“Overly Optimistic Pipe Dream” Is Right.
Recently I’ve read Alan MacDonald’s post on “The Dark Side Of Brexit”. After the initial confusion (there’s a light side?) I found that it followed me around, so after a week or so of arguing with Mr MacDonald in my head, I’m committing these words to metaphorical paper. Mostly because it’s unhealthy to argue about Brexit, never mind with voices in your head. Just saying.
Starting with the title. Is there a light side? Or is the author implying that he represents the light side of people who “meant well”. Road to hell (or at least out of Europe) is paved with good intentions, protest votes and those who “didn’t mean it”. I do feel sympathy — I “mean well” all the time, except I couldn’t vote so the referendum was like watching a car crash on live television. And knowing that you might have to pick up the pieces. In fact, it was almost like watching it live, knowing that it was coming and being completely unable to prevent it.
The author is a politico (says so in the bio); I’m tempted to ask how much he followed the debate predating the referendum. How can you see Farage’s poster and somehow think this is about NHS? The author sets himself on the side of the “smart ones” (he didn’t believe the “350 mld for the NHS” nonsense); yet the nationalism of the debate passed him by? The discourse didn’t just “emerge”: it happened because austerity-exhausted people were pointed in the direction of a convenient target named “bloody immigrants stealing our jobs”. I’ll remind you that Alan MacDonald thought that politicians “would act in the best interests of all who contribute to British society”. How he arrived at this conclusion, I have no idea: I presume he did pick up a newspaper occasionally during pre-referendum months. The debate was fact-free and prejudice-heavy; whoever voted Leave based on the campaign we were presented with, legitimized people like Farage and letting toxic nationalism into the mainstream.
The comparisons were made before, but I will say this: in Scotland, the referendum was predated by an 18-month debate and a document of over 670 pages, outlining the possible consequences and strategies. In Britain, 4 months’ campaign freely utilizing fear, racism, prejudice and few cherry-picked and misrepresented facts; not to mention, the government didn’t even have a PowerPoint slide about “after”. (well, I hear there was a 16 page pdf SOMEWHERE. Same difference). How can one make a rational choice based on plans that don’t exist?
And here is my favourite quote:
“The Brexit vote, if handled correctly could create an opportunity for Britain to build an even better, fairer and more democratic society. Britain could have opted to take the best of the EU and add to it. In truth this now seems like an overly optimistic pipe dream.”
What is this correct handling that the actual vote was missing? And how could Britain take “the best of EU and add to it”? Other European countries are highly aware of Britain having special rights in the EU; it is hard to say how Brits thought that they could demand even more than they were receiving. And as for fairer and more democratic society, again, I marvel: the government who promoted austerity is not interested in fairness, and its relationship to democracy is worthy of another essay.
Speaking of fairness, is it fair to attack Alan MacDonald’s essay? We are, after all, on the same side: he admits that he made an error in judgement and seriously discusses some of the anti-immigrant measures that keep showing up in politics like bright flares of nationalism. Yet it is hard to empathise when he says “Brexit was meant to mean Britain’s exit from the EU, not the destruction of a modern, progressive society.” I disagree. Brexit was going to mean exactly that. Because it’s not only “what” you are doing, it is “how”. Leave/Remain was set up as a culture war from the beginning: to vote “Remain” was to vote for open, multicultural Britain and to vote “Leave” was to give voice to those saying “We want our country back. It was taken away by (insert cultural insult of choice) and now they should pack or we’ll stuff shit down their post box or set fire to the garden shed”.
My lack of vote notwithstanding, I’d gladly discuss pros and cons of being part of EU, its favouring of big businesses and “casino capitalism”; however, from the beginning the conversation was targeting everything that is sacred in a democratic society. I never got to discuss the EU in a rational manner, because it was obvious that to vote “Leave” is to give mandate to right-wing lunacy that has taken over so many of Europe’s countries. Destabilizing the society just enough that the establishment can continue its shock treatment, making everyone feel uncertain and the “undesirables” fear for their future — we’ve seen a lot of these tactics before.
The rise of nationalism happened not quite a hundred years ago. Then, too, there were people who never saw it coming.