Brexit is not just about Britain and the EU. It's about modern democracy and how society can cope with fears and frustrations. By Martin Griffiths
I am delighted by the British referendum, just as much as I am cast down by its result. I felt the same about the Scottish referendum even if, as a Celt, I might have wanted a different result. I am delighted by the way in which democracy can flex its muscles.This was democracy at a high level, a referendum (as in the Scottish case) which followed a period of diligent and mostly orderly campaigning.
The people spoke, and Lord help us if we don't listen.
Those who care about Europe need to start listening
It's been a fairly depressing time since the results came through early Friday morning. But one aspect of this has taken me by surprise. Many of those I work and play with have cast the vote as the result of "stupidity" or simple ignorance of the issues.
This is profoundly to miss the point. We cannot wish away the views of a majority of British voters through contemptuous dismissal. Their rejection of conventional assumptions is considered and decisive. Our job now is to understand instead of to dismiss, to embrace and engage instead of to reject. Now is the time for those of us who care deeply about Europe to step up and listen and connect.
I am horrified when I hear European political leaders dismiss this British decision and call for a brutal process of separation "with all speed". These same leaders are supposed to protect and develop our democratic aspirations. They are subject to the daily judgments of the people. To wish it away with contempt is not just plain wrong, it is also dangerous.
What does it mean for peacemaking?
Far from denying this public anger, we need to heed it. I cannot but see the parallels with my own field of work – peace making. Our temptation is always to let it be an elite process, between diplomats and political leaders. But decades of experience shows the opposite: if sustainable solutions are to be found, the process itself needs to be inclusive.
Inclusivity is not some farfetched ideal of a peacenik. It is now a reality in other forms of public life that are driven by social media. It is not sustainable to exclude democratic processes, of which peace making is one, and the EU referendum another, in the presence of an engine of inclusivity.
The existence of social media should make inclusivity our starting point for a more democratic response to political dilemmas whether they are in Europe or in Syria, whether they involve resolving conflict that is violent or ideological.
The irony is that we actually know how to do this. We just have not bothered to make it happen. Take Syria: this is a society with high levels of literacy, also of Internet connectedness. It is perfectly possible to ensure the virtual participation of Syrians in the negotiations behind closed doors in Geneva. I am quite sure that if the country in conflict was the United States or France, we would have seen that happen. But in the case of Syria, elite rule persists.
And there are certainly elements of it too, in our response to Brexit. But Brexit is not just about Britain and the EU. It's about modern democracy and the fundamental values underpinning it. Should the elite now override this result because its consequences are such a headache? Or should we, as we should in Syria, get beyond the convenience of elite rule to engage with the complex multitude of voices that make up any nation. Ultimately it comes down to facing our fears. Only then can we move on to manage, far better, our aspirations.