I write to see myself/ To set the darkness echoing.
Finger touches keyboards because there is so much cant out there at the minute. People report that they cried when they heard that the UK was leaving the EU. Predictions of doom abound. Anger and hatred is being expressed quite openly by people who are furious at the angry and hateful. I’ve seen tweets where adolescents are calling for the elderly to be disenfranchised. I’ve seen tweets where people are urging the elderly to hurry up and die. I’ve seen tweets where dissenting voices to the EU mean that people are labelled racists, fascists, xenophobes, Little Englanders.
I’m Irish by birth. I’m married to a Spanish woman and my children are all Spanish. We speak Spanish at home. My family is her family, so my family is entirely Spanish. I feel at home in Bilbao, just as I feel at home in this small northern town. I’ve lived in Ireland, England, Greece, Spain. I’ve visited Portugal, Italy, France. I love the French mannerisms; I love the Portuguese warmth; I love the Greek spirit; I love the Italian history and rich culinary tradition.
I was 2 years old when Ireland and Britain joined what is now known as the EU. I was 46 when I voted to leave the EU.
Why would I vote to leave the EU? Because of my xenophobia? Because of my racism? My fascist mindset? My need to see En-ger-land Uber Alles? Get over yourselves! I voted to leave the UK because when I was in the voting cubicle and was staring at the ballot paper, I couldn’t think of a good reason to remain. I remembered how the Greeks had been humiliated and forced to throw out one of the few government ministers who cared about beliefs; I remembered the Spanish people who had thrown themselves off balconies in the face of ruthless evictions and a life of penury; I remembered my Polish neighbours who had been forced -yep…forced – to leave family and friends to raise their children in a strange country where they felt isolated and lost; I remembered the countless TV programmes where the middle classes scoffed at the feckless working classes; I remembered the Goebbels style propaganda that I’d been reading on a daily basis that warned that a vote to leave would mean you were no better than the lazy white scum who wouldn’t know sophistication if it was sat across a table from them drinking caffe latte. And, quite simply, I thought: “I don’t want to be a part of all that.”
Now it turns out that I can be blamed for the break-up of the United Kingdom (¡Ojalá!). I am to blame for having destroyed the economy and the loss of trillions of dollars from the accounts of the wealthy (Yay!). Because of me (and not the incoming Slovak EU president), the plight of the global poor who look for refuge from war is about to get worse. My sort are to blame for the failed futures of the UK millennials who will never know peace and communion with our European partners. Bleurgh.
When the polling booths closed, I said to my kids, “I voted out, but it doesn’t really matter what the outcome is. If people want to stay, we have to stay and hopefully the vote will be strong enough to make people reflect on what really needs to be done. If we leave, things might get worse, but hopefully people will work together to make the best out of whatever situation presents itself.” That’s the point!
It is simplistic and reductionist to blame the Leave vote for whatever happens right now. People were asked if they wanted to stay in the EU or not and more people said no than said yes. We live in a society that means that we respect the will of the majority (no matter how small the difference is, which I am not sure is a wise system!). So, we leave. Not everyone will be happy, that is understandable. But the reality of the situation means that whether you’re happy or sad, you still have to live with it. If everything turns to shit, it will be because people were not happy to live with it and work with it. Not because people voted Leave, but because, having left, the Outraged seized back their ball and refused to play.
People cried when they heard. Cried! I asked my friend, “Why? What made you so sad? What do you love most about the EU that affected you so much?” The sense of unity, she said, it’s gone! But whatever sense of unity there was had very little to do with the European Union. The European Union turned Spain into a brothel; turned so many other countries into a crowded marketplace stuffed with desperate workers waiting to be exploited. We are what creates a sense of unity; we are the people whose heart bleeds to hear of the plight of Greek pensioners; we are the people who empathise with frustrated Spanish locals who watch the streets of their towns turned into sites of bacchanalia; we are the people who proffer towels and water bottles to refugees shipwrecks on our holiday beaches.
We stand at a momentous point in European history. Momentous points are never 100% comfortable. There will be painful moments ahead. The challenge is now to work to create something positive out of our lot: an alternative to secretive, undemocratic governance; a push towards the reform of a monolith that creates a hierarchy of countries within its confines; a European network where people are unified because they want to be, rather than because they are terrified of anything else. It is my hope now that the anger, blame and hypocrisy stops soon and that we replace the European Union with genuine European union.