On 24 June 2016, Nigel Farage hailed “independence day.” Dozens of countries around the word have one, to mark the day they overthrew an oppressive government, were liberated from fascism or their country was founded. These days mark a clear change, a watershed moment, the past becoming the future.
I am struggling to see the sunny uplands, the new Jerusalem, of Brexit Britain. Indeed, recent polling suggests that just 20% of people think the government is doing well in negotiating Brexit, while more than half now think the government is doing badly.
Brexit marks the culmination of years of discontent within our country. The growth of nationalism, and the collapse of the centre-ground marks a tumultuous time for British democracy. From an SNP landslide in 2015, an independence referendum in 2014, Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, and no administration in Northern Ireland, all point to a country on the brink.
What must we do to reinvent our country, and perhaps, save it? The answer? Democratic reform of the kind we have never seen before.
One of the underlying truths of modern British politics is that there are swathes of our society for whom “the system” is not working. For some, like those who grew up in the aftermath of the financial crisis, it is the banks. For others it is the Conservatives - Thatcher and May alike. For yet more it is the political establishment - in Brussels and Westminster alike.
This “system” and its continued existence breeds discontent. How this manifests itself varies, but you don’t have to look far to see it in public life. It is in the 2011 riots, Brexit, clicktivist petition politics, protesting, apathy and so much more.
We need a radical shake-up of the political system, helping us to tackle the things that hold us back as a nation - regional inequality, racism, homophobia, religious discrimination and such.
Firstly, it is time to embrace federalism. For too long, we as a nation have tiptoed around the idea by means of devolution. We now find ourselves in a situation with different parts of the country living under three different devolved administrations each with different levels of powers, and even more bizarrely, different names.
Embracing federalism could save the Union. Scottish, Welsh and Irish nationalism all present their own unique threats and challenges to their own regions. However, stepping forward in devolution and committing to ideological equality between each of our historic regions may be a way of reinventing our union. If we equalise the powers between the nations of our union, and create legislatures for the regions of England, we create a further means by which individuals can relate to the political system.
Secondly, we need to fix our broken electoral system. In successive general elections in this country, votes have failed to match seats. First-Past-the-Post (our current electoral system) is only used by a handful of countries around the world, and leads to profoundly undemocratic results. It does not require representatives to receive a majority of votes in their constituencies to be elected, and fundamentally means that votes do not causally match seats. In the 2015 election, for example, UKIP received four million votes, and the Green Party one million votes - but each only received one seat. You don’t have to agree with the politics of these parties to see that we are living a system that is unrepresentative.
Thirdly, let sixteen-year olds have the vote. For too long, young people in Britain have been let down by a system which systematically disregards them. On 3 November, Labour MP Jim McMahon launched an attempt to lower the voting age. It was dismissed by Conservative MPs.
Lowering the voting age opens up the door to change patterns of enfranchisement for good. Presently, the lower the age, the less likely the individual is to vote in an election. But what if we began to twin voting with education? At sixteen, Britons are still in full time education. This provides a perfect opportunity for citizenship and political education to be used as a tool to encourage turnout in elections. If we want citizens to begin to believe in politics as a means to improve their lives, this must begin in our schools, at a young age.
Our union has existed since 1707, and we have never been afraid to change. That mustn’t end with Brexit, especially if our union is to survive for the next 310 years.