I spent most of yesterday in shock after discovering that the UK had voted to leave the European Union. In the weeks leading up to the election, it seemed clear that the Remain camp was in the lead, and despite a late surge in support for the Leave campaign, I went to bed on Thursday feeling reassured that we would probably stay in the EU. Waking up to the news that we had in fact voted to leave, that David Cameron has resigned as Prime Minister and that the stock markets were plunging, possibly signalling the start of a new recession, left me wandering around all morning like a zombie, as Mrs Merriweather and I exchanged expressions of disbelief.
As you’ve probably guessed already, this post has absolutely nothing to do with video games, but the events of the last few days have left me in such a profound state of grief that I felt the need to express some of it. Yesterday saw the first stages of the grieving process – shock followed by denial. I kept wondering whether it was all just a mistake, and surely with such a narrow margin of victory – 52% to 48% on a 72% turnout – they’d almost certainly have to hold another referendum. But this is just clutching at straws – Brexit is happening, even though practically no MPs or senior figures wanted it.
The denial eventually gave way to anger at the people who voted Leave. This was compounded by reading stories about Leave voters who didn’t really understand the consequences of voting Leave and now regret it. In a way it’s hardly their fault – the Leave and Remain campaigns were universally dreadful, full of scaremongering, exaggeration and downright lies, with very few considered facts. (One particularly egregious lie was that the NHS would get £350 million a week if we left the EU, a falsehood that was plastered across the Remain ‘Battle Bus’ but that was quickly backpedalled on after the election.)
As a result of the lack of reliable information, it seems that many people just ‘voted with their gut’. It was telling that one of the trending search terms on Google yesterday was ‘What is the EU?’, which suggests that many people voted to leave something that they didn’t understand in the first place.
In a way it doesn’t surprise me that the UK voted to leave the European Union. Growing up, I was surrounded by lots of anti-Europe sentiment, and the country is characterised by ‘island thinking’ – indeed, the Germans call us ‘Inselaffen’, or ‘island apes’. (Whether they mean that in a good-natured way or not probably depends on who’s saying it.) As I got older and went to university, I noticed the anti-Europe sentiment less and less, chiefly because I was surrounded by people who were generally liberal, often foreign and who took great advantage of the benefits of free travel and work in the European Union. It’s telling that the two places that I’ve lived in the UK since leaving university – first London and now Scotland – were also the two regions (along with Northern Ireland) that voted to remain in the EU. I think one of the reasons that I’m so shocked about the Leave result is that I have surrounded myself with people who naturally want to vote Remain. But there’s clearly real anger against Europe in other parts of the country, anger that I haven’t been aware of in my daily life.
But I’m angry now. It feels like my future – and more importantly, my son’s future – has been wrested away from me by people who may or may not have understood the real consequences of what they were voting for. An inevitable next step will be yet another referendum on whether Scotland will leave the union. With Scotland voting by 62% to 38% to stay in the EU, and with anti-Westminster feeling already high in the country, it seems almost a foregone conclusion that Scotland will break away in order to retain its EU ties. So soon I may need a passport to visit my relatives in England.
Then there’s the economic fears – $2 trillion has already been wiped off the markets, and it seems like we’re heading into another recession, all because people wanted to ‘take back control’, whatever that means. And god knows what’s going to happen to the housing market, which means our future plans will probably be put on hold as we wait to see what happens.
Both Mrs Merriweather and I have spent time studying and working in Europe, and it makes me sad that our son won’t have the same opportunities that we did. It’s particularly galling that it seems to be mostly older people who voted in favour of Leave, when they’re not the ones who will have to deal with the consequences. Around 60% of over-65s voted Leave, whereas 75% of 18-24-year-olds voted Remain. Retirees with their own home will be affected very little by the vote, but the economic fallout and loss of EU rights will have a massive effect on people who are just starting their careers.
I have several friends who work in places like Germany and France right now, and no doubt they’re worrying about their future and whether they will have to seek citizenship to remain in their jobs (and to keep the benefits they currently enjoy as EU citizens). Many of my friends in Edinburgh are from mainland Europe, and there’s a pervading feeling of uncertainty about their future status. Basically, no one knows what’s going to happen – we’re on a roller-coaster into the unknown.
So, I’m still pretty angry at the moment. No doubt at some point this will resolve itself into resignation, the final stage of the grieving process. But there’s still plenty of anger floating around the country at this point, and it feels like the UK is more divided now than at any point I can remember. In the nineties, politics moved towards the centre, but in the past decade we’ve seen parties – and people – shift further and further to either the left or the right. Especially so now, with the resignation of David Cameron leaving the Tories in the hands of the right-wingers.
With such deep division, I can only envisage more uncertainty and conflict ahead.