Make politics 2017 about understanding and compromise
2016 was a divisive year in politics, marked by the labelling and othering of those with differing views.
A year when more people than ever decided to ignore opposing opinions. Instead we clumped those who voted the other way together into a homogeneous cultist unthinking lump so we could easily write them off as idiotic.
Last year saw two of the most stable countries in the world split down the middle and nobody responsible seems to be making any effort to bridge the crevasse that has materialised.
The media and politicians are happy to define each side of the debate by the worst behaviour of those contained within them. A phenomenon which helps to create false tribes that you are either with or against.
On one side we have airy fairy liberals – the remainers and Clinton supporters.
The stereotype goes that they are middle class, well paid and insulated from the trials and tribulations of ‘Ordinary Working People’. They are the ones who benefit from the free movement of people and the neo-liberal consensus that steals the livelihoods of the masses. They hide behind identity politics, political correctness, safe spaces and thought policing while presiding over a string of radical so-called progressive policies destroying the very institutions and traditions that keep society stable.
On the other side we have the conservatives – the brexiteers and Trump supporters.
They are the ones demonised as racists, sexists and trans-phobic. They are hamstrung by dumbness, blinded by religion, pro-life, pro guns, Islamophobic, anti immigration, isolationists with penchant for authoritarian nationalism. They have come to believe that liberal values of globalisation and the mixing of cultures and foreign ideas has had a detrimental effect on their lives and communities. They are the “Just About Managing” (JAMs) who are tired of promises of jam tomorrow.
While undoubtedly people who fit the above stereotypes exist, they are at the extreme and as such the most noticeable and often audible end of each political spectrum.
The truth is that the majority of us are somewhere in the middle. Deep down we feel the push and pull between tradition and change, openness and order, fairness and looking after our own. The truth is that most Brexit/Trump voters are probably closer to most Remain/Clinton supporters than they are to the extremities of either side. This year voters were just given really extreme choices to make, and most of us, perhaps reluctantly, chose a side.
Yet we are tribal creatures and now that we have cast our votes, regardless of how close we might have been to voting other way, our loyalties naturally shift to our team.
As the psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains, we are trapped in a moral matrix. The way the debates around these votes have been framed and the way human brains are wired results in many of us finding it hard to escape from Team Liberal or Team Conservative.
The alternative to teams is to realise that the best way forward can be found in the middle of the spectrum of moral values.
It’s is not an either/or conundrum as society needs the conservative values of good institutions, strong traditions and a cultural heritage, but it also needs the liberal values of openness, freedom and creativity.
By listening to the views of others a balance is found that we can all live with. Now in the modern cauldron of partisan news, soundbite politics and social media circle jerks, we seem as far away from this balance as we have been in my lifetime.
Here in Scotland, as well as the Brexit divide, we also have the divide of Scottish independence.
As the story goes, on one side are the liberal Nats and the other are the conservative Yoons. At each extreme are those who would not change or adapt their view regardless but like on the issues discussed above, most people although aligned to one of the two tribes, are in the middle of the moral and political spectrum.
My support for Scottish independence is conditional. It is currently, weighing up the evidence, the best option on the table but there is no point having independence if half the country doesn’t want it. Just as there is no point having the UK in its current form if half of Scotland don’t want to be in it.
There are only two solutions with regards to the Scottish quandary and they both involve compromise.
Either, the UK establishment needs to stop demonising independence supporters, and instead works to understand what drives Scottish independence, and sets about a programme of UK reform that the majority of independence supporters can get behind. Or independence supporters need to stop demonising unionists and work much harder to create a vision of independence that would appeal to the desires and worries of those who previously voted against it.
A similar exercise of reaching out needs to happen with regards to Brexit and the US election. We live in precarious circumstances and we won’t solve our problems by only talking to our own tribe while demonising the other one.
Whatever the solution is it can only be found by listening and compromise.