Democracy: Referendums, Petitions, and a Reality Check for Leavers and Remainers Alike

2.5 million people have now signed a petition calling for a second referendum. I won’t be signing it. It’s pathetic. We had the highest turnout in an election for 24 years on Thursday. I think collectively we’ve made a bad decision. But it’s the decision we made.

You know what, in democracy, you win some and you lose some. Sometimes the decisions are momentous. There we go. Grow up and get over it.

Where were those 2.5 million people when we needed people knocking doors, making phone calls, leafleting supermarkets, making little viral videos to share on social media? Because I tell you what, I was an active member of the Stronger In campaign and there weren’t 2.5 million people involved in it. Had there been, we might have had a different result. There were a handful of people doing get out the vote stuff on polling day in Salisbury and there was no centrally generated data to help us do it right. It was a disorganised shambles from start to finish.

I took a half-day off to get Remain voters out in the middle of what was effectively a split-shift working day that finished at 8.45 pm before driving to the count and being there until 4 am. That’s what you need to do to win close elections. And you clicked a button on the internet? Sorry, they won, and you didn’t do enough to prevent that.

Also, don’t blame this on David Cameron calling a referendum. The Tories had a manifesto commitment to it, and it’s one of the main reasons they won the election. It was a big part of squeezing the blue UKIP vote in the final days of the 2015 campaign. It had to happen, for all sorts of reasons.

On the other hand, the Leavers telling me to stop complaining and “accept democracy” need to accept it themselves. It’s about more than marking crosses on bits of paper every few years, otherwise Russia would be a democracy. It also having the right to tell people you think they were wrong: free speech, if it means anything, means having the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear. We hear that from the populist right a lot – well, it cuts both ways.

I look forward to seeing the NHS get the £18.4 billion a year it was promised if we left the EU. Don’t expect that not to be brought up for years. In Wales, in particular, where the NHS is in a crisis well beyond that in the other 3 countries, the £350M a week claim was devastatingly effective. So front up, please.

Where are we, as Day 3 of the new era begins? In a mess – all of us. It’s startlingly obvious that the top people in the Leave campaign had no idea they were going to win, and no game plan for Brexit. I think an awful lot of them, and some of the people voting Leave, were playing for 49%, a high risk strategy that blew up in everyone’s faces. Article 50 should be triggered soon – David Cameron really should have sent a letter to the European Commission doing that on Friday morning. Otherwise what was this vote about? Boris getting one over on Dave? This campaign devolved into a spat over personalities between ideologically identical Tories too often. No wonder we lost – did we really think working-class people were going to come out and vote for our side in those circumstances? No wonder politics is held in contempt.

All this means we’re risking a much poorer settlement from the EU than we might otherwise get, both in terms of the practical issues and in terms of keeping this disunited and currently unhappy family of nations part of the European family of nations. I think Norway and Switzerland get a rubbish deal and our side said that often enough in the campaign. But from where we are sitting now, it might be the best deal on offer.

Velvet divorce from the EU is in everyone’s interests, here and all over Europe. We also need to ask whether a velvet divorce of the UK is in everyone’s interests at this point – and I don’t know the answer. It might be better for Scotland simply not to leave the EU when England and Wales do. In Northern Ireland, this is not actually a bad result. It was the least sectarianised pattern of voting I have ever seen – how often do Bangor and Derry vote the same way on an issue of major contention? Are we capable of having a grown up conversation about what the future for Northern Ireland is after the UK disintegrates? We bloody well ought to be. We, better than anyone, know the alternatives.

We Europhiles might also want to pause and ask ourselves why it was such a difficult sell. Where is European solidarity when there is a lack of a Marshall Plan-style scheme to refloat the economies of Southern Europe? Is the only option for well-educated Spaniards and Greeks really just to work in coffee shops in Bath and factories in Düsseldorf? And where is European solidarity when it comes to helping the benighted masses fleeing the carnage in Syria and Iraq?

To Remainers: there is no simple “wait for the chaos to come and buyers’ remorse to kick in” option, even though I have no doubt there will be buyers’ remorse aplenty. A Dutch General Election is coming early next year. The anti-EU far right and far left between them are currently polling just over a third of the vote. We may just have sent a message that collapses a fragile house of cards.

To Leavers: Project Fear was actually Project Reality Check. We are going to down the hole economically for a few years, at least. The UK, or England, is probably going to lose “great power status”. The English working-classes realised they didn’t care about that anyway during the Iraq fiasco.

The “Great Britain not Little England” messaging of the Remain campaign, delivered by posh people who write books about history, was so politically tone-deaf I don’t even know where to begin.

24 years after the Czechs and Slovaks carried out a velvet divorce, nobody really regrets it and they are one another’s closest allies. If divorce happens, in real life, it’s best for it to lack bitterness even though there is inevitably a lot of pain involved. The people depending on that are most of all the poor (who Leavers claim to be the standard-bearers for) and the young (who Remainers claim to be standard-bearers for).

Final thought – we all just took part in the biggest event in European history since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Isn’t that exciting!