A few reflections, now that I’ve gathered my thoughts.
I was up until 2 a.m. on Thursday night and Friday morning, and feel asleep on the couch with the grim news of a likely Leave win dancing around my head. At 4 a.m. I woke and read on, confirming the worst, watching the pound crash on international markets, until the sun came up and I wandered in a daze into the kitchen. Switching on Radio 4, I heard Nigel Farage crowing about a victory for “real people”, “ordinary people”, “decent people”; I couldn’t stand listening to the man any longer than that, and switched off the radio until I figured he’d be gone. Real, ordinary, decent: I would rather be unreal, extraordinary, and, if it comes to that, indecent. Fuck you, Nigel Farage, and all your friends. Fuck your Real Ale fascism and your narrow plans for the country I’ve made my home, the country of my ancestors and my children. I don’t describe myself as an “expat” and cocoon myself among other UK-based Aussies: I’m an immigrant, who chose to live in this country, for many reasons up to and including its membership of the EU. When you suggest that EU immigrants are a problem, or that refugees looking for safe harbour here are a problem, you attack the supposedly “good” immigrants too. We’re all “good” immigrants, as good or bad as anyone else—real people, ordinary people, decent people, making our lives in a precarious world, grateful to live in a relatively secure and stable society. And now, because the elderly and the regions have swallowed the lies of Farage and Murdoch, of Boris and Gove and the Daily Mail, that security is gone, that stability is gone, and it will be decades before it returns, if at all.
Yesterday morning I sat on a university exam board with colleagues who were Scottish, English, Welsh, Canadian, American, and me an Australian, all shell-shocked and heartbroken, all thinking of other colleagues from Belgium, Germany, Austria, Greece and Italy who weren’t at our meeting but work alongside us every day. None of us know the full implications yet for our institution and our jobs, but they can’t be good. Many of us will have voted in the 2014 Scottish Referendum against gambling with our sector’s future by disrupting the foundations of Scottish governance. Now that the wider UK has done exactly that, our best chance for security is to accept the many downsides of independence and embrace its upside: that it represents our only remaining chance to remain in the EU. If Scotland gains independence and re-admittance, its universities (along with Ireland’s) stand to benefit as the only remaining Anglosphere universities in the EU, working with colleagues across Europe and welcoming new talent from England and Europe who want to do the same. But those benefits will be a poor substitute for what we’ve collectively lost. I’m so desperately sad for fellow academics in England and Wales today—I shudder to think about the effect this will have on them (and, until IndyRef2, us).
Even though the implications for Scotland are enormous, as they are for everywhere in Britain, I keep thinking of Northern Ireland. I visited it for the first time in 2013, after a lifetime of growing up hearing about the Troubles, bombs on mainland Britain, and finally, and miraculously, the Good Friday agreement. On a day-trip from Belfast to Derry I marvelled that we could now drive out to the Inishowen Peninsula in the Republic without hindrance and that the only signs of difference were the euro prices at service stations. Fintan O’Toole’s bitter condemnation of the casual indifference of Leave voters towards the fate of this hard-won peace feels entirely justified. Maybe a reunified Ireland will be the end result, or maybe Northern Ireland too will become independent within the EU, but the road to either destination appears far from smooth.
The only satisfaction I can imagine from the coming months is watching the internicene struggles within the Brexit camp, between the “soft exit” EEA proponents and the crypto-fascists, but any such satisfaction will be undermined by the impact that all of them will have on the rest of us. What on earth will happen once most Leave voters realise they aren’t going to get their extra millions for the NHS, or any kind of brake on EU immigration once the EEA camp get their way? (Not that too many EU citizens will want to move here now.) Where will Britain find the seasoned trade negotiators it will need to replace the equivalents in the EU, now that Whitehall has lost all institutional memory of the necessary skills? What if some or all of Britain’s emigrants in the EU are forced to return? And how on earth will Britain stuff its racist, foreigner-baiting monsters back into Pandora’s box of lead-lined tolerance?
Yesterday I dropped my son off at his Edinburgh primary school and heard dozens of young voices around us expressing dismay at the Leave result, as he had also done over breakfast; sure, they were mostly following the family line in this 74% Remain city, but the sense that his generation had just had their future stolen from them couldn’t have been stronger. Maybe, in Scotland, we can claw a little of it back. I wouldn’t know what to say, though, to the nine-year-olds of Cambridge or Cardiff. I suppose by the time they’re my age their country will have found a new role in the world and a new normal. Still, try telling a nine-year-old that everything will be fine again by the time they’re middle-aged.
Metafilter thread from polling day and beyond, where I cross-posted the above.