I was 19 in 1974. The year began inauspiciously with the Three Day Week, power cuts, a miners’ strike and a General Election. It was a matter of debate whether Ted Heath’s government was really in power or just pretending. I can’t say it bothered me much, apart from when the pubs were shut. The country was in meltdown, as if we were at war. It was excellent material for satirists.
I’m not one for the myth of the Good Old Days. The best thing about the 1970s is that I was a young man! There was corruption in every walk of life that we seemed to take for granted. And the bomb-sites and draughty, run-down buildings, the tasteless fizzy beer, stodgy food, dodgy motors, superannuated trains, continual strikes, imperialism, racism, terrorism, hooliganism, sexism, xenophobia, snobbery… the sheer bloody ignorance. (OK, I’ll grant you it wasn’t 100% awful – there was The Old Grey Whistle Test and Kenny Dalglish.)
Oh, to be a teenager in the 1970s!
The second ever British referendum took place on Thursday 5 June 1975 on whether the UK should stay in the European Community. I voted “yes”. It seemed to be a positive decision: the way forward. Voters approved the country’s continued membership by 67% to 33%, on a national turnout of 64%. It was a clear result.
Since then, I have lived in Spain, acquired a degree in Spanish and Portuguese, studied in Spain on several further occasions, worked as a translator, visited most European countries, and bought a house in France. Other peoples’ (sic) language and culture is my thing. I have never been a little Englander (or even Scotlander) because experience has taught me that Britain is not the best in every respect – far from it. Of course one can be an internationalist outside the European Community, and it can be argued that the European Community is just another, bigger, closed-off island, but it is one’s experiences that shape one’s beliefs, which is only logical. Everything good in my life has come about since UK became a European Community member and if it ain’t completely broke…
I never thought the country would vote to leave – especially after such a long time. Obviously the advantages of being in the European Community were outweighed, in the eyes of a (small) majority, by the disadvantages. Or maybe they didn’t perceive there to be any advantages at all. I can think of only one country where the majority of people might feel, and vote, the same way: Greece. Yet the economic and social woes of Greece are chronic and massive compared to those of the UK.
Clearly the decision for many, and on both sides, was an emotional, visceral one. I understand that, but I can’t bear to hear one more person sounding off about the days when “we” stood alone (“we” didn’t: Britain had an empire and was rescued by the Americans); how “we” used to manage on a sausage a week and didn’t see a banana for years on end. But that was during the war; “we” had no choice. The Brexiteer politicians have promised us that life “outside” is going to be better!
And in a way it feels as if we have entered a period of civil war; perhaps a “cold civil war” would be a way of putting it. By chance I listened to a BBC phone-in, in which people were talking, movingly, about their experiences: angry families split down the middle, pubs where Remainers stand at one end and Brixiteers down the other. It is so toxic that many people can’t even talk about it to their friends (or ex-friends) without getting upset, so they now don’t talk at all.
So the people have spoken, and we shall have to live with the aftermath. I really, really hope it all works out well in the long run. But in the short term, I don’t see how it can.
Perhaps we’ll be rescued by that nice Mr Trump
Finally, here’s a beautiful, if lugubrious, song from Jo and the lads.