Well, it happened. The UK decided by 52/48%, on a 70% turnout, to negotiate an exit from the European Union. Normally, even in a General Election, we’d be lucky to see 60% turnout. For European elections it’s often been in the low 30%, but the fact remains that almost a third of registered voters didn’t vote – even for something as critically important as this.
I don’t doubt that many who voted to leave think it’s a case of “job done”, and they can go back to their usual disengagement with politics: at most, ranting on social media or writing letters to the editor from “Angry of Eastbourne”. That would be the worst of all the collateral damage that might be inflicted on the UK and the rest of Europe. Why? Because all over Europe there are other Euro-sceptic parties, mostly of the extreme right wing, queueing up to have referendums of their own. If we turn our backs on the political process now and hand our democracy, by default, back to activists we risk being dragged back to the 1930s. With the exit of Great Britain, a major player and influence in the EU, the disintegration of the EU is now a distinct possibility, broken up by an alliance of right-wing interests. This morning Nigel Farage (leader of the UK Independence Party) explicitly pointed to the “opportunity” for Euro-sceptic governments to create a Europe of separate “independent sovereign states”. A neo-imperialist Russia will be happy to pick over the bones of our ‘friends’ (and their countries) from this group. In the Euro-Security part of the Brexit/Remain debate I heard people talk about the crucial role of NATO in preventing that. Well, NATO is made up of, and part funded by, these “independent sovereign states”- but led, bankrolled and largely equipped, by America. With Trump in charge of America, a man whose global vision stops at building walls on the Mexican border and golf courses in Scotland, what price the NATO umbrella? If it doesn’t directly affect the US he’s quite likely to think (if not say and do) “It’s nothing to do with us – get on with it”. Would he ‘face off’ against Russia? I think not.
So, I implore you to get, or stay, engaged. Read (but don’t necessarily believe what you see) the papers, take an interest in current affairs, vote in local council elections and vote in the inevitable early General Election. Otherwise we risk waking up one day and saying “How the hell did that happen?”