A binary referendum on the UK’s membership of the legal and economic collaboration known as the European Union (EU) has divided and confused its people by forcing them to choose one or other option with little explanatory information, context or insight into the implications. Just over half of them — largely but not exclusively those most disadvantaged by existing systems of power and finance — voted for the “leave” decision, which if implemented will have far-reaching economic, financial and legal consequences.
The vote required Britain’s voters to assess which complex arrangement of internationally interwoven laws, trade agreements and economic subsidies (all within an overarching system that depends on economic growth, debt slavery, inequality and violence to the natural world) might offer them the greatest security of food and money supply from the global market. It gave no consideration to the impacts on those outside the qualifying voting group, such as future generations, non-human species, soil, forests or rivers; neither was there any analysis relating to the relevance of the decision to the current context of acute ecological and climatic emergency.
That the people were ill-equipped to make the decision about processes far removed from — yet still affecting — their lives based on anything other than gut feel is supported by revelations that even the politicians advocating change had little idea what that change might entail or require (and have all since resigned their posts). The referendum decision, if fully implemented, is expected to adversely affect the UK’s trading position with European countries and beyond and has the potential to trigger the collapse of the wider EU legal and economic system and the integrity of the nation status of the UK.
Tragically, it is also feeding the illusion that relationships between people are mediated by abstract entities of governance: the result alone triggered rifts at the human scale based on differences in nationality and culture, revealing a deep disconnect from a sense of true belonging — which no laws can deliver or take away.
Extensive analysis of the backdrop to the vote has yet, at the time of writing, to bring about deeper insights into the link between the event’s ramifications and the millennia-old trauma sustained and re-broadcast by those who live within the abusive systems of modern society. British people, whose psychic memories will register their brutal divorce from the land between the 16th and 19th centuries and the equally brutal impacts of colonialism ever since, and who are long-compressed by a culture of deference and restraint, struggle more than most with separation from place and people. The referendum presented an outlet for an expression of deep-held frustrations, which, whether in the form of a vote for the unknown, disdain at those who voted differently, a rallying march for unity, or unconscionable attacks on those with a shorter history of connection with their lands, mask a cultural wound requiring a process of reconnection to heal.
Suggestions for making use of the ensuing hiatus in political momentum to seed a culture of reciprocity and localism within the country are emerging, as summarised by Rob Hopkins of the international Transition Network.
Image: Pro-EU march in London following the UK referendum on EU membership. Credit: David Lammy, MP.