The EU referendum has certainly divided the country, with strong opinions on either side of the argument. And it has been an argument, rather than a debate. From a psychological point of view it’s been a rough ride for both sides.
Politicians and the media have been guilty of constructing their campaigns in such a way as to play to the fears and insecurities of both sides, by using very emotive and divisive language rather than just presenting the facts. Why have they done this? Well because there are no facts, no one really knows if it would be best in or out of the EU. There are opinions about pros and cons on either side of the debate, but not many facts.
It is a gross understatement to say that the general public have been manipulated during this referendum. Politicians and the media recognised the fear of both sides and played heavily on these to influence voter’s decision-making.
Both sides have their own expectations and preferences about the future, which are in opposition. The leavers want to maintain democracy and see the EU as anti-democracy and a symbol of anti sovereign control. Remain campaigners want to remain part of a EU that promises being part of something bigger, making the UK something bigger than they see it as being outside the EU.
The current reality as perceived is also different for each side of the argument. Leavers feel they are having a bad deal, influenced by decision makers that are not directly accountable, see the UK with an elected government that lacks any real power to influence its own economic, immigration and law-making requirements. Remainers’ believe while the current situation isn’t ideal change is better influenced from within the EU rather than being isolated outside it.
The views are certainly in opposition, but you will never get a consensus. In fact it is good that we question each other’s beliefs. In fact both sides want the same thing, to have an improved quality of life, they just disagree on how best to achieve this.
What is not good, is the way politicians and the media have used emotive and divisive language to intensify the fears of both sides, and position the other side in such a way that they become perceived as the “enemy”
Let’s have look at how it works…..
If you look at how emotion is created, it becomes obvious how politicians and media have been playing us and why we have reacted so aggressively to the opposition, and it has been aggressive, and we do see the other side as “the opposition”, even “enemy”. In fact we are both victims of the same process of emotional and unscrupulous manipulation.
Lets look at the equation of emotion and how it shapes your emotional reactions. The equation of emotion is…
Expectation/Preference (EP) compared to Reality as Perceived (EP) = Emotional Reaction (ER)
When your Expectations and preferences don’t match your perception of reality you will experience a negative emotion. This is a fact.
If the source of this imbalance is not something we are attached to, we will become angry towards it. If we feel the threat to be greater, more real, and imminent, we feel even more angry towards the source. (Find out more about the Equation of Emotion by following this link.)
Let me explain…
Remain campaigners have a strong belief that:
- We are better in EU than out because we are part of a bigger trading block rather than being alone, this comes from the belief we are too small to make our way in the world alone
- We are an open society that welcomes diversity and is outward looking rather than being against immigration and having racist tendencies
- We are more secure sharing security information within the EU, than being out on our own.
- We can affect change better within the EU rather than being powerless outside it
The theme for these beliefs is that we are better together rather than alone. The fear of remain campaigners includes, fear of isolation, fear of not being part of the decision making process, but still being subject to the EU rules of trade, the underlying fear is a fear of being worse off, having less money, having less prospects, having less of an open society. It’s a fear of loss.
Remain politicians have played on these fears by using very emotive language and attacking opposing views as beings racist, xenophobic, anti-establishment fuelled, and of being an isolation mentality.
These are so against remain campaigners views that it positions opponents as the “ENEMY”. There is no greater “other” than an enemy.
So let’s go back to our equation from earlier.
Remain campaigners have an expectation/preference that the UK is open, inclusive, part of something bigger, part of the decision making process within the EU,
Their reality as perceived is, we are no longer that kind of country with over half of the nation having racist, xenophobic, anti-establishment tendencies. Seeing themselves as now being materially and prospectively worse off out of EU than they would have been within the EU.
The emotion they feel as a result of this, is anger. Anger directed at leave voters who have been painted implicitly and explicitly as the “enemy” because of their opposing views. The more remainers’ feel this to be true, the stronger their anger towards leavers. The more they believe they will be worse off, the more they believe leavers to be everything they are not, the more of an enemy they see leavers, the more the anger and hate they direct at them.
Leavers have a strong belief that:
- We are better as a sovereign country rather than giving control to an un-elected EU
- Want to control UK border rather than having no say in numbers and choice of migrants coming into country
- Ability to make and enforce our own laws, rather than EU making blanket laws that don’t fit our particular national circumstances
- Want elected politicians to be accountable and able to be sacked if not doing what the populations wants/needs
- Don’t want to be pushed into ever closer union with a United States of Europe with un-elected officials making decisions for us, without accountability.
The theme for these beliefs are centred around control and democracy.
Leavers see remainers’ as not standing up for their democratic rights and laying down and letting the establishment take advantage. They feel the quality of life is being eroded by a lack of control and accountability of the politicians that have been elected.
Politicians and media have played on immigration fears, and lack of democracy to strengthen the resistance to these issues. Again they have strengthened their argument with emotive language designed to stir up and intensify these fears.
Leavers expectation and preference is to have accountable government who have control of the important aspects of society, like the economy, border control and law making and enforcement.
Their reality as perceived is that, this is now the case, having won the referendum, but let’s assume they had lost the vote, for illustration purposes. Had they lost they would feel that they had lost control of democracy. That the political elite had been given a mandate to take further power from the sovereign countries. They would be blaming the remain voters for allowing this to happen. They would likely see remainers’ as being gullible, spineless people who have foolishly given democracy away without a fight.
The emotional reaction would have likely also been anger. This anger would be directed at those seen as responsible for this unacceptable situation, the remain campaigners.
The truth is, that the exact same internal process is going on in the remain voters as is in the leave voters. Both sides have opposing views but both are doing it because they feel it is right for them and the wider community. They are both doing it from a position of “good will”. Both feel passionately about their views and see opposing views as misguided, ill informed, and the victim of propaganda. The emotion has been intensified by manipulative politicians and the media, who are trying to influence voters’ decision-making, by preying on voters fears and insecurities and over-blowing the consequences of either decision.
The truth is, staying or leaving isn’t as bad as either side believes it to be, and that the politicians and media have been stirring up emotion to serve their own agendas, and voters have been caught up in the intense emotion of it all. We would have survived had we stayed in, we will survive now that we are out.
Try to stop feeling angry and realise that love and caring is driving both sides of the debate. Now is the time to put our differences aside and focus on creating a new and improved Great Britain for the good of us all.