Into the abyss we go, smiling and waving flags…
So, they really did it. The Brexit vote started off as a needlessly risky concession David Cameron made because he saw little risk; in the end, he probably didn’t need to extend the promise to hold the referendum in the first place and momentum grew behind the Leave campaign beyond his wildest nightmares. He may ultimately receive some credit inside some Conservative circles for helming an impressive expansion of the party in the face of Labour collapse, but today his legacy as Prime Minister looks extremely weak.
It all exposes how utterly half-assed the opposition to Scottish independence was, for one thing. The argument for Scotland staying part of the United Kingdom was based entirely on rational concepts of being “stronger together” and all that, but ultimately many of those who complained about Scots voting ideologically went out and did that very thing yesterday. Pragmatic arguments for leaving the EU were extraordinarily thin on detail or outright mendacious, leaving the only remotely credible argument not involving unseemly disregard for immigrants and their job-stealing ways to be a somewhat ramshackle complaint against neo-liberalism and the EU’s democratic deficit. These latter issues are valid concerns, but they tend to lose a bit of weight if you argue, say, that Greece’s position is not entirely Germany’s fault. Scots voted to stay for rational reasons, although they disappointed this romantic Celt quite a bit. The English and Welsh decided to pretend leaving the EU really will fix all of Britain’s problems.
There may not be much of a Britain left soon. I must say, I’m incredibly skeptical of British identity as a meaningful concept beyond layers of English pride and Ulster Loyalist siege mentality, but it doesn’t seem like anyone wants to fight very hard for it. I find it hard to believe a united Ireland is happening any time soon, but Sinn Fein’s call for a referendum is a lot more credible today than I would have dreamed possible only a couple of years ago. The big stumbling block would be the significant gap between social services available in the Republic of Ireland and those made available by the UK government in Northern Ireland, but with Johnson in charge and the Labour party busy killing itself slowly who knows how long that will remain true? Speaking of which, David Cameron’s incompetence in all this is surely surpassed only by that of the purported leader of the opposition. Jeremy Corbyn either tried to have it both ways or is completely unfit to be leader of a major political party. I’m prone to believe the latter.
The only thing I am willing to predict is that any prediction I would make would surely be wrong. It wouldn’t surprise me if an independent Scotland welcomes a united Ireland into a Northern European Celtic State, and it wouldn’t surprise me if enough Britons come to their senses in time to pull back from the brink. Who knows? The whole thing feels like a petulant tantrum in national chauvinism, which is rather difficult to take considering how patronizing so many were when it came to the apparently bizarre idea that a large contingent of Scots don’t particularly want to be part of Britain. What many voters yesterday failed to realize is that Britain’s position in the world comes largely from its role as a conduit between America and Europe, and as a major financial centre. Both of those roles are now at risk.
What of the promises made to the typical Leave voter? Will Britain simply close its borders? Will it take the 350 million sterling a week the Leave campaign claimed left the country every week and hand it all to the NHS as promised? The best case scenario for Euroskeptics is that enough compromises are made in the next decade that the average voter decides they are happy with the result. Brexit can’t solve the problems those so eager to leave claimed it would, and it created a basket full of more.