What is Change? – between disillusion and compassion

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.

Comments (7)

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  1. bringiton says:

    Well said.
    The 2014 referendum was for many of us about democratic accountability and not how much money that might,or might not,cost us.
    Those who considered democracy to be an abstract idealistic concept are now,as a direct result of lack of democratic accountability,about to find out that a real cost will be paid.
    Not,of course,for the Britnats who deny Scotland is a country and that the democratic voice of the people of the UK has been heard.
    Fortunately,they are in a minority in Scotland.
    Good article.

  2. Lochside says:

    The lesson that I took from the 2014 Ref was that Thatcherism and its ugly love child of neo liberalism had actually left a significant section of our population as selfish and politically brutish in outlook. Many were like ostriches, burying their heads in the sands of cognitive dissonance. Others were allowing their worst prejudices, whether political, religious, class, or identity to colour their vote. The ‘No’s were characterised by their sullen silence. Resentful at the audacity of the Hope over fear narrative being played out by the predominantly young and enthusiastic and inclusive ‘YES’ people.

    I watched their closed faces at their front doors when canvassing, the aversion of eye contact or bullish venom about ‘alicsammin’ . I observed them on polling day, heads down, implacable , with body language of defiance and shame in equal measure. It was like watching a procession of weary wullies, King Billies, I’m alright Jocks, Uncle Toms and red and blue tories, all trooping in to betray not only their country but the youth, the disabled, the poor and our reputation as a strong and brave nation.

    Brexit was a complete non-event in contrast. Apathy and reluctant attitudes of dutiful remain votes cast, not as a ringing endorsement of the bosses’ club known as the EU, but as a refutation of GB the toxic brand. Few could have predicted the outcome, a mirror image of our REF, a surge of negative energy released in the English shires, aimed at assertion of Englishness. But an Englishness that is backward looking, insular, racist and exclusive. A reactionary knee-jerk by a dissociated electorate, who hate the same class of people ruling them that we do, but who have come to a diametrically opposed conclusion.

    England has split asunder, as long term Scottish Independistas always knew it would. As we move inexorably out of England’s orbit, the last colony , that of Scotland has unintentionally unleashed a wave of self loathing and internal bitterness, which has existed in England for centuries. Once contained by the previously shared imperial pretensions, which marshalled these conflicting forces outward in controlling the colonies, both at home and abroad, now the contradictions of economic and social injustice are and will continue to come to the fore.

    The English, unlike us, have a long history of civil disobediance. The poll tax riots and other disturbances over the last thirty years are testimony to a large sector of disaffected people ready and able to take to the streets. The Theresa May Tories may wish to delay Brexit and Article 50 as long as possible, but they are bigger fools than Boris Johnson and Michael Gove if they think the ‘Leavers’ will go away and forget about the result quietly.

  3. Richard MacKinnon says:

    “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?”
    Inverted commas mean you are quoting the words of others Hannah. Is it a quote? Is there a name? I bet you there isnt. I think you heard the words in your head.
    I think you find a difficulty in accepting the two referendum results. Your contorted logic goes something like this; 2014 Scottish yes to independence voters, good people voting for independence for the right reasons, lost. In contrast, 2016 English yes to independence voters, bad people, voting for independence for selfish reasons, uncaring of other people, won.
    Hannah, the 2016 EU referendum had the same legitimacy as ours in 2014. They were as entitled to their referendum as we were ours.
    I have a theory, it is, that you are deeply resentful of the outcome of the two votes. May be you have not admitted this to yourself but the resentment stems from the results, Scotland were feart and voted to remain within the union where as England took their chance and voted to leave. Accept the reality.

  4. Crubag says:

    I think the psychological term for this is projection – it is an attempt to understand the world by imposing your thoughts on others.

    But there is no guarantee that others think like you. Of those who voted, 40% of Scots voted to exit the political union that is the European Union, including, if polls can be believed, 1/3 of 2015 SNP voters.

    And that was in the face of a Fear campaign equivalent to that which helped swing the 2014 referendum result in favour of a continuing union.

    “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.”

    This in my view is where it went wrong, and why SNP heartlands voted No, too much focus on policy details and not enough on the principles. Votes about constitutional structures aren’t about particular party policies, they’re about who has what powers.

    In the next indy referendum (which I don’t see coming anytime very soon, not till BREXIT is concluded), to get the majority onside we will need to make clear that any party political outcome is possible.

    1. Asty Taylor says:

      Ha.
      Brexit will drag on and on.
      As will the Westminster government.

      I suspect independence will happen sooner rather than later, dear Crubag.
      Now, I’m away off for a walk in the hills.
      Freedom.

      1. Crubag says:

        The SNP won’t move on indy2 until the post-BREXIT deal is clear – borders, trade, people.

        And by that point the EU itself will have changed, quite possibly for the worst from the point of view of a new entrant. I don’t see us rejoining anytime soon, whether as UK or Scotland.

  5. Broadbield says:

    Referenda aren’t particularly good ways of solving complex issues. The campaigning on the EU referendum shows why – it was Project Fear on both sides. Lies, simplistic slogans, appeals to the most contemptible aspects of human character with very little in the way of reasoned argument based on sound evidence. At least with Indyref one side was mainly positive, offering a positive vision for a future Scotland, even if there were major, unresolved issues such as the currency. But it is hardly an ideal way of deciding a major question. However, I don’t know what the alternative would be.

    The question of democracy is somewhat simpler, because we don’t have democracy in any meaningful sense of the term: we have electoral representative government. We have professional politicians, many of whom come from very privileged backgrounds (as do many in the top professions etc); we have an hereditary head of state and a second chamber of place-people who haven’t even been elected. The ordinary citizen is effectively disempowered.

    There are other options. David Van Reybrouck in his book “Against Elections: The Case for Democracy” goes back to the roots in ancient Athens. And, yes, he knows it was a slave-owning society and a very limited franchise – no women, no poor – but it’s the principle that’s important and may offer a way forward for a democratic, more equal Scotland. And satisfy some of the aspirations of Hannah’s last 2 paragraphs, which I think lie at the heart of the article. Worth a read.

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