The Brexit debate is no longer democratic

A simplistic view of democratic process is that it is about voting for what you want, but in reality democratic decision-making is far more complex: it’s about dialogue, and negotiation, and compromises both sides can live with. This is because democracy is founded on the idea that everybody has a valid perspective and therefore should have the right to contribute to decision-making – the aim then becomes a solution or compromise that satisfies as many of the interested parties as is realistically possible without compromising the central principle of mutual respect.

As such, the debate surrounding Brexit/Bremain has devolved so far that it had become utterly undemocratic, in fact it has become nakedly racist and xenophobic (which are anathema to democracy because they deny some parties respect). I work in children’s democracy and if one of our school meetings ever devolved to this level of abuse and savagery (and let us not forget that, although all the facts are not yet in, the initial indications are that the senseless tragedy of Jo Cox MP was in some way part of this) I would have no question raising my hand and arguing that all decisions need to be postponed until we are all calm enough to be able to listen to each other (rather than just shout at each other).

Similarly this referendum is no longer any kind of democratic process at all – it has become simply a demagogic process, based entirely on appeals to emotion (mostly fear – and both sides are guilty of this) where whoever wins will impose their will on the losers: a tyranny of the majority that in case of a “Leave” result looks very much like it will trample hard-won democratic values of tolerance and inclusion.

Note that this is NOT an issue of freedom of expression: free speech implies that everybody deserves respect and has the right to be heard – it therefore does NOT include the right to drown out other voices by marginalizing and dehumanizing them (note that in this case the people being marginalized don’t even have a say in the debate, and so it is doubly important that we respectfully consider their position ) or by spreading misinformation.

I am thus writing this post to argue that the state of the debate on Brexit/Bremain has devolved so deplorably that any decisions on EU membership should be suspended until such time as the debate can take place in a respectful way that considers the facts and arguments without degenerating into racism and bigotry. (It’s worth noting that general, presidential and mayoral elections are similarly flawed – as a society we still have a lot to learn about democracy).

Yes, as a “remain” supporter I am rather biased, but if this were an argument about economic and political pro’s and cons I would support the vigorous debate in this as I do in the schools I work with (doing my best to accept decisions I disagree with because I respect the process by which they were arrived at). But this campaign is anything but a debate of economic and political pro’s and cons: it started badly (as a political gamble by Cameron) and has since descended into a circus of intolerance, bigotry and racism.

As such I believe the referendum should immediately be shelved for a later date (if at all – surely these kind of complex issues are why we elect representatives), and that we should spend a good deal of the intervening time examining what has gone so wrong this time around so that we can learn from it and do better next time: so that we can debate the actual issues instead of vilifying caricatures  and each other.


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