Published on June 24, 2016

The referendum has revealed what 52% of us are against – together we need to work out what we’re for

People & participation

By Simon Burall

Simon Burall is a Senior Associate of Involve. He has extensive experience in the fields of democratic reform, governance, public participation, stakeholder engagement, and accountability and transparency.

So what now?This morning, those of us who got any sleep woke to a deeply divided country and a vote in favour of exiting the European Union.  The quest to answer one question has inevitably thrown up numerous others about the future of the UK and our democracy – questions to which we must find answers together.

As I have written previously, the immediate challenge is to interpret what a vote to leave should mean for the UK’s future relationship with the EU.  Referenda necessarily reduce complex decisions to binary choices, which reveal more about what we’re against than what we’re for. With at least four possible options in front of us, and no clear steer on which the public prefer, the tone and focus of the debate must shift from campaigning to consensus building.  The coming months must see a genuinely inclusive discussion about what we want our relationship with the EU to be.

This discussion is the start of a, perhaps even more pressing, longer term challenge to repair the fractures that have been revealed within our society and build a shared vision for the future of the country.  As my colleague Harry has written, the referendum has brought to the fore political divisions that defy the left-right political spectrum on which our political system is based.  Linked with this, it has shown the extent of anti-politics and anti-establishment sentiments within the country – sentiments that have bubbled under (and occasionally on) the surface for a number of years, but which politicians have failed to address in any meaningful sense.  

A new politics has been often promised, but never delivered.  It’s hard to imagine a set of circumstances that would demand it more than those that face us now.

Image credit: so what now?, Andrew Fleming, Creative Commons License

2 Responses to “The referendum has revealed what 52% of us are against – together we need to work out what we’re for”

  1. Robin
    June 27, 2016 at 12:18 pm

    Hi Simon,

    When you guys have had the time to think about it, I would welcome the Involve take on the value of referendum as a form of public involvement. In many ways it probably comes down to that old question of direct democracy versus representative democracy. I would also be interested in hearing your views on should count as a win in a referendum? A simple over 50% number, or some kind of super majority?

    Best wishes,

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