People may be aware that we, in the UK, have just recently gone through a referendum, that has resulted in a decision to leave the European Union, a bureaucratic and economic process that will take two years to complete.
Although Britain is known, in Britain at least, as the birthplace of democracy, we don’t do referenda very well. They just don’t sit in our political process.
To the British, referenda have more than a whiff of dictatorship about them. We are deeply suspicious of them, whatever the result.
Our usual political system is that of representative democracy. Because we have a party system, we are always choosing representatives who only more or less reflect our views. For all its apparent two-party, adversarial nature, it is, in fact, a politics of compromise, ambivalence and a vague sense of disappointment, whatever the result. I vote for Party x, because it is generally more acceptable to me than Party y, but if Party x wins the election I will still be dissatisfied because there will be aspects of policy I disagree with. Of course, this is why everybody can moan about the Government, which is the inalienable right of every British man and woman.
After an election, the contract goes something like this. Party A has won and so becomes the Government. They can legitimately try to do anything they said they would. Party B becomes the Opposition, and it is their job to oppose everything that Party A says and does, because they must represent all those people who didn’t vote for Party A.
This sounds weird, but it is very English, a bit like the rules of cricket!
However, a referendum is different. By its nature it is stark and black-and-white. It is either or, rather than our usual position of ‘maybe both, maybe neither’. We are forced to decide between opposing views, when all our British-ness is screaming quietly and politely, “Well, it all depends . . . “
So, when we do have a referendum, it is hardly surprising that the nation dissolves into anger and recrimination. It was not our job to decide in the first place, and now we have either won everything or lost everything. It is the politics of dictatorship, or Civil War.
There is no room to fudge the result so as to make everyone a bit happy and no-one total winners.
People are angry and bitter, or triumphant and bitter, in a way that does not happen after a General Election.
If the country were not split approximately 50-50, we would not have had a referendum in the first place, and our elected representatives would not have shirked their responsibility.
Britain is not a Greek City State, and Boris Johnson is not Pericles. It is not possible to run the country through referenda, even if we wanted to. We are just too complicated. It would be like a massive reality television show. The X or Y Factor.
So let’s not have any more, please. By their nature, they are divisive and unpleasant. And they are just not British!
Instead, let’s just say Quits and go back to muddling along with each other in a vague and loose union of countries, tribes and races. We need to just rub along, rounding the corners and chamfering the edges.
If “the people have spoken”, then they have spoken, though we must always remember that the winners were only just in the majority. We need to focus on the future, because we might be able to influence that.
And, next time, “let the representatives represent”.