everyone’s future – and that includes yours. This isn’t an Us & Them affair, if – or more likely when – we all sink down to Davey Jone’s locker, we’ll all be drowning together.
If you have claimed that I am ignoring democracy and should just shut up, then please feel free to review the Human Rights Act 1998, Article 10. Or at the very least I could delicately remind you that Hitler was democratically elected, and look where that got us. You can talk about the will of the people all you want, but at some point you have to admit that sometimes they make mistakes.