Those of you who know me well will know that I have little love for this country. Growing up in the suburbs of Middlesbrough, a forgotten town only remembered to be the butt of someone's joke, I remember the frequent jibes from the largely London-based media about where I was born. These have largely continued to this day, with lazy off-hand remarks about our post-industrial heritage. The town has never claimed to be anything but, and yet time after time there are references equating Middlesbrough with some sort of parochial backwater there to be ridiculed. Being an adult, you can rationalise this to some degree, but this is far more difficult when you are a child. Indeed, I think this partly explains Teesside's fierce independent spirit and why I felt somewhat isolated growing up from the concepts of England and Britain. Your experiences as a child form a huge part of who you are as an adult and this lack of patriotism has stayed with me. In fact, even now I can't fathom why anyone from Teesside would have any affinity with England or Britain, thus highlighting just how deep-rooted my aversion has become. Added to this the rather more rabid sense of patriotism demonstrated when I lived in the United States and suffice to say I have always been wary of it, rightly or wrongly.
The theme of towns being forgotten is quite a pertinent one now as I think this played a huge part in generating a Leave vote last Thursday. Looking at the distribution of votes, it is quite clear that there are two separate co-existing countries in play - the outward looking global liberalism of the major cities and the social conservatism of the smaller towns and countryside. I have always been uncomfortable with the small c conservatism which runs through so much of English society and when coupled with populations who have been abandoned by the forces of globalism, the numbers added up to secure a leave vote. Take my local area as a case in point. I live in Leeds, the beating heart of the Yorkshire economy with three universities and a largely global outlook. Leeds is booming, with construction projects across the city and a dynamism which is replicated in the other great conurbations of the UK. There is significant investment here and the city has improved dramatically over the last ten years or so. Yet if you drive eight miles south to Wakefield, or eight miles west to Bradford, you are confronted by a completely different world, a world of former Victorian powerhouses in decline, high streets full of bookmakers and charity shops and a sense of an area's best years being behind them. In places like these there is a weariness which contrasts sharply with the life of Leeds and I think this is the crux of the issue.
Added to this is a sense of frustration that nothing is going to change, and if it does, it's being foisted upon them (in this case re immigrants). A sense of powerlessness is a strong one - something which many of us Remainers are now experiencing for perhaps the first time - and this has transcended into frustration as the years have passed. In many ways, whether to be in the EU or not was not the question on the ballot paper, the referendum was about a division which has been opening up since the days of Thatcherism and relates to those who have taken advantage of globalisation and those who haven't. I think the First Past The Post electoral system is largely to blame here as the concept of safe seats, an anathema to democracy, has caused complacency amongst the political establishment. When parties do not have to compete to win a seat, they don't have to pour often limited resources into that area. Knowing this, this is why I moved to the marginal seat of Pudsey in 2010 rather than other districts in the Leeds area. Last year, I saw this phenomenon with my own eyes as in the months preceding the General Election, we not only had a new traffic light system to alleviate a major bottleneck on the ring road but the public park was completely re-landscaped and had a fancy new wrought-iron entrance erected. These conveniently opened one month before the May vote. In Conservative-held rural seats, this lack of interest is not a huge problem but in Labour controlled areas which tend to be poorer and in greater need, I think this has contributed to a lack of regeneration in certain regions. I think this, more than anything else, explains the reduction in voter turnout in General Elections over the last three decades and why UKIP have managed to plough quite a fertile furrow in places such as Clacton and Thurrock, not to mention key towns in the post-industrial North. When people feel ignored or abandoned, they tend to look elsewhere. This is what happened with the SNP in Scotland and I think Labour are in danger of this happening again in England too. I also think this explains why, aside from Wales and some key cities, support for Remain was highest in places with some form of devolution. I think it is all THIS rather than the EU that has resulted in the not insignificant Establishment kicking vote and thus the majority, going to Leave. It also explains why some people who voted Leave now regret it - in an FPTP election their vote makes little difference and this mentality carried over here.
Coupled with this, of course, has been a considerable waining in trust in authority over the last ten years. The banking crisis of 2007-08 highlighted incompetence at a level that caused two recessions and six years plus of austerity while the MPs expenses scandal called many of our elected officials into question. The phone hacking scandal highlighted corruption in the media while the revelations about Jimmy Saville and Hillsborough brought the police under scrutiny. In light of all this, is there any wonder that the majority of Leave voters didn't trust ANYONE when it came to deciding where to place their vote, again highlighted by the political polling. Of course, the problem with not trusting anyone is that it tends to result in a vacuum of anti-intellectualism and the only path that this treads is that of bigotry. And this is what makes the result so dispiriting for those of us into boring centrist politics as the whole Leave campaign didn't make any logical sense. But then it didn't really have to, it just had to tap into the frustrations I have highlighted above, aided and abetted by a media which has fertilized the British psyche against the European Union with 25 years of exaggerated headlines. So we had a situation where we were told we "have had enough of experts" (even though those experts have since proven to be right) or were told to ignore the advice of "elites" from a man who has been to Davos on 16 occasions and is a distant relation of the Queen (Boris Johnson) along with the current Lord Chancellor Michael Gove and Nigel Farage, a former stockbroker who has been part of the establishment as an MEP for 17 years. Somehow, they convinced people that it was THEY who had the interests of the working man at heart, and I think that's largely because they told people exactly what they wanted to hear. After all, salience of the EU as an important issue is often quite low and the vast majority of people (including myself and most political commentators) don't have the knowledge required of such a complex scenario to even begin to make an informed decision. This ignorance (and I do not use this word perjoratively) contributed to the anti-intellectual sentiment and of course the irony here is that many people who voted Leave probably did so from an anti-austerity viewpoint, not realising that by doing so, they have likely voted for more.
