I could live a little better with the myths and the lies,
When the darkness broke in, I just broke down and cried.
I could live a little in a wider line,
When the change is gone, when the urge is gone,
To lose control. When here we come.
Summer of 2014: Scottish referendum. Driving the Yes campaign a progressive argument about democracy and popular representation: In the event of national independence Scots would author and enforce their own laws. A sovereign parliament. Nonetheless, their national sovereignty would not bring fiscal independence as the rival campaign was quick to note: the monetary policy of the new independent Scottish state would largely depend on the policies of the Bank of England. This proved to be an irresolvable contradiction for pro-independence campaigners. In the event of independence, unionists argued, Scotland would have the faith of Greece: that of a sovereign state without control of its economy.
By voting to remain in the union, Scotland would have the best of both worlds.
Fast forward two years: ‘Control’ has become the buzzword of the Brexit campaign. ‘Control’ has two faces. First, a benevolent democratic appeal similar to the progressive Scottish pro-independence argument pounding on the massive democratic deficits of the EU institutions: Westminster ought to take back control of policies and regulations that are authored in Brussels by unelected, nameless and faceless EU Bureaucrats and special interests. True. However, it is astonishing to me how many of those who employ this argument do not have any words to spare on the astounding democratic deficits of their country’s political institutions: first pass the post electoral system, House of Lords, to name a few. Brussel bureaucrats are in fact an easy target.
Now, the driving force of the Brexit campaign is a much darker ‘control’ agenda driven by a politics of fear. Control ‘our’ borders; control migration; restore a sense of national identity and post-imperial pride. The allusions to the implementation of a much more effective Australian-style point-based system in the event of a Brexit resonate with racialized memories of Britain’s imperial grandeur. Those who are exploiting people’s fears are well aware that restoring border controls will not carb migration flows. People have been on the move for centuries and will continue to migrate in larger numbers in the future prompted by the rise of global wealth inequalities and the effects of climate change. A Brexit won’t soothen neither the heightened sense of post-imperial anxiety, nor the working class frustration about rising social inequalities.
My case for #Remain is a negative one, driven by conjecture rather than principle. At this point in time, under these circumstances Britain Is better off in the EU and the EU is better off with Britain. The referendum debate has brought ‘Europe’ to the forefront of British politics in negative and in positive terms. This is a legacy worth preserving, for on Friday the challenges will remain the same: xenophobic populism; the politics of austerity; the effects of climate change; rising income and wealth inequality; the demolition of the welfare state; regional conflicts and forced displacements.
Postscript: The screenshot of a leading Danish daily wondering why the British PM gambles on Britain’s EU trajectory