imageHannah Burke breaks down Brexit as the ultimate example showing the distance between a Union characterised by fear, loathing  and despair and the contrast with the independence movement of 2014. She warns of the potential of disillusion creeping north of the border and out down roots.

“I don’t understand, I thought you were voting remain?”
“Well, I was going to, but I just fancied a bit of a change – y’know?”

Well, not really, no. When I fancy a change, I might part my hair differently, or try almond milk with my Weetabix in the morning instead of my usual semi-skimmed. If I’m feeling a bit more daring, maybe I’ll venture outside without the winged eyeliner I’ve been drawing on my face for the past 10 years, or perhaps I’ll buy a new pair of high heels that I’ll inevitably only wear once, because hey, I guess just fancied a change.

However when I wanted a bit of a change on June 23rd, my first thought wasn’t to pop down to my polling station and vote to leave the European Union. Yet, when I speak to people who (predominantly) lead lives that will not be immediately affected post-Brexit, this kind of indifference to the outcome of one of the biggest votes of our lives is, quite worryingly, not uncommon.

It’s understandable that people may have become so disillusioned with politics and their influence over it that they come to see using their vote for change as about as effective as using a sieve for a bowl of soup. It’s exhausting to believe in a campaign and invest all your energy into it, only to sit up until 6am on the morning of the result to see that those efforts were for nothing; a truth anyone involved in the Yes campaign in 2014 will know all too well.

However, those approaching politics with this kind of detached, just-close-your-eyes-and-pick-a-box-on-the-ballot attitude have not developed this apathy as a result of seeing their previous political engagements amount to no visible change; it stems from knowing that regardless of the outcome, they are likely to continue leading relatively comfortable, secure and safe lives.

It’s understandable that people may have become so disillusioned with politics and their influence over it that they come to see using their vote for change as about as effective as using a sieve for a bowl of soup.”

In 2014, Yes voters campaigned tirelessly for a better Scotland for those who needed it most. It was more than a vote for separation from the Westminster system that failed to accurately represent Scotland’s voting patterns, but one for a Scotland where those who were most vulnerable would be protected by their government and have their needs looked after. Those involved in the campaign knew not just how a Yes vote could improve their own lives, but how it would almost certainly improve the lives of others less privileged than themselves.

The same can be said for the Remain campaign in the lead up to the Brexit vote – though perhaps fought less fervently than the Yes campaign, many of those on the Remain side knew that even if their own lives were unlikely to see drastic changes in the face of Brexit, many Britons and EU citizens would not have that good fortune.

Of course, this turned out to be the case in the days and weeks following the result of the referendum, when Britain saw a massive surge in the number of racist hate crimes committed towards those who did not ‘look’ British, and the futures of the thousands of EU citizens living in Britain were suddenly left uncertain; a rug torn away from under their feet, yanked by those who voted Leave out of a fanciful notion for “a bit of a change”.

When we vote with only our own concerns or interests at heart, we are committing acts of unthinkable cruelty and unkindness. We may live in a democracy (debatable as that idea may be at times), and we can argue that it is our right to vote with our own best interests at heart, but this kind of individualism is both selfish and dangerous.

“It was more than a vote for separation from the Westminster system that failed to accurately represent Scotland’s voting patterns, but one for a Scotland where those who were most vulnerable would be protected by their government and have their needs looked after.”

When the least privileged and most vulnerable members of our community consistently have their political voices drowned out by the comfortable, and (largely, though not always) white, male, and middle-class majority, who are unlikely to feel even a slight tremor from the post-Brexit political earthquake that they voted for, we have a responsibility to ensure that we are using our votes compassionately, and encouraging others to do the same.

Not every political decision you make in your lifetime will directly impact your life or future – often, you will be given the opportunity to vote in a way that will simply ensure your own comfort, perhaps even further it. But, in these instances, we have a responsibility to consider how our vote will affect others; those who are likely to have their own comfort and security compromised for the sake of our own.

If we are to move towards a more inclusive and egalitarian society, we need to insist on a more compassionate way of doing politics, and exercising our political rights. Without it, we will only serve to further the hostility and division in our increasingly fragmented society.

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