In general or local elections, whether your party wins or not, whether you like the voting system or not, at least, at the end of the day, at some level of government, most of us feel that someone, somewhere has a voice that can argue some of our interests and beliefs. In contrast, a referendum is a curious beast; it is absolutely all or absolutely nothing.
So it is a critical decision for voters to take. Frustratingly, this hasn’t been made easier by either side. When Michael Gove said recently, “I think people in this country have had enough of experts,” this was so far from the truth that it hardly needs comment. Suffice to say that I don’t want a cow to drive my kids’ bus to school, and I’d rather see a qualified doctor when I’m ill, thank you. Maybe as Justice Secretary with no legal training, he feels he is leading by example. Thank goodness Dominic Grieve QC is on hand to explain tricky legal concepts to him.
The remain campaign has also come out with some histrionic descriptions of the post-EU economic panorama, with house prices diving and other fairly wild guesses about what would happen should we leave. When are they going to patent their crystal ball?
Increasingly hysterical newspaper headlines add nothing positive to the debate.
Then there’s the matter of trust: in February 2016 Boris said ‘Leaving would....[divert] energy from the real problems that have nothing to do with Europe’, and Cameron has not always seemed adverse to leaving. So now when they are in full oratory flow, can we really believe what they say?
How can it possibly be democracy to give people a hugely technical decision, and when asked for facts and evidence to help us take it responsibly, obfuscate? No wonder the debate has become, for the most part, emotional rather than rational. And once it becomes ‘gut’ over ‘head’, and fear over cool consideration, we all chase one another down the chimney of anger and recrimination and into the fire.
Whichever side you support, the EU referendum has been a deeply divisive, angry debate. Whatever the outcome, we will be a more divided, dissatisfied and angry society than we were before. Whoever wins, roughly half the country will be bitter losers feeling that their passionate beliefs have been overlooked.
It’s very sad, and very concerning. Where will all that anger go?