The Head, Nicola Huggett

A few thoughts on... Decisions

This week you would have to have been very busy indeed not to be aware that the referendum to leave the EU takes place on Thursday. After months of campaigning which has taken a wide range of different themes, the country will decide. I am pleased to say that we will be having our own EU referendum here too, in which all of you will hear the arguments for both sides of the EU debate put forward by the Lower 6th on Thursday morning in chapel, and following that, through the day, there will be a chance to vote to either leave or remain.

There are, of course, good arguments on both sides to consider. I am looking forward to hearing those rehearsed once again, but there are some interesting wider issues that have also been in the news this week that have perhaps a message for us too. These incidents in both the UK and USA might not directly affect all of you here, but they should be something you think about as citizens and voters of the future, even if that won’t be for quite a long time.

One incident, again, heavily reported in the media, was the tragic death of Member of Parliament Jo Cox on Thursday. A relatively new, young and upcoming labour MP, Jo was killed by a man outside her constituency office as she went about her normal job working with people in her local area. We do not yet know why she was killed but all the initial signs suggest it was the actions of someone who violently disagreed either with her views or the prevailing political views of the time. It was not random. She died because of what she was elected to do. Much of what has been discussed in the many reports over the weekend have centred on her selflessness and the way she went about her role. I watched some of the footage of her speaking in the House of Commons and she seemed an articulate and sincere person, someone who was fully aware of the issues of her own local area, in Yorkshire where she was born and bred, but she also saw how that interacted with the global issues we are facing, as she spoke strongly in favour of government support for unaccompanied child refugees. She was certainly in favour of remaining as part of the EU and wanted us to think more globally about how to solve the world’s problems from an integrated standpoint.

Just prior to Jo Cox’s death there was another violent and shocking incident in Orlando, Florida, where a single gunman opened fire on a nightclub and killed and wounded 102 people. These two tragic events are not directly linked, but the solutions to them most certainly have parallels. In the USA, the lack of effective gun control means that there is far more gun crime there than any other democratic nation. If the ability to buy a gun over the counter were banned tomorrow, there would still be over 300 million guns in homes across America (where the population in total stands at 319 million). After previous mass shootings, many of which as you know have taken place in schools, with small children as the victims, the reaction to this has unfortunately been very strange.

In Connecticut, there are now looser gun laws than before Sandy Hook took place and in Florida they are planning to take away the ban on weapons in schools altogether to ensure teachers can protect their students. The shootings have led people to feel that they just need to join in and get a gun to protect themselves. America has not been able to pass stricter gun laws. It has had an opposite effect to one you might expect.

So, my view, for what it is worth, is that I sincerely hope we don’t follow along that same path, with the shooting of a democratically elected politician leading us to abandon all hope of being tolerant and integrated with the cultures and groups that make up our diverse and multicultural world.

If Jo Cox’s death led to us shutting the doors and hating those who showed equal hatred towards us, then she would surely have died in vain. And if we all gave up on politics and politicians as a solution to the world’s problems, and decided not to listen to the arguments and not to vote, then that too could only be a step back towards the days in the not too distant past when neither women, nor those not born into wealth could vote.

Political debate and the exercise of your political rights has been the victory that came from a long and violent fight, fought by people who never saw their dreams of democracy realised. I hope you pay attention to the debates on Thursday and if you can’t vote in the real thing, then I hope that you really engage with the debate here instead. The more that we know, and then act on the basis of knowledge, the better our decisions will be.