The heart of the matter: passion, politics and the EU referendum

Credit: Quinn DombrowskiBoth Leave and Remain have appealed to voters’ hearts and guts  – to the extent that reason itself has become suspicious. Emotions will rule the day on 23 June. But at what cost? This piece by Uta Staiger, Executive Director of the UCL European Institute, is part of our commissioning partnership with openDemocracy on ‘Brexit Divisions’.

Politics today is suffused with emotion.

There is anger mixing with angst in the German Wutbürger, the Spanish indignados, and the French labour law protestors. There’s Donald Trump riding on a wave of demagoguery, hurling disgust at Mexicans, hatred at Muslims and disdain at women. There’s fear vying with grief and defiance in Orlando, Paris, or Brussels.

And then there’s Brexit.

Now, referendums are never one for nuance. They are yes or no, black or white, in or out: they are a “conflict-maximising mechanism” if ever there was one. But the extent to which passions have become, literally, the beating heart of the UK’s vote on EU membership is quite extraordinary to observe. It is also, I wager, a sign of things to come.

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You never know with referendums! A view from Denmark

Comrade Foot/Flickr. (CC 2.0 by)The Danes have had eight EU referendums to date. Charlotte Antonsen, a veteran campaigner and former Danish MP, relates her experience of these and explains the mechanics of influencing a referendum vote. This piece is part of the UCL European Institute’s first guest editor week on openDemocracy.

All of Denmark is holding our breath awaiting the outcome of your vote on June the 23. In Denmark we have had eight EU referendums in the last four decades. As a former member of parliament and an EU-spokesman from 1990 to 2007, I’ve been directly involved in planning and campaigning four of them. Below I will lay out some of the lessons that the UK may draw from this experience, and explain what happened in our last EU referendum in December, the rejection of which came as a big surprise to many. Continue reading