24 Jun 2016

It’s A Time to Say Goodbye...

I suppose I could say that today is a dark day. I suppose I could say I didn’t expect it—though I did. But in truth Brexit was a predictable enough disaster; the best we can do now is control the damage and teach some hard lessons to those who would rather believe fanciful lies.

I shall begin with Scotland.

It’s Time to Leave, Scots

The ‘United’ Kingdom may have chosen to leave by a 2% margin, but Scotland voted 61% the other way. In essence Scotland is now, in the words of Nicola Sturgeon, being dragged out of the EU against its democratic will.

Those of you who have read the Magical Realm over the past couple of months might know what my position used to be on the Independence question; but since most of you probably haven’t, allow me to clarify. Before today, I used to think that Scotland was, ehm, Better Together. It wasn’t that I was particularly against independence; I actually had quite mixed feelings about it.

It was just that—to my mind—the Independence question had a two key problems. Firstly, there was the question of devolution; and secondly, the problem of UK business and EU membership. The latter made independence economically risky, while the former seemed like a more sensible, pragmatic choice.

I was also skeptical of the SNP brigade: I thought their criticisms of Westminster, while not unfounded, were nevertheless exaggerated. I also believed that they promised too much. They promised a united Scotland that would finally be free to tackle its many social and economic problems; but in reality division would continue to exist within Scotland, and problems of such a sort rarely have easy answers.

But today changes everything. It is pointless to ask about business, since there already rumours that Morgan Stanley is planning to move its offices out of London and into Frankfurt and the financial markest are in chaos with recession considered extremely likely by economists. (As one banker, Dominic Rossi, put it: “European stocks are reflecting some economic impact from Brexit but I don’t think [the] eurozone will enter a recession – the UK will have the privilege of that.”)

Nor can one bring out the argument about devolution. If Scotland is to be dragged out of the EU against its will, then devolution is obviously not good enough.

And this time, the SNP has a point. Choosing to leave the UK and rejoin the EU will have far more dramatic consequences than independence would have had last time. This time, Scotland really can choose a better future.

The beautiful irony implicit in Brexit is that it is not a vote to break up the EU; it is a vote to break up the UK.

This Earth, This Realm, This Little England

Yes, I know I’m misquoting the Great Bard. But the point is simple: England is a reasonably wealthy country that has enjoyed a relatively privileged position in Europe until now. It has a good relationship with the Americans. It had access to the common market. It had exceptions inside the EU. It got away with taking only a few thousand refugees.

But today marks the end of privileges. Allow me to put it simply: it is not in Europe’s interest to give the UK a shiny new deal. The EU and national leaders across the continent have been clear that England cannot expect to enjoy club membership without giving anything back.

In fact, it is very much in Europe’s interest to teach England a lesson. A profitable and convenient deal outside the EU would bolster other anti-EU movements across the continent; but recession, unemployment, and the breakup of the nation? Suddenly it no longer sounds so attractive.

Indeed, if I were the sort of bureaucrat that Brexiteers like to pretend make up the EU, I would see Brexit as a potential opportunity. What better way to crush anti-EU sentiment across Europe, than through making an example of England? And what better a way to humiliate England than by giving to Scotland the benefits England so glibly threw away? (And if Scotland decides to join the euro, well; that would be perfect. Scotland can maintain a stable economy in the eurozone while England suffers recession under the pound.)

Of course the consequences of Brexit go beyond this. England will no longer be at the negotiating table of a vast economic and political union; instead it will see itself divided and weakened, the Scots and Irish outside of the union, and its politics increasingly inward-looking and toxic.

Brexit also has consequences in the form of lost rights. Today I had to tell a Y12 student that her plans to study in the Netherlands would have to include the very real possibility of student visas, proof of finance and a quadrupling in tuition fees. Today over a million Britons living across the continent—in Spain, France, Belgium—are left wondering what will become of their pensions and their residency status.

What got lost in the abusive rhetoric against immigrants was that Britons can be immigrants too—immigration is, after all, a two way street.

The Irish Dream

The situation in Northern Ireland is, to say the least, uncertain. With a majority to remain—and Sinn Féin already calling for a united Ireland—things could get very interesting. Of course NI isn’t Scotland and the possibility of leaving is not so clear-cut as it is across the Irish sea.

But if Ireland does become a united republic, what better an irony? Decades of internicine war and sectarian struggle—brought to unity by British arrogance?

And of course, there’s that currency question again. Ireland is in the eurozone. Will another formerly British nation adopt the hated euro?

Corbyn—The Prophet Doomed?

Another interesting piece of news is that two rebel MPs, Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffey, have submitted a motion of no confidence. Now—this motion may not get put to the ballot. Senior figures in the party have already called the motion self-indulgent.

