National unity?

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The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland today

By Ronnie Smith

It is often said that large scale political events, such as referenda, where historic choices have to be made, create division and conflict within a country.

In fact the divisions are always there, they are a normal element in any society; created by differing geography, educational attainment, economic opportunity, social background, family circumstances, personal experience, culture, language (accent), common perceptions and opinions of others and many other factors. People within communities are different, people from different communities are different, regions in any country are different from each other.

Most people do not travel widely in their own country, save for visits to relatives and holidays. People tend to remain within their own communities and perhaps commute to a nearby town or city to work every day. The information they receive about other parts of the country comes mainly from Television and, because of the commercialisation of that media channel, it seldom seeks to inform. Rather, because ratings are so important in the battle for revenue, Television companies mirror the existing preconceptions of their largest audience segment.

National unity is something that seems possible only when the nation is threatened by an external enemy. That is why large internal political events surprise many people when they bring nascent divisions within a society to the boil.

The idea of wanting our country ‘back’ therefore means very different things to a wide range of people but it does unite people in the strange feeling of having lost something. Even though no one can agree on what that ‘something’ is, the sense of grievance and the unresolvable paranoia that it creates evolves into a mutual and escalating hostility. In effect, we become dogs fighting over a large bone. Without reason and without any intention of compromising.

All of our differences are laid bare and decades of distrust and bitterness inform our thinking, our speech and our actions. People, abject and lumpen, who have been told to shut up since the sixties suddenly find their voice. People, educated and superior, who have been doing the telling are suddenly shocked by the vulgarity of the whole thing.

Those smart enough to manipulate these divisions rub their hands and wait.