On Thursday the 23rd of June, my country, the United Kingdom, voted to leave the European Union, with leave gaining 51.89% of the vote. When I went to bed at 1 am on the Friday, it looked like the remain campaign had won, but when the seagulls woke me up at Six , to my shock, it had gone the other way.
In my last post, written on the 14th, I argued that Europhobia in the UK was based mostly on English ultra-nationalism and a sense of superiority over other Europeans. Sadly, both the referendum itself and the events since have only proved that.
In the days since the vote, there has been a wave of racist and xenophobic events reported across the country, reported on facebook such as anti-polish messages in Cambridgeshire and xenophobic remarks being directed to non-British nationals right across the country. Even in Hammersmith, where I am from and in which 70% voted to stay, the polish cultural center was defaced with anti-polish graffiti. The Leave campaign, clearly feeling that scaremongering about the European authoritarianism and lying about how much we pay to the EU was not enough, did use arguments on immigration, despite them initially promising to zoom away from that.
Before the referendum, many leave supporters on Facebook were condemning remainers for apparently using the murder of Labour MP and philanthropist Jo Cox to their advantage. I'm sorry, but anyone who is alarmed at the surge of ultra-nationalism and xenophobia in the UK has every right to put her senseless murder into the wider context. It has been 26 years since an MP was last murdered; the Conservative Ian Gow being killed by the IRA in 1990. And what makes this particularly disturbing is the fact that Jo Cox's killer was not like the IRA, an enemy of Britain; rather Jo Cox's killer saw himself as a British patriot and saw her as a traitor . Once you have political narrative which states that your country has been betrayed, or 'stabbed in the back', by a political class, in this case by joining the European Union and through its policies on immigration, then the situation can only get ugly. It never occurred to me that such a murderous attack on our Democracy would happen in Britain of all countries. Clearly, such a narrative was not exactly discouraged by UKIP and the leave campaign, on the contrary, and we thus have every right to condemn them for their rhetoric.
It seems that the referendum will succeed in doing what neither Napoleon nor Hitler managed to do; to destroy the United Kingdom. Scotland, where 62% of voters voted to stay in the European Union is likely to succeed from its Union with England since Nicola Sturgeon announced on Friday that a Second Indendence Referendum is on the Table. Polls indicate that more than 50% of Scots now favour independence. Clearly, the Scots could see that both UKIP and the campaign to leave the European Union were English Nationalist movements and they were going to have nothing to do with it. And here is a distinction between English/Anglo-British and Scottish Nationalism. While the former largely argues that its nation is superior to other nations which is historically understandable, the latter argues that no, the Scots may not be better than the other European nations, but they are every bit as good, and while Anglo-British nationalists want to separate themselves from other Europeans, the Scots stated on Thursday that they want to become like their European neighbors.
The same however, did not happen in Wales, Wales voted to leave the EU, 52% voted that way, just 1% less than in England. The areas that voted remain were Monmouthshire, Cardiff, The Vale of Glamorgan, Ceredigion and Gwynedd. Cardiff, where 60% voted to remain was expected since it is a highly cosmopolitan city. Gwynedd, in which 58% voted to remain is very interesting. It is the only council area in which a majority of school children still speak Welsh as their main language at home and is naturally a Welsh Nationalist Heartland; it is no surprise that the people of Gwynedd feel the same way as the Scots in their resistance to English nationalism. Ceredigion, similarly, is a Welsh heartland and the presence of two universities there is naturally another reason why it was predicted to be the most Pro-EU place in Britain.
But its not just a divide between the constituent countries, it is within England, strikingly, a cultural and generational divide. 75% of voters under 24 voted to stay in and there is this sense on Facebook by many I know that the future of the young has been sacrificed by older voters. I find that view distasteful, since everybody in my family voted to stay and I'm sure all my grandparents would have done. More strikingly perhaps, the referendum showed how divided the more progressive and cosmopolitan areas, such as London, Liverpool, Manchester and Cardiff were from the areas which voted leave and I have read some articles which analyse the situation very astutely. What is a particularly profound shock is how separated the Labour party, being at its root an internationalist, cosmopolitan and pro-European party, is from much of its base in the north of England and South Wales.
The result of this referendum, is not just sad for all the reasons discussed, it is profoundly un-British. Consider how Britain, since the Glorious Revolution of 1688 has been a country of tranquil evolution and reform rather than revolution, of pragmatic tweaks here and there rather than sudden and rash change. We are a country that is known for its stability and more importantly, tolerance, and everything that has happened has been an abrupt break to that tradition. I just hope that we come out of this crisis and that such a crisis only makes us more immune in the future.