Nevertheless, it is a serious possibility. Brexit changes a lot of things, as we can see—and since the vast majority of the PLP is Europhile, Corbyn’s failure to convince Labour voters and the country to back Remain is obviously not good. What’s more, Labour MPs see Corbyn as a reluctant and skeptical defender of the EU—a perception that is not entirely without justification.

In his defence, Corbyn did what he could. It’s not his fault the kippers and the Tory right were obsessed with voting out. The demons Boris and Farage unleashed—fear of immigrants, fear of an imaginary Brussels monster—are difficult to contain.

And let’s face it: Corbyn’s skeptical support of the EU may have done more good than harm. People are often more willing to listen to a man who shares the doubts they share—but nevertheless supports the EU project—than one who is adamantly pro-EU.

That’s the theory, anyway. The problem is really that we don’t know why Labour failed to get our supporters to vote Remain en masse. It can just as easily be argued that Corbyn would have swayed the vote towards Remain if he had been more like Nicola Sturgeon—a bold politician making a positive case for Europe.

My take on this is that we should wait. Wait and see who the Tories elect as leader. Wait and see whether the post-Brexit polls are kind to Jeremy—or not.

As some of you may know, however, my support of Corbyn has been lukewarm rather than jubilant. I like Corbyn: he’s a man of principle who has successfully recognised the problems this country faces and proposed serious plans for how to deal with them (unlike the vapid soundbites of the Blairites).

But politics is a dirty business, and I’m not sure Corbyn has what it takes to be a successful leader. The reality of being a politician is that you have to sometimes be economical with the truth; that you have to tell a convincing story in order to win. If you don’t, others will. And you may not like where those stories lead to...

Hail Our Dear Leader, BJ!

The last of the political fallout to emerge from this debacle is of course Boris Johnson. The man who, but weeks before the referendum campaign, claimed to be for Bremain—and then became a convinced Europhobe. The man whose ambition sees no bounds; the man who wears the mask. A charming fool on the outside. A dangerous and cunning politician underneath.

Will this man as Prime Minister be disastrous for this country? Of course. But, then again, you deserve what you vote for.

What Broke the Camel’s Back?

Among the last question I will be addressing here is perhaps the most important. What swayed the out vote?

Through examination of the polls, Leave’s campaign, and personal experience, I will offer the following:

  1. Xenophobia and nationalism. No doubt some will accuse me of being elitist. Honestly, I don’t give a damn. Racism is not okay if the southern states of the America vote for it. Anti-semnitism is not alright even if 40%+ of Germans voted for Hitler. Xenophobia is a dangerous populism with a long history of bloodeshed—particularly in this dear continent of ours.
  2. The belief that immigrants ‘take away our jobs,’ crowd up our NHS, and do other terrible things. While not strictly xenophobia, this is still an irrational belief that has resisted all the reasoned argument and evidence thrown against it.
  3. The Brusselero. A fictional monster of faceless EU bureaucrats propagated by decades of gutter press sensationalist nonsense .
  4. Wishful thinking. Britain outside of the EU will not suddenly become a bastion of democratic socialism; it will find only recession, diplomatic impoverishment, and more fanciful lies peddled by rightwing politicians.
  5. And finally, there was the fact that the electorate treated the referendum as a way of saying f-you to the establishment—to Cameron, Osborne, Brussels, and much of the political class. Those who live in places like the North East and the coastal regions—areas of the country left empty by a globalised, post-industrial economics—felt that their low pay, insecurity, unemployment and degrading town centres were... the fault of the European Union. Of course, this is completely false, and they’ve shot themselves in the foot. Loss of EU membership will allow the likes of Boris Johnson and Gove to continue their austerity programme with even greater zeal—aside from there being no more pesky workers’ rights regulations or environmental laws to worry about, they themselves have been boosted politically while the only party capable of doing something about the poverty, unemployment and decaying town centres is now trying to get rid of its leader. And of course declining trade and investment, plus the dangers faced by the financial sector, will only make the poverty worse. The Leaves of small-town England probably don’t realise that London pays for their NHS through tax revenues. A decline in London’s economy will have consequences for them, not just for London. But when the turkeys vote for Christmas, they’re always surprised to find themselves in the oven.

To Conclude

Yesterday, I made a Faustian pact with myself. If this country voted Brexit, I would do two things. Firstly, I would—like Scotland—leave. My parents are already going to move to Strathclyde, where they shall enjoy a more competent leadership under the ever handsome Nicola Sturgeon. As for moi? My offer from Amsterdam looks increasingly attractive...

The second promise I made was that I would read HL Mencken’s Notes on Democracy. As a critic of democracy, Mencken made many a wise observation. This is perhaps his wisest:

‘For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.’

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