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Opinion

Paul McNamee: A new start, and we all have a role

"Farage brought down a prime minister, put the European project to the sword and changed the way Britain sits in the world"

Well, that escalated quickly. At 10pm last Thursday Nigel Farage was ready for his next act. His hang-dog early defeatism left him looking like a man ready to leave the European Parliament and make a living delivering off-colour speeches to golf club dinners.

“So an Irishman, a Pole and a Turk walked into an Australian-style points system…”

Instead, history will judge him as somebody who changed the world. He brought down a prime minister, put the European project to the sword and changed the way Britain sits in the world.

They are the facts. But the details are where the truth and fears sit.

There is now a massive faultline in Britain that simply wasn’t seen before. And the referendum has normalised the throwing of bitterness and loathing across it.

The voice of the people – whether you agree with elements of that voice or not – is being heard loud and clear

In the past (a few heady weeks ago), political battle lines were drawn between parties. There was a general ability for people to hook their wagon to the folk they felt most spoke to them – from Tory to Monster Raving Loony. But now, it looks very different. It’s those who believe in a European ideal, and those who delight in seeing it end. The result shows that there is fear and suspicion that the EU is a machine that has been stopping the poorest in Britain from getting on.

But as we all now know, this isn’t a view held right across the nation.

Scotland, wholly pro-European, could call another independence referendum very shortly, such is its desire to be part of the EU.

Northern Ireland, an area that has seen the benefits of inward European investment, also warms to the EU and there are rumblings about a referendum over a united Ireland.

While these continue to shake the constitutional makeup of Britain to its core, we could draw a positive from this. It means the voice of the people – whether you agree with elements of that voice or not – is being heard loud and clear.

There is a chance for something progressive to emerge from the chaos. We can play a part.

While we were all distracted by the referendum charabancs, life was going on. There were still issues of investment around health, education and social care. Huge numbers of people were losing their jobs. We need to challenge whoever it is who comes along next to show what they are REALLY going to do about it.

We, the people, have a legitimate right to demand responses. The majority said yes to exiting the EU because they believe that there will be more control of budgets and more opportunities for those living here.

If exiting the EU genuinely is for the greater good, as sold in the Brexit prospectus, let us see the greater number benefit. Let us see social mobility become not just important but insisted upon. Let us see justice (something that Michael Gove had been working on well within England and Wales before the referendum took him) seen to be for all in Britain, not just the wealthy and those with a better start in life.

If this focus on the betterment of lives of the citizens isn’t now forthcoming, then what was the point of this shock we’re living through?

The next government may well say it can’t do it all on its own – and in truth, it can’t – so let’s deliver them people and organisations who can help, whether that is social enterprises or local, smart community groups.

It was said in the last days of the referendum campaign that we were about to make the most important decision of our lives. We need to make this feel like just the start.

If you have any comments please email me at paul.mcnamee@bigissue.com, tweet @pauldmcnamee, or send a letter to The Big Issue, 43 Bath Street, Glasgow, G2 1HW

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