By Dr. Watson Scott Swail, President & Senior Research Scholar, Educational Policy Institute
After a long night, the results are in and the world woke up surprised. The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union after 43 years of membership, shaking global economic markets and the financial stability of the UK. The “leave” campaign endured by a vote of 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent, in a surprising reverse of what polls suggested in the days leading up to this, only the third referendum in the history of the UK.
The impact of leaving the EU will be enormous and has already begun. By this morning, Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation, giving additional instability to weak Parliament. Northern Ireland is already murmuring about the possibility of joining the Republic of Ireland to keep in the EU, and Scotland, which overwhelmingly voted to remain, is already in talks of a new referendum to secede from the UK. All in a night.
If that isn’t enough, in the few hours since the markets opened up in Britain, the pound has lost 11 percent of its worth (by 7:13am ET) and the London FTSE 100 has fallen precipitously by 8 percent. The Dow Jones dropped 2.7 percent in advance of the opening bell, and the S&P 500 and Nasdaq by 3.5 percent. It is expected that those will fall when the bell rings at 9:30am ET.
So, who voted to leave the EU? According to YouGov, a UK-based polling group, those who voted to leave were older, less affluent, and less educated than those who voted to remain in the EU. Not much of a surprise, as uneducated citizens typically swing towards more radical movements. Sound similar? This is the same demographic as those supporting the presumptive Republican nominee in the US—Donald Trump. This is “Joe-the-Plumber” land we are talking about here—people who are voting who may not always comprehend the complex implications of their vote but are frustrated enough to do so.
The vote skewed older probably because some of the older Brits would like to regain their independence from a Europe that has, in their opinions, provided millions of foreigners on UK-soil over the past several decades. The pro-Brexit group led by the UK Independence Party (UKIP) is guided by Nigel Farage, a Xenophobe whose primary interest is “taking back” the UK via shutting down immigration. Sound familiar?
UKIP Posters in support of Brexit
We cannot fully understand the larger impact of the Brexit vote in the medium and short term, but it is likely that the UK, as we know it, has reached its breaking point. A century ago, the British Empire controlled one-fifth of the world’s population and a quarter of its land mass. Today, it has shrunk to 64 million and 1.2 percent of the total land mass. At approximately 5am UK time this morning, it shrunk, politically, to a blip on the global political map.
Brexit won because people have an intense distain for politics, are tired of considerable economic challenges, and worried about public safety with regard to immigration. Again, the same worries that many—perhaps even a large majority—of Americans hold. But retreating toward isolation is not the solution. Thomas Jefferson famously posited that an educated citizenry is vital for a free and democratic nation. Today, we have politicians that force non-truths on citizens about what is real and what is not, leading them to vote disingenuously for a reality that does not nor can exist if one wants to be part of the global dialogue.
Do not misconstrue my words or intent: this is not about GOP vs. Democrats. It is about individual politicians, the quest for power, and the willingness to do anything to be elected or win a referendum.
The end of the UK began in earnest last night. How the world chooses to deal with an isolated Britain will unfold over the next several years.
In the end, Jefferson was right and education remains the only salve for our woes. If there are any red flags out there about the value of education and the impact of a lower education, we have them in the US and Britain.