On the morning of Friday June 24th we shall wake up to news of the result of the UK’s EU referendum. A frankly infantile campaign, that has become pretty dark in the last week or so, will mercifully be over and we can move on with our lives. An unscientific survey of my social circle was unable to unearth anyone willing to admit to voting for the UK to leave the EU; either everyone I know wishes to remain in the union or my relentless campaigning for Scottish independence in 2014 made some people wary of raising their heads above the parapet. Either way, I will assume that the majority of those reading this will be pro-EU and I address this post to you.
On June 24th 2016 we shall awake to a new reality. Either the UK will be dusting itself off and trying to move back to business as usual or the government will be beginning the process of withdrawing from the EU. With both scenarios presenting significant challenges what should the pro-European half of the population do?
Scenario 1: The UK leaves the EU
It has been suggested that the pro-EU majority of MPs will drag out the withdrawal process to allow the public to see what “Brexit” actually entails and allow for the possibility of a second referendum. While possible I would suggest that for many MPs this course of action would be thought indefensible in the face of a clear popular mandate to leave the EU. Therefore, Friday 24th June would likely see David Cameron resign and a formal request from the UK to enact Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to begin negotiations to leave the EU. (The possibility that the government may hold off on this to maximise the negotiation period is unlikely as a snubbed EU would rather force the issue than allow the UK to have its cake and eat it).
In this scenario the pro-EU of us must first of all accept the new reality; bleating and moaning will serve no useful purpose. Instead we must encourage our sympathetic elected representatives to formulate a united position on future engagement with the EU. In Scotland this is already taking shape with the Scottish Government planning to explore options with the EU for close co-operation beyond a Brexit. Precedent exists for multi-level membership within member-states but only thanks to the co-operation of the state government; however, it is extremely doubtful that a heavily centralised jingoistic UK government would ever permit such a scenario. This tactic would, though, aid any future Scottish state in fast-tracking EU membership negotiations should such an eventuality come to pass.
Ultimately the likely difficult transition out of the EU could lead to a change of mood within the population. Pro-Europeans must shun the pathetic insult to the intelligence that the irredeemably negative Remain campaign has been and immediately begin a positive, inclusive debate about the UK’s place in the world. Immigration must be rebranded from the grass roots up and the agenda wrestled from the right-wing press; the true reasons for working-class alienation and impoverishment must be highlighted and addressed. Not until the political debate in the UK is reframed can long-term solutions be found and the only way that will happen is for people to take the mantle on for themselves. The Scottish referendum campaign showed that people can make a difference if they take control and demand change. Should Leave win on Thursday the time for everyone to examine what more they can do individually will have come.
Scenario 2: The UK stays in the EU
A vote to remain will result in a huge sigh of relief; however, it would be a mistake to just relish the moment and carry on as if nothing had happened. This campaign, like the Scottish independence campaign, will change the UK forever. Any victory will be narrow and the losing side will not be going anywhere. While the likes of Johnson, Gove and Duncan-Smith will be side-lined by the Cameron regime they won’t disappear quietly into the background. Nigel Farage has become even more emboldened, despite recent missteps, and will set himself up as the true leader of the opposition, even from outwith parliament (probably from his ubiquitous appearances on the BBC’s Question Time). Indeed, should the police investigations into Conservative Party electoral fraud result in overturned results and by-elections, UKIP could well become a very vocal voice in parliament, likely bolstered by further defections from the Conservative Party. The astute amongst you will note that this scenario would result in the loss of a Tory majority in Westminster, what price a Tory-UKIP coalition? The irony of a re-affirmation of the UK’s EU future could result in the most anti-European government since the days of Great Power politics.
Whatever the parliamentary arithmetic, a large, newly emboldened, battle-hardened and organised anti-EU coalition will become a permanent fixture in UK politics. It therefore falls on those of us who support the EU project to continue the argument for tolerance, enlightened co-operation and the principle of freedom of movement. No longer should we allow our politicians and media to misrepresent the EU at every turn; we should call out UK governments who blame UK problems on some nebulous concept of unelected Eurocrats when the blame lies at home. The age-old tactic of “othering” the poor, down-trodden and dispossessed, wherever they hail from, should be exposed as the diversion that it is. The sickening hypocrisy of multi-millionaire cabinet ministers and billionaire media barons blaming the world’s ills on the most powerless in society must be trumpeted from the roof-tops.
Come Friday June 24th the referendum will be over but the argument will be just beginning.