Brexit is not only about the United Kingdom and the European Union. It is a sobering reminder about the shortcomings and limits of globalisation, the scale of immigration, how quickly the poison of racism and xenophobia can shape the public discourse, the perceptions and prospects of locals losing good jobs to foreigners, the extent of change people can stomach, the importance of a strong social compact, amongst so much more. It is also about aspirations, and a sense of what home was, is and should be.
Singapore is not alien to such emotions. We had a sense of what mattered to Singaporeans especially in the years from 2004-2010, when home started to feel so different because of the pace of change, an emotion that came to the fore again after the release of the Government’s Population White Paper in 2013. In 2008, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew opined that the ideal population size for Singapore was 5 to 5.5m people. In 2014, a former CEO of the HDB argued for a population of 10m after 2030. The significance of these numbers go far, far beyond the obvious. Economics and trade considerations are paramount for developed countries, but as Brexit showed, many other things matter as well.
Change is constant. But it needs to be carefully managed. For a very small, multi-racial and sovereign nation, the pressures and fissures created by globalisation necessitate that change is stewarded very carefully so that a strong consensus emerges across society. Our engagement with globalisation and our competitiveness need to be balanced with inclusivity, social harmony and rootedness in order for a strong consensus to emerge. That would require a clear disassociation with demagogues and a permanent commitment to address globalisation’s shortcomings. Because Singapore is not just a city. It is a country. It is all we have. It is our home.
Mr Pritam Singh
25 June 2016