It’s not accidental that truly democratic government is rare. Most of us don’t like to lose and democracy always involves the risk of losing. The acceptance of loss and the ability to change who rules us is what distinguishes democracy from autocracy.
If we are very lucky indeed Britain will finally leave the EU in October and the result of the 2016 referendum will be implemented. There are some hopeful signs, but it still may be that the Remainer Establishment will find a way to block us.
There is an almost complete lack of understanding between the two sides of this debate. It’s as if we have become foreigners to each other speaking a language neither can understand.
This is the difficulty really because democracy requires the common identity that accepts that while we may disagree about politics, we are all still fellow countrymen with the best of intentions.
This is what is changing not just in Britain, but in other places too. The divide between Republicans and Democrats has not been so great since the election of Lincoln in 1860. It is a debate now about identity. It is not merely about what it is to be an American, but more importantly about whether Americans have a shared morality any more. If they don’t it’s unclear how they can have a shared country.
The divide in the UK is likewise about whether we still have the shared identity that makes our democracy possible or did we lose it somewhere along the way.
I find the hostility I frequently meet from Remainers to be remarkably similar to that which I used to meet from Scottish nationalists. It is grounded in the same failure to accept loss. It ruptures the shared identity on which our democracy depends.
Democracy in the UK like everywhere else depends on a single identity. If you think that the majority are foreigners, then you will never accept the will of that majority. But in the UK, we not only have four countries, which frequently play against each other in “international” sport, we now also have citizens of Remainerland and Brexiteerland.
Failure to accept the result of an election is to say our fellow citizens are in fact foreigners. This in essence is what happened in 1860. Those states that didn’t vote for Lincoln decided that Republican states were in fact foreign.
Scotland has been playing this game for a long time. Whenever Scotland voted Labour and England voted Conservative, the result was somehow illegitimate. It was foreigners who voted Tory not us.
We now have Scotland being dragged out of the EU against our will. Even supposedly Pro UK commentators accept this story. It is of course deadly for UK democracy. It simply does not matter which way the various parts of the UK vote in UK wide elections. If we care about UK democracy, we shouldn’t even count. We either accept the will of the UK majority, which means we are all fellow countrymen, or we treat that majority as foreign. Anyone who goes down the route of Scotland or Northern Ireland didn’t vote to Leave has already conceded the argument to the nationalists.
The problem with not accepting loss is that it infects not only your own side, but also your opponent and then everyone else. We all learn from each other and the precedents we set.
The SNP have given us the example of campaigning for a second independence referendum immediately after the first. They have followed this up with campaigning for a second EU referendum immediately after the first. They have used their seats in Westminster to vote against implementing the 2016 Leave result and would be delighted to revoke Article 50 if only they can find a majority of MPs to go along with them.
The problem for the SNP is that they have destroyed their only route to independence. The Scottish Parliament cannot rule on constitutional matters, because it is outwith its remit. An illegal independence referendum would be boycotted. But even a second legal referendum on independence would immediately be followed by calls for third one no matter who won. Any decision to repeal the Act of Union, which is the only way Scotland can become independent, could be overturned by a majority of Westminster MPs just like the SNP think such a majority could revoke Article 50. How would the SNP stop this? It’s not as if they will ever have a Westminster majority.
This is the danger of not accepting that you lost. Scotland has become much more divided than it used to be. Imagine if Pro UK Scots prevented Scottish independence by using a Westminster majority to block it. Imagine if the decision to leave the UK was held up by endless court cases and arcane pieces of parliamentary procedure. Would this improve or harm the atmosphere in Scotland? Would we even have a shared country or would we be still more foreign to each other?
Still worse there are calls by Sinn Féin for a referendum in Northern Ireland. Let’s imagine that 51.89% of voters chose to Leave the UK. Let’s imagine too that the Unionist Parties immediately campaigned for a second referendum and used their seats in Westminster to block the departure of Northern Ireland from the UK. How do you suppose Sinn Féin would react? What happens when the ballot box fails?
Our democracy depends on our unity and our acceptance of the result even when we don’t like it and even when we think our opponents were stupid, tricked and lied to. This is why it is absolutely crucial that the UK does in fact leave the EU in October. If you so love the EU, then campaign to re-join and put it to the electorate. Otherwise, why should any of us accept the results of any elections. If a Labour campaign contains any lies or promises that won’t be fulfilled why should Conservatives accept that Labour won? If Corbyn would be more disastrous than a “no deal” Brexit, why should he be allowed to rule? This all gets very dangerous very quickly.
Many people in Scotland think that the will of the majority in a UK election is illegitimate if it is different from how we voted. But what if people in England took the same view. This would mean that any Labour Government dependent on votes from Scotland could be rejected by the people of England, especially as unlike the other parts of the UK they don’t have their own parliament. Worse still for Scottish nationalists, what if they so divide Scotland that we cease to view ourselves as having a common identity. If you think that is impossible you haven’t been paying attention lately.
Better by far if we all accept that we lost when we lose and that the majority covers every citizen of the UK not just some of them. The alternative is chaos, partition or worse.
This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2019/08/the-danger-of-not-leaving.html