Part of the problem was the nature of both campaigns. I thought that Leave's frothing rabidness would be their undoing but they successfully tapped into the sense of frustration in the forgotten towns and the small-c-conservatism/casual-xenophobia of the shires, a xenophobia that has always been a thread weaving its way through English society. By selling a phoney vision of a Britain which never existed, based on a misplaced sense of superiority that seems another character trait of the English in particular (re 'two world wars and one World Cup'), they appealed to the heart not the head. Meanwhile, the Remain campaign just bored us with dry statistical models about the economy and relied on world leader after world leader, and businessman after businessman, backing their cause. The problem was that nobody trusts politicians and businessmen, a sad indictment of where we are in our current post-truth politics. It is clear that the £350m NHS claim was a lie but it didn't need to be correct. The same people who ran the successful No to AV campaign, a campaign that was again based on an exaggerated figure on how much the new system would cost, were behind this too and the fact that this was repeated over and over again sunk into the consciousness of many people. The argument about whether it was right was irrelevant as the argument itself only served to highlight it. The same was the case with 'Take Back Control', a misleading mantra (as we are about to discover) which had no rival in the Remain campaign until two weeks prior to the vote, when the 'Leading Not Leaving' slogan started gaining traction. But by then it was too late. It was important too as most people are too busy with their lives to pay too much attention to politics, which is why these sound bytes are so important. And by harranging elites and blasting experts while repeating the same shallow slogans, the Leave campaign managed to avoid answering the tough questions like what the hell happens next, which is a question we are still waiting to be answered. The sovereignty argument was another logical fallacy as any other trade deal would result in the UK having less influence, unless the endgame was the far from guaranteed complete disintegration of the EU (which for some it definitely was). I got the impression that some Leavers just wished the EU wasn't there at all as in or out, if it was, the UK would still have to deal with it at some level. The vast majority of Leave's arguments didn't stand up to scrutiny and the fact that there is no plan only highlights that they put their ideology and zealotry ahead of rationality. I have seen this first-hand with the small number of Leavers I know, their views seem to be based from the gut and through some form of rose-tinted nostalgia than any notion of logic or knowledge of how global politics works. This was manifest succinctly by Nigel Farage's comments in the European Parliament today and now we all face an uncertain future.
So what happens now? The answer is God knows but I am angry and fearful over the situation in which we find ourselves. While I do not think 51.9% of the population (or indeed 37.4% of the absolute population) are racist, by voting Leave they have validated racist arguments, whether this was their intention or not. Over the last four days we have seen a 47% increase in the number of recorded hate crimes while friends of mine have also been targeted. The problem here is that I think racists will believe that 51.9% of the population now agree with them, which is why we have seen so many disturbing attacks and comments over the last week. With the currency markets and the FTSE tumbling, and threats of more austerity and tax rises to come, some companies have already started to pull out investment. Wolfie's company has already lost £350K worth of business and while my company is as yet unscathed, the fact that we need freedom of movement to operate means that my job is in peril as are the jobs of around 50 staff I manage. Reassuring them over the last few days has been tricky as I genuinely have no idea how this will play out. I don't think anyone does. Yesterday, my directors and I formulated a plan to try and capitalise on the weak pound by selling to non-European territories, specifically Russia, SE Asia and Latin America. The hope is that should our European operations be put in jeopardy, this will insulate us from some of the pain. However, working in translation and media services, we need the free movement of labour and should this be taken away from us, it will make things very difficult. We need to record things in bespoke studios, so we cannot get people to work remotely, while our four-month long experiences getting visas for our Russian and Chinese staff will put us at a significant competitive disadvantage should we need to do the same for Europeans in future. This is nothing though as if the situation looks uncertain for me, for my brother it's even bleaker. Sixty percent of his business concerns the implementation of EU trademark law to UK companies and should we pull out, then his job is severely imperilled. He has sent the last four days walking around London in a daze, not sure what to do with himself and even apologising to the owners of his favourite French bakery in Ealing for the referendum result. He received a standing ovation.
