With Brexit negotiations beginning soon, we must challenge the myth that Britain remains a divided country

With Brexit negotiations beginning soon, we must challenge the myth that Britain remains a divided country

In her New Year message, the Prime Minister said that at the forthcoming negotiations with the EU, she’ll be “there to get the right deal not just for those who voted to leave, but for every single person in this country”. This was interpreted by The Guardian as Theresa May reassuring ‘those who voted for Britain to stay in the European Union that she will fight for their interests’ – thus creating not just a myth of a divided country into those who voted to stay and those who opted to leave, but a nation of two parts with uniquely different interests.

Ever since the EU referendum, the myth of a divided country has been sustained by a self-appointed elite that has been unable to accept that ordinary working people decided to defy them and to vote to leave the EU. Opposing opinions as to the best way forward for the UK indeed existed between those who wanted to get back control of our economic, political and international affairs and those who thought it was better to hand over some of those powers to the EU.

Both sides held not opposing interests but opposing views in the same manner as any collective of individuals faced with a major decision as to its future. In any collective, a division of opinion on major issues invariably occurs, be it in a family on whether the Christmas bonus should be spent on a holiday abroad or saved for the kids’ university education; in a trade union whether to take strike action to secure a wage increase; or for that matter in society at large on who to vote for in a general election. The opposing sides may have different opinions, but they have the same common interest: the family, the trade union members and the country respectively.

In every such case, the result, once it is arrived at, is respected and everyone then works towards making it a success – never more so than in a trade union where a decision to take strike action is hotly contested, but once it is taken, no matter how small the majority is, everyone works to make it a success. The idea that those who voted against a strike should be placated somehow by a having a ‘soft strike’, known in the jargon of the Trade Union Act as ‘action short of strike’ as opposed to a ‘hard strike’ would be seen as nothing but sabotage.  In the context of Brexit, a ‘soft Brexit’ is ‘Brexit short of leaving ’.

What the promoters of a ‘divided nation’ do not seem to understand or are unwilling to contemplate is that those who voted in the referendum, on either side of the debate, were not motivated by personal interests.  This applies to individuals as well as to regions, including Scotland, which Nicola Sturgeon insists on portraying as having ‘voted to stay in the EU’. This is a highly questionable interpretation that has been allowed to permeate the Brexit debate unchallenged, since the referendum was for the UK as a whole and not whether any individual nation within the UK wishes to stay in or leave the EU.

Equally questionable is her contention that by voting for the UK to remain in the EU and having failed to convince the rest of the country to do the same, Scottish people would want to leave the UK and join the EU. This is like saying that if four of five friends on a night out decide to go to a restaurant and the fifth expresses a wish to go clubbing, the person who disagreed would have wanted to go to the night club had she been on her own – or, even less likely, have left her friends to go to the club by herself.

If Sturgeon calls a referendum on Scottish independence on the basis of joining the EU, it may very well prove her undoing. By the time the issue arises in two or three years’ time, countries would be queuing to leave a fractured, crisis-ridden EU rather than new ones eager to join. Unless, that is, the Scottish people want Edinburgh to be the Athens of the north in an unseemly manner.