Thursday 19 December 2019

Getting over it

I’ve fought around 20 elections at different levels as a candidate over the years, winning 7 and losing the rest.  Not the best of records, but from experience I can say that, in most cases, the campaigns have been civilised and friendly, with the candidates able to debate and argue in a reasonably calm fashion as they put their case to the electors.  One or two have been rather more acrimonious, of course, where one or more candidates have been particularly objectionable; but as a general rule, it has been possible to end up on amicable terms, with the losers congratulating the winners and looking forward to the rematch.  I was going to say that it’s a bit like a football game, but football fans are often much more tribal than politicians.
With that as background, it’s easy to see why some would argue that, once the dust has settled, we should all accept that the result is as it is, that it will stand for the relevant term of office, and that we can then play the next round.  It becomes a little harder to do when one or more participants are widely perceived to have lied or cheated their way to a victory however, and the ‘reconciliation’ demanded by the PM has to be seen in that light; if it’s difficult to achieve reconciliation, a large part of that difficulty is down to his own cavalier approach to truth and the normal rules of debate.  In any event, reconciliation does not – and cannot – require that people change their views about future directions, nor that they stop campaigning for them.  After an election in which Party X has lost, no-one seriously expects that it will therefore accept all the policies of Party Y and stop putting forward its own views.  And no-one really expects that the ‘opposition’ will cease to oppose, using all the democratic means at its disposal. There is, in short, a difference between accepting the result of the vote and agreeing with the winners.
Why then do some people’s expectations seem to be so different when it comes to a referendum?  The expectation that those of us on the losing side of the EU referendum in 2016 will somehow ‘get behind’ the result is as silly as expecting those who didn’t vote Tory last week to ‘get behind’ the PM.  I don’t expect those who lost the referendum on establishing the Senedd in 1997 to change their views; they have every right to continue to campaign for its abolition if they wish.  And if the 2016 EU referendum had gone the other way, there would have been plenty who, like Farage, saw it as ‘unfinished business’. 
Part of the underlying debate about the EU (and the Senedd, come to that) is that it goes beyond mere differences about policy and starts to impact on the question of identity.  Many opponents of the Senedd saw it as having an unwanted Welsh identity imposed on them, just as many Brexiters (and, interestingly, they’re often the same people) see the EU as imposing an unwanted European identity on them.  Brexit has, to some extent, been driven by a particular view of what it means to be ‘British’, and a corresponding demand that political structures should both reflect that identity and impose it on others.
One of the major successes of the Good Friday Agreement on Northern Ireland was that it established a framework which allowed people with different identities to co-exist, and structures which enabled different identities to be lived and expressed alongside each other.  It sometimes seems that the demand to ‘get over it’ from the English nationalists driving Brexit implicitly requires an acceptance that our identity is what they say it is – no more, and no less.  It isn’t just the delicate balance in the six counties which is threatened by that attitude.


Mel Morgan said...

An elegant and powerful exposition of the present position.

Various Brexiteers have deployed lies, personal abuse, and violence (including the assassination of an MP). Now they want to close down the debate. Quite simply, that is *not* going to happen.

Mel Morgan said...

Both Brexit, and the call to abolish the Senedd, are manifestations of what J.R. Jones called 'Prydeindod'. We are in deeper trouble than most of us can begin to imagine.