The only solace from the last five days is that many of my friends feel exactly the same way that I do and thus we truly are all in it together. This feels like a bereavement to me as I am about to lose my identity and my freedom to live and work in any one of 27 other countries. Those two things are very important to me. I have always felt more European than British or English, and certainly more so now in the wake of this vote. In fact I still don't know whether I want to contribute to this society any more. I know that the EU is not the same as Europe but to me it does represent a shared identity, a shared goal and a common purpose. Since Friday, I have definitely felt more proud of my Scottish heritage and am thankful that my father was born and grew up there. It's very difficult to know what I am going to do now, and until we know whether Article 50 will be invoked or not, I guess there is no rush to decide. I feel European first and foremost, and will do everything I can to retain the EU citizenship with which I was born. If this means supporting Scottish independence and moving to Glasgow or Edinburgh then so be it, although I do have my eyes set on Berlin. However, I do hope that it does not come to that. I like living in Leeds and as it is also a Remain city, I feel more comfortable here. I have just got my house the way I like it, I have a good job and some good friends here and while Wolfie would come with me, any such move would be fraught with difficulty. It's difficult to throw away six years of your life but I also don't want to live in a country which seems to be lurching further to the right and giving up its socially liberal values (see also the Data Surveillance Act and plans to repeal the Human Rights Act). This wasn't the country I remember ten years ago, yet this is the country into which we have descended. The financial crash of 2007 precipitated a more selfish individualistic society and the likely pending next crash could exacerbate it even further. Being gay, this makes me scared, but nowhere near as scared as I feel for my international friends, many of whom no longer feel welcome here. I don't want to live in a country which scorns experts and intellectuals, and whose soul is moulded by The Sun, The Express and The Mail with their exaggerated and sometimes false headlines, often redacted through a tiny apology some days later. I have always had a dream of moving abroad and this is about to be made so much harder, while I don't like the thought of my family and friends suffering because of this vote. One of my friends had a mild heart attack today due to the stress this has brought on, while for the first time ever I received a death threat on social media. I have been using Twitter as my catharsis but not once have I insulted anyone for voting Leave. However, these increased attacks I've seen and experienced are worrying.
My MP, someone who supported Leave but did not campaign, has since come out and said we all need to unite behind the decision. I cannot in all conscience do this. With Vote Leave retracting pretty much every promise they made during the campaign over the last few days, my faith and trust in politics, and indeed in this country, is at rock bottom. In addition to this, messages from some Leave MPs telling 'whiners' to 'suck it up' does leave something of a nasty taste in the mouth, particularly when people are fearful for their livelihoods. I cannot unite behind that. Indeed the only humility I have seen from Leave supporters is from Boris, who at least accepts there is a lot of fear for the future out there. When the Leavers inevitably fail to deliver in the coming months, I think this will be the final straw for many people too, particularly when the NHS isn't given £350m per week and collapses due to the lack of available workers (or immigration stays roughly at current levels to accommodate). We now have an incredibly divided nation, with Scotland wanting to break away, talk of London independence and no idea what's going to happen in Northern Ireland. Good luck to them all. If the break-up of the United Kingdom is the result of all this then so be it. While I accept the result of the referendum, I have always favoured representative democracy over direct democracy, and I hope the mood music changes when people realise the serious ramifications of this vote. Democracy doesn't stop with just one poll, it can be challenged and is a fluid and continuous process. I'll protest all I can, particularly as I'm not convinced that 51.9% on a 72.2% turnout is a mandate convincing enough to warrant such a dramatic change (there should have been some threshold limits attached to the poll). Perhaps I am hoping against hope, but maybe a few months of economic turmoil will focus minds. I just wish we didn't have to go through it. From a personal standpoint, until the situation becomes clearer, there's no need to be rash and I am unsure as of yet regarding what I will do. I am meeting my friend Aremay on Thursday to run through some options and to decide which political causes are best to take up. I could write to my MP but I no longer think he represents my interests and I doubt what good it will do considering he is a Leaver. I look forward to voting him out at the next election should I be here that long. Whether I campaign for Scottish independence, for Article 50 not to be invoked or whether I join a political party in England and Wales is yet to be decided but first I need to get these strong feelings out of my system. To be honest, I don't think they'll ever fully go. The problem I have is that I no longer feel I can relate to Britain, in the same way I couldn't as a child growing up in Mlddlesbrough. At the same time, I have lost any positive feeling for both England and Yorkshire as these places no longer feel like home either. I feel something of an outcast, an outcast amongst friends as I have lost all empathy towards my homeland. I'll do what I can do support Leeds I suppose, but my desire to remain here has significantly dropped. I don't think I'm alone. I guess only time will tell as to what will happen but I fear the dark clouds are looming, and all because of an internecine Tory leadership battle which put personal gain above the country's future. All of this could have so easily been avoided and while I do blame the electorate to some degree, the buck must stop with David Cameron and all those who contrived to throw away such a strong position (nearly every political party, economist, world leader and trade union in agreement) by conducting such a limp campaign, a campaign that I regret contributing over £200 towards. Anyway, what's done is done yet there is so much still to do. Nowhere knows where this path will take us and I don't know what this means for me or my friends. And this is what hurts most. I've never had much love for my country. I'm not sure I have any now.