A letter to friends who voted Leave

The morning after Brexit

Over the last few days I’ve seen Leave voters on Facebook posting in annoyance that Remain voters are not sitting in quiet acceptance of Friday’s result. Apparently it’s an outrage to democracy that those of us who voted differently have the nerve to be upset about the result and to express ourselves.

I find this bemusing (did y’all get a different Ladybird book of democracy to me?)

Referendums are always divisive. It’s not like a General Election where, after initial disappointment, it’s time to move on because there will always be another chance in five years. They are for keeps. It is perfectly reasonable to expect the losing side to be hurt and it should go without saying that the losing side deserve time to express their disappointment.

There seems to be a lot of expectation from Leave voters that it’s now up to those of us on the Remain side to kiss and makeup. You feel righteous and victorious, but have forgotten to be humble.

Yes, you won, but your margin of victory was small: backed by only 26.7% of the UK’s total population (65,100,000) and 37.4% of registered voters (46,499,537). A victory, yes, but not a resounding endorsement of one of the most significant changes to the UK in a century. If you are serious about healing the divisions your vote has wrought then learn to be magnanimous.

When I heard the news on Friday morning (and when I saw Farage crowing about ‘no shots fired’ and that the Sun had put a member of Combat 18 on the front page) I felt like I had lost my country. I understand that – for different reasons – this is exactly how many Leave voters have felt for years. Yet I suspect this sense of disillusionment crept in and developed slowly. For Remain voters it was in the blink of an eye.

Put yourself in our shoes and imagine waking up one morning to discover that everything you thought you knew had been irreversibly destroyed. Wouldn’t you be upset if part of your identity, your sense of place and belonging were involuntarily torn away from you in the flash of a BBC bulletin?

The Leave campaign has legitimised the spread of division and hate. I know that the vast majority of Leave voters are not xenophobes and of course you are not personally responsible for the recent post-referendum spree of racist abuse, but (to paraphrase Alex Massie’s wonderful Spectator column on the murder of Jo Cox) I haven’t seen any evidence you are doing much to stop it either. Stop laughing your ass off as you repost Thomas the Tank engine and NWA themed Leave memes and go and do something to combat the hate, because right now your stance makes you complicit.

People are scared. The loss of EU money for Higher Education and the potential loss of EU students is going to be hugely damaging for our universities. The construction sector – already facing negative growth – is in freefall. Research, innovation and business investment are going to take a beating as we suffer a brain drain, a financial drain and the growth killing paralysis that two years of uncertainty introduces. If you voted Leave then have the decency to understand that people are going to lose their jobs as a result of your choice (this is personal to me, my own sector is likely in dire trouble). Understand that people are scared that their hopes and dreams for the future are in ashes.

The leaders of the campaign you supported are, to all intents and purposes, hiding (the Leave website is already removing many of its documents and promises). In their absence it falls on you to make this work. You expressed your anger at the ballot box, now take responsibility. Maybe something good can come out of this and perhaps the future isn’t as bleak as I (and many others) fear. Prove us wrong. Prove to us that this is more than simply “a mandate for Farage and the inward-looking, reactionary mean-spirited philistinism he embodies”.

It will take a long time for what remains of this country to heal, and even then the scars will remain. Your Leave vote doesn’t change that we are friends and acquaintances (and I will never reduce you to solely your vote on this issue), but I’m finding it hard to forgive you for who you chose to stand with. If you want metaphorical make-up sex then you are going to have to start the heavy lifting first.

Right, I’m going to listen the new Swans album really bloody loud.

Header image: cogito ergo imago, ‘Pieces In Our Time’. Creative commons license.

About Matt Nicholas

Matt Nicholas recently finished a PhD at Cardiff University on the analysis of early Anglo-Saxon non-ferrous metals excavated from a group of cemeteries in Suffolk. He grew up in a town called Worksop in North Nottinghamshire. With sites like Creswell Crags and Roche Abbey on his doorstep becoming an archaeologist was an occupational hazard of childhood. He was lucky enough to get his first job excavating an Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Whitby Abbey before studying for a BSc in Archaeological Sciences at the University of Bradford (2000-4). He then worked in commercial archaeology for a few years (in locations from Suffolk to Sudan) before studying for an MSc in the Technology and Analysis of Archaeological Material at UCL (2007-8). He proceeded to spend two years employed at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford (where he didn’t stab himself with a poisoned arrow and only broke one object). He does not like pickled beetroot.


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