Emotions were still raw in Scotland following the 2014 Independence referendum when the matter of Brexit came along. The campaigning and the referendum result itself have left a legacy already tangible: economic uncertainty, a devalued British pound, political turmoil and worst of all fundamental divisions amongst families and friendships.

The question is no longer ‘in or out’, it is now how do we heal those divisions?

Brexit – bringing out the worst in people

Campaigning for the Scottish independence referendum at times became vitriolic and doom-laden. By polling day wearisome was added to the list. There were one or two positive effects. At a time when so many people in Scotland were disillusioned with politics, 2014 saw a massive re-engagement in the political process. It was also speculated that the Queen could be replaced as Head of State in Scotland by her closest living relative of Jacobite decent. One Franz Bonaventura Adalbert Maria Herzog von Bayern was the man in question and it all sounded very exciting.

The most negative fallout from that referendum was the damage done to personal relationships. Arguments within families and friendships were at times nasty and some relationships were irrevocably spoiled. Then Brexit appeared on the horizon and upped the ante to a whole new level.

The UK’s member countries, communities, friendships and families were at loggerheads during campaigning. Now, post result, those opposing perspectives appear firmly entrenched. Worse still the wounds of the independence referendum have been reopened.

Them and us

Scottish referendum

The circumstances of the European Union and Scottish referendums both had three things in common:

  • having a referendum usually means there’s a question about which people are feeling intensely worried, intensely angry, or both
  • both referendums dealt with questions which, ostensibly about economics and political autonomy, were argued around identity and personal values
  • both were effectively ‘yes or no’ questions, so we were immediately presented with a ‘them and us’ situation

Dealing with differing values, opinions and perspectives

In April 2015 the Scottish Government published Tackling Sectarianism and its Consequences in Scotland. The report examined work carried out by a range of organisations including The Spark’s Young People team. Aimed specifically at sectarianism in Scotland, the activities were designed to get young people thinking more generally about how they react to those with different values.

Among other questions, The Spark’s Young People team asked the following:

  • is it possible to say why we believe one value is more important than another?
  • what would happen if you took a value too far? Is this possible? If someone values keeping healthy, might they believe that by eating healthy foods they could look down on someone who is overweight?
  • what are some of the behaviours associated with someone taking their values too far? Behaviours might include: jokes and comments, name-calling, chants and songs, graffiti, verbal abuse, intimidation, physical violence, murder, wars.

How to be different

A ‘them and us’ mentality is not a good starting point for discussion or decision-making. It appeals to our less desirable instincts and creates an environment where each side is simply shouting ‘it’s my way or the highway’. Consequently we all need to take some personal responsibility when it comes to how we deal with difference. It is not enough that we should learn to tolerate difference. We need to learn to accept difference because the alternative is not good.

In the Tackling Sectarianism programme young people considered the concept that differing values is neither ‘them or us’ nor ‘right or wrong’. When a value or attitude which might be right in itself (e.g. keeping healthy) is taken too far or imposed upon someone else, it can become wrong. For all of us living on the road to Brexit proper, we need to understand that it may not be our preference but it does not need to be as polarising as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. This is not about whether some people’s opinions are ‘wrong’. It is about why some people feel a certain way and what that means.

How to fight cleanEU Union Jack

If you or someone you know has ever joined a martial arts club then you will probably have witnessed an unlikely phenomenon. A tight-knit group of people walloping the living daylights out of each other. Many of these clubs use the slogan: train like a team, fight like a family. The key is sticking to the rules of engagement and trusting that no-one will fight dirty.

Rules of engagement

Leaving relationships damaged because of Brexit would be a far worse consequence for society than economic uncertainty or getting a few less Euros for your Sterling.

To help us all along the way, these are what we believe to be the rules of engagement for families, friendships and communities:

  • move past differences of opinion/perspective being about ‘them and us’
  • try not to dismiss someone else’s feelings because they do not tally with your own
  • try not to characterise perspectives as ‘right or wrong’
  • communicate – talk about the issues, not the people
  • listen – listen to understand, not merely to respond
  • use non-blaming/non-aggressive language – talk about my opinion, my beliefs and not why you are ‘wrong’.

Taking these steps can start the process of mending bridges and thankfully, they do not require any kind of polling or voting to be put in to practice.


If you are experiencing difficulties in your relationships with family or friends, The Spark can provide counselling and support services for individuals, couples and families.

Relationship counselling sessions are available across our Scottish counselling centres. For more information freephone 0808 802 0050 or complete an enquiry form. You can also search for your nearest Spark Counselling centre.

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