Last week’s referendum result and the immediate aftermath have highlighted our differences as a nation. Now we must seek to understand our differences and find the things that unite us.
Where were you when you heard last Thursday’s referendum result? How did you feel when you heard the news? For many of my friends on both sides, the prevailing feeling seems to have been close to shock. But given how close the result was, this outcome should have come as less of a surprise. Surely, we should have come across people with opposing views quite frequently during the course of the campaign. We should have got a fairly good sense that half of the voting population would choose to vote differently from us.
But time and again since last Friday, people have expressed shock at the result. “How can this have happened when everyone I know voted remain?”, or “My Facebook feed is full of people celebrating, how could so many people have voted to stay?”
The conversations we’re having on social media, or at the pub, or even in the workplace, are in danger of being unrepresentative echo chambers. The reason for this? All too often, the high levels of diversity in this nation aren’t matched by high levels of mixing between people of different backgrounds. And when polling suggests a close link between how people voted and their social background, it’s no surprise that the result came as a shock to so many people.
For instance, Lord Ashcroft’s extensive exit polling showed a clear difference of opinion between the richest and poorest, older people and under 25s, and even between people of different ethnic backgrounds (just 47% of white voters voted remain against 73% of black voters). Guardian analysis also pointed out a strong connection between educational attainment and whether you were in or out.
A difference of opinion is all well and good, and part of a healthy democracy. And of course, there were exceptions to the rules – some well-off people voted to leave, and some older people voted to remain. But this segregation of the vote could throw up some difficult questions about the life experiences of those coming from different walks of life – particularly if these groups aren’t mixing with one another.
Perhaps most importantly, segregation seems to be impacting our ability to heal. Without friends, colleagues, or acquaintances from different backgrounds, it’s more difficult for us to relate to people who aren’t like us. Understanding opposing points of view becomes even more difficult – particularly when everybody around us thinks similarly to how we do. This could go some way to explaining the level of animosity between leavers and remainers, and the reported increase in hate crimes since last Friday.
If news reports are correct, the complex political negotiations that are now needed could go on for weeks – if not months. We can’t wait for the politicians to turn this tide around and bring the nation together. To begin the process of reuniting after what has undoubtedly been a divisive time for our country, we need to get on and do it ourselves.
Our challenge to you is to do something with a friend who voted differently from you this week. Whether that’s going for a drink, sharing a meal, or helping out with chores, now more than ever it’s important for us to find the things we have in common. Talking and reconnecting with friends – especially those who have very different views from us – is part of the process of healing the divide.
A final thought – the four E.U. citizens I’ve spoken with this week have all told me how personal the vote felt to them. One person even said they’d never felt so unwelcome in this country. Do remember to take the opportunity to remind friends how important they are to you this week – however they voted seven days ago.
Jon Yates, External Affairs and Operations (Non-NCS) Director, The Challenge