Before reading on, let me declare that I am a ‘remainer’. But please don’t let that put you off because this is not about Brexit per se. It’s about binary thinking.
Since the vote back in June 2016 I have always maintained that Brexit will never happen (or if it does it will be in a form that makes no difference). So far I have no reason to change my mind.
It is ridiculous to think that the country voted to leave Europe in June 2016. I’ve heard Brexiteers say that the country voted overwhelmingly for Brexit. This is simply not true. What actually happened was that the country voted by a small margin to rebel against the increasingly unsustainable inequalities in society. Less than 38% of those eligible, voted for Brexit. Admittedly they were the ones that bothered to vote while, I speculate, that many of the remainers stayed at home in the belief that the vote was bound to go their way.
This was three years ago without the vote of people who are now 18 but were not that eligible to vote in the referendum. We know that young people tend to be remainers. It was also at a time before there had been much debate about Brexit. It was before companies started to spell out the implications of tariffs. It was before the effects on employment, international travel, border controls, uk residents abroad, Russian interference and much more could be assessed. It was before the NHS described the impacts of restricting immigration on their ability to provide services. It was before many other organisations and individuals were voiced and understood. In other words it was before we had heard the arguments.
Brexit is a Smokescreen
To claim that Brexit should happen because of an overwhelming democratic vote is a sham. Is it democratic to ignore a public who, for all we know, might now vote overwhelmingly to remain? Nobody can be certain what another referendum might show, but surely it would be more democratic to have another referendum than to doggedly pursue the idea that leaving Europe was the main issue for everybody last time round.
Politicians have made leaving Europe the issue because they do not want to discuss that the 2016 referendum was about how the UK, and the world generally, was run. It was little to do with Europe specifically.
It was an expression of discontent about austerity, how austerity came about (i.e. a dysfunctional financial system). It was a protest against unequal distribution of power and wealth in the UK, in Europe and globally. It was saying that undeserving fat-cats benefit, while everybody else had to pay the bills for their irresponsible behaviour. Of course, these very same people are going to deflect criticism any way they can, and encourage you to think that all that has gone wrong is nothing to do with them. It was easy for both those responsible, and indeed also the disadvantaged people of Britain, to scapegoat immigrants in order to avoid addressing the real routes of inequality and unfairness.
That’s why we should have another referendum. Because the last one was hardly about leaving Europe at all. And what’s more it has at least in part achieved its objective. Parliamentary democracy is in chaos (by historical standards). That was the implicit objective of the people that voted for Brexit. And yet the whole mechanism of parliamentary democracy carries on as if the substantive issues do not even exist.
Oh, well maybe I’m wrong then. But no, maybe I’m right. It is entirely credible that the story I am telling has brought us to where we are today – the story that Brexit is a smokescreen. It is a huge diversion from getting on with fixing the things that really matter.
But another referendum only solves part of the problem – the part that didn’t really exist before the 2016 referendum. That is, it only solves the problem of Brexit, that wasn’t the main issue at all. It doesn’t solve the problem of parliamentary democracy as it exists today. It doesn’t solve the problem of increasing wealth inequality. For that, we need a far more radical solution.
But the way things are going, as a country, we are being fooled into believing that Brexit is the issue. We are being fooled into thinking that the current system of parliamentary democracy is the best we can do. This is not true in an age that offers so many technological mechanisms to support complex decision-making. While we are all still arguing about Brexit we are ignoring the faults in a system that reveals that many issues do not necessarily align with party politics. Nobody is talking about alternatives.
Binary Thinking is none too subtle
The two-party system always lacked subtlety and the Brexit issue has merely served as a mechanism to show it. It is ridiculous to think that because you prefer one party, all your views are going to align the same way.
We are all autonomous, independent thinkers. Why continue with a system that turns everything into binary thinking?
It’s interesting that the realisation that binary thinking (for example in relation to sexuality, disability, ‘us and them’ and so on) is not very subtle should come at a time when a binary political system is failing. We need a system where we can all take part in the political decision-making process. Let’s call it citizenship. The ancient Greeks may have thought of it, but maybe that’s because it was good.
It was a good idea because it brought a diversity of opinion to every problem. Hasn’t anybody realised that diversity of opinion is the opposite of binary thinking. Parliament needs to be diverse not binary. It should be really representative of the people, not just pretending to ‘represent’ the people. That’s because MPs are not representative. They are self-selected. They are the subset of the people who aspire to power. I’m not saying that’s wrong necessarily. I’m just saying that’s not representative. Not being representative means that it is not diverse. It does not represent the true diversity of opinion that exists in the country.
What doe we need? – Diversity
Contrast this true diversity with the two-party system that forces everybody into either one mindset or its opposite. All arguments become either at one extreme or the other (or occasionally somewhere along the binary dimension). How do you expect creative thinking and innovative ideas to come out of such a channelled mechanism of uni-dimensional thought?
Here is a possible alternative. Why don’t we just move to a parliament that consists of a random sample of 1000 people? This diversity of opinion debating with each other, would produce far more interesting and creative solutions than debates framed within a unitary dimension of opinion. This is only one of many suggestions – all I ask is that the time has come when we should consider alternatives.
I suppose you could argue that too many cooks make a spoiled broth but that only applies when they are in an environment of chaos. Given the opportunity to deliberate, supported by structured mechanisms and rules of evidence, instead of just shouting at each other so that the loudest voice wins, they might come up with a new delicious soup. (See a related post on ‘Is the referendum definitive‘ I wrote back in 2016).
Brexit has given us the opportunity to realise that we could have a better system. We should start thinking about what it could be and how it might be put in place. If Brexit is not the opportunity, then what is? Now is a good time to ask those people who hold the power some difficult questions.