This week, all of us have talked about ‘Brexit’, the British exit from the European Union (EU). The count showed 51.9 percent of those who voted in the referendum to be against EU membership; 48.1 voted ‘remain’. Voter turnout was over 72 percent, but there was low turnout among young voters. The result is being interpreted as a clear ‘No’ vote, notably for UK to leave EU, although it is close to 50-50, half for and half against. Furthermore, there were age-differences, young more often than old voters wanted UK to stay in the EU; there were regional and other differences too. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted clearly for staying in EU. The simple sum of the referendum covers many important differences. It will be for political and other social scientists to analyse the data and draw important lessons for future social planning and develop theories.

The outcome of the referendum came as a surprise to me; I had expected the ‘remain’ side to get majority, considering that Britons generally are conservative and wouldn’t like sudden change. Yet, I believe that the outcome of UK’s EU referendum is almost inconclusive, and that further debate, analysis and thinking is required. There may even been a need for another referendum. But then, UK isn’t run by referendums. They can give strong indications of opinions, well, provided that people actually have the same understanding of the questions as those who ask them. Referendums should be advisory; and then it is for all the other organisations and institutions in a democracy to play their role, including the media. In the end, it is the parliament that must decide.

In democratic societies, the majority must not force its opinion on the minority, especially when it is a topic the minority feels very strongly about. Usually then, democracies would search for ways to compromise, there would be give and take, listening to each other and modifying opinions. Ideally, in the end, everyone could feel fairly satisfied about the decisions that would be made, even if there wasn’t total consensus. But as we all know, things are rarely ‘either-or’; they are ‘both-and’; there are grey zones; there are doubts and questions.

You may say this is a liberal, academic way of looking at issues. Yes, it is. But it is also very practical and pragmatic, the opposite of being fanatical, propagandistic, and categorical. Politics is indeed an art of compromise, of weighing pros and cons, as I said above, and drawing conclusions and make decisions that are as good as possible for as many as possible. Few decisions and choices would ever be perfect for all.

In democracies, elected representatives and leaders must listen to the voters. Yet, they must also lead, put issues on the agenda, and provide conclusions. Today more than ever, we need experts to support politicians’ opinions, and we need counter expertise too. When difficult issues are debated, modern politicians must also be able to explain issues in a language and form that can be understood, and they must avoid pretending they have solutions when they don’t or, when they also want to sound out the voters’ opinions.

In my home country Norway, the current leader of the largest party, Labour, Jonas Gahr Støre does a lot of this. But because he doesn’t draw simple conclusions when such don’t exist, or when more debate and data are needed, he gets criticised for being unclear and cloudy. President Obama, too, often has a similar way of talking about issues, and he also gets hammered for it. Populist politicians give simple, often demagogic answers that may be better on the campaign trail than in practice. Sometimes, populist politicians, with simplistic, extreme and seemingly clear-cut solutions become popular fast. Just look at the American presidential candidate Donald Trump and right-wing politicians in UK, France and other European countries. However, I still believe that it is the intellectual, reasoning, and compromising politicians that are the future breed of politicians; and they must be decent, ethical and have passion for the needy at heart.

I believe that the Brexit debate was made too simplistic and that many politicians were demagogues, not teachers, listeners and truthful leaders. Hence, I also believe the result is not at all clear. In many ways, we simply don’t know what many Britons think about their country’s EU membership.

Furthermore, big, bureaucratic organisations, like the EU, NATO, UN, WTO, and many inter-governmental organisations and companies, live in their own world, and the staff uses their own terminologies and concepts, making it difficult for outsiders and ordinary people to understand what they say and do. Huge international and national bureaucracies, public and private, often fail those they are meant to serve. They become arrogant and undemocratic, even intellectually corrupt. I believe EU in many ways is such an organisation, and part of the reasons for UK voters being against membership, was that they were against the ‘monster’ that EU has become; many would question if it really produces the results it should produce. This leads me to state that most of us worry about everything that is very big: big organisations, big countries, yes, even big ideas and big solutions that are said to save us all. Multinationals and huge organisations belong to the past; globalisation has a limit.

When the majority of the voters in two EU referendums in my home country Norway voted against Norway joining EU (EEC) in 1972 and in 1994, it had very much to do with people worrying about this. Norway’s five million people would hardly have a say in an EU which today has some five hundred million people. Norway has played it safe and has been practical, having accepted most of EU’s agreements, including the open market, free movement of people, open borders (Schengen), exchanges in education and culture, and numerous other sub-agreements. But most Norwegians still don’t want to be ‘ruled from Brussels’, and by people who having little understanding for local Norwegian problems and values. High percentages indicate this in opinions polls about democracy and decisions. Yet, in Norway’s EU referendums, there were relatively slight majorities that voted against joining the union; 53.5 percent in 1972, and 52.2 percent in 1994.

The Norwegians like the Britons, and the other EU members, would like EU to continue to be an important organisation in the economic fields, and in many specialised fields. But few would like it to move into all kinds of political fields, turning the large number of European countries into a ‘United States of Europe’. As a matter of fact, I believe that EU will have to roll back many of its regulations, and indeed shelf further plans in those directions. People want to decide for themselves, where they live, and also share with the wider world.

I believe that the EU must reduce its bureaucracy and become a more humane type of organisation. I was shocked and saddened to listen to the language that EU leaders used against Greece when that country’s crisis was on the agenda and in the news half a year ago. Also now, the language and attitude towards UK is not the right one. We expect more of an organisation that is meant to be democratic, work for peace, and serve all its members. I would also like to see a totally different NATO than what we have today or, abolish it altogether. But that is the topic for another time, although it is also related to EU – and to UN.

In future, we need smaller, neater and nearer organisations. Somehow, I believe most of the elected and bureaucratic staff and leaders in these organisations, such as the EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, are ‘yesterday’s men’. We need a new breed of leaders, less arrogant, yet, we also don’t need populist amateurs either. The new leaders and approaches are there, but need to be nourished. This time around, now when the debate about Brexit is top in the agenda, we may indeed be able to find new and more positive ways of doing politics, becoming more democratic and inclusive. Maybe UK, said to be the cradle of modern democracy, unwittingly has contributed to getting this process started? It wasn’t EU that did it, as it could have; it was UK. And, wouldn’t that be appropriate now during the holy month of Ramadan – noting, too, that the new Mayor of London is Sadiq Khan, a Muslim of Pakistani-Kashmiri ancestry.