On the EU and the User Interface

I’m still trying to think straight after the Friday morning.

One of the things that I’ve read this week has stuck in my head, and I think the long term aspects of it point to the next few months being extremely messy indeed, but not for the reasons one might think.

This piece by Vox got me started. It’s definitely worth a read (and if you want to really freak out, check the city of Austin ballot design on whether to allow Uber to operate).

Anyway, on the face of it I read that article and thought to myself “well, at least we can do one thing right in this country”. But after the events of Friday morning, and the tidal wave of shit that is roaring towards our green and pleasant land, I realised that the ballot design, and in fact the framing of the referendum itself, was entirely flawed.

“Should the United Kingdom remain in the European Union or leave the European Union?”

I read that in the ballot booth, with my daughter leaning over me, pencil in her hand ready to scratch the part of the paper I was directing her to, and didn’t question the question. I knew what the European Union was. My Dad’s German. I’ve visited mainland Europe hundreds of times in my life. Jesus, I even know what the Mainzelmännchen are.

But now, after our country has decided to dangle itself over the abyss, I actually realised that I have no clue what that question actually means. And I don’t think many other people do, either.

Here are some things that the phrase “European Union” could mean:

  • An open, free flowing Labour market amongst member states
  • A central parliament that proposes laws to member states
  • Some method of dealing with refugees and economic migrants as a union of countries
  • Not having to get a visa to visit Spain from the UK
  • Not having to show your passport when travelling from France to Germany
  • The Euro
  • The European Court of Human Rights
  • The European Court of Justice

With the fallout of the decision now getting analysed, I’m completely certain that different people were voting for different things. And that’s why I think that the question being asked was wrong. As I type this, “leave” politicians are beginning to argue over which of the points above they were actually voting about.

This referendum had no policies. It had no manifestos. It had no promises. It had no parties. It had no specifics.

The referendum was a question of ideals, but you can’t vote for an ideal. You can’t pin it down. It doesn’t work.

It seems we have voted that we want “out”. We just have absolutely no idea what we want out of.

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