Our United Kingdom seems to be united no more. The most striking thing about this referendum result is just how deeply divided we have become. The highly passionate and angry debate has helped fuel distrust in our politicians, as shown by the fact that many voters voted against their party’s recommendation.
Since the result, I have found myself in a whirlwind of emotions, something I have not experienced before and I imagine many others feel the same. In this scenario, where emotions and uncertainty are high, the state of the United Kingdom has never before been so deeply, and, in my opinion, so dangerously divided on so many issues.
The first step is recognising our problems, the second is mending them. Ignoring the division will facilitate and encourage the hatred we have already begun to see in all parts of the UK. This is not only bad for society for obvious reasons but it will further prevent clear discourse on the next steps for the UK. We need to make sure everyone realises that these divides are very real and then put forward a recommendation on the strategy to deal with them.
This vote has prompted an identity crisis for many in the UK. Those heavily invested in the European dream, who identified as European, perhaps feel their identity has been stolen. Many of those who voted to leave, felt their identity had been stolen by the EU, as shown by Farage’s gimmick to bring out his passport in debates, interviews, and speeches and long for the day when it once again is just a passport of the UK. These people voted to take their identity back. Identity is always an issue of utmost importance to people anywhere in the world. Many will stop at nothing to protect it. Identity is the key issue to consider when analysing the division of the UK society which has become evident following the BREXIT referendum.
The divide is most visible in Scotland with an overwhelming majority of Scottish voters casting their vote to remain in the EU. Many who feel more European than British are asking themselves the question whether the schism between them and the rest of the UK is now too deep to remain part of the union.
Those in Northern Ireland are also in a similar situation. In a place where the saliency of identity is so important for many, the change couldn’t be more worrying. Some who identify as Northern Irish, just Irish, European, or feel they belong to the rest of the UK, feel that their future has now been thrown up in the air. In every scenario, be that the unification of Ireland, the continuation of union with the UK, and the many situations and deals that could be the result of each, one or more of these identities will appear to be threatened. It is perhaps ironic how the identity situation threatens those who reside in Northern Ireland the most, yet the word Brexit, the term used to describe the UK’s exit from the EU by combining the words Britain and exit, actually excludes them.
While these concerns are the most overt, these are not all the schisms that need to be addressed. There are strong divides between generations, classes, and locations around the UK. Those who were older, of a lower-income and those who reside in small towns and in rural areas, were much more likely to vote to leave.
From my own observations, the most salient reason for leaving the EU were the problems of immigration and the desire for the ‘good old days’ before the EU. While we shouldn’t dismiss some of the concerns over immigration, many seemed to believe all their problems, such as struggling public services, will be solved once the immigration is stopped, which is clearly untrue. This is due to the lack of clarity within the debate, leaving people confused. This has lead to the country drawing simple causal connections between immigration the EU, and the nation’s problems. With the added factor that many used their vote as a protest vote, the reasons for so many people voting to leave are definitely not as clear-cut as the leave campaign would like us to believe.
From this, it is clear that British people are unsatisfied in many different ways with the UK political landscape and the direction the country is headed to. Many are not angry about immigration or the EU, but the perceived causes of it. The tone of the debate, with its over focus on immigration, formed the EU as a scapegoat for this dissatisfaction and covered and mystified people’s real concerns. It is to find all of these issues and concerns that should be the task of the political leadership in the coming years. We know where the divides are, now we need to demystify what causes them and seek to mend them.
To sum up this seemingly bleak situation, I suggest that our primary task should be to unite our country. As can be seen, our country is fragile, passions are high, uncertainty is at its peak and these conditions are perfect for hate to flourish on both sides of the EU debate.
The next leader of the country has a monumental, and maybe the most challenging task of any leader in uniting the United Kingdom once more. They have to listen to all the concerns of everyone in the country, accommodate everyone as much as possible, even those bitterly opposed to their ideology or of different identities to themselves. Only if everyone is listened to, and not manipulated or mislead, we can identify what causes and accentuates these divides, and mend them. We need honest politics now more than ever.
The people of the UK have a responsibility to be conscious of these divides, to not be angry at, or hate those that voted differently. Hate works both ways, if it is perceived to be there, and people do not feel safe or comfortable, it is a problem. We need to be prepared for a long and honest discussion about the future. We have voted to leave the EU, and now we have to unite in order to steer the country in a direction that can please as many of us as possible.