Racism is now a prominent feature of democracy, for those who are truly racists, and those who rue being associated with them by voting the same way.
Politics and Racism: The Dark Side of Brexit
When I, along with the rest of the world, reacted to the news last Friday morning that Britain was leaving the European Union, I politely wrote a cautiously optimistic commentary in this space, sounding that everything was going to be okay.
The pound and the equity markets would recover, I wrote reassuringly. Britain and her trading partners in Europe would do what they can to continue the free flow of tourists, expat workers and goods across the Channel and the North Sea. Voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland did not necessarily want to secede from the UK just because they voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU. EU itself would finally recognize the need to reform, so as to better serve its members and cooperate with its allies.
For Britain, perhaps some more self-determination isn’t such a bad thing, I said to myself. Brexit was a binary, this-or-that decision, as clear and simple as democracy could get. Many a US president had been elected with less than 52% of the popular vote.
Sadly, I’ve come to dismiss that cautious optimism as uninformed naiveté.
For all its profound consequences in Britain, Europe and beyond for decades to come, the very idea of having an EU referendum in the first place was parochial politicking at its worst. The ruling faction of the Conservative Party, as well as the two other dominant political forces in Britain, the Labour Party and the Scottish National Party, all assumed that the status quo would simply prevail, so as to keep themselves in play and put their detractors to rest for another electoral cycle. After all, in the past two years alone, the Scots had voted to remain in the UK in a historic, first-of-its-kind referendum, and David Cameron got to stay at 10 Downing Street after a close but decisive victory for the incumbent party in a general election.
They, the powers that be, woefully underestimated the demagoguery of their Eurosceptic challengers. The “Leave” camp promised that the dividend of no longer having to pay into the EU pool - purportedly as much as £350 million a week - would be spent instead on the much cherished but nearly insolvent National Health Service. They promised, to the delight of the xenophobes, that they would regain control of national borders, to stem the invasion of immigrants who would lower their standard of living by taking their jobs, homes and entitlements.
The “Remain” side called upon a formidable cadre of international leaders - captains of industry, heads of major international organizations and ally states – to pronounce doom and gloom for a poorer Britain in isolation. Their dire message utterly backfired, deemed as the elitist, self-serving petulance of the 1%, whose enormous portfolios were at stake.
They could have done more to debunk the myth of the Brexit dividend by pointing out that EU funds had already been coming back to Britain, with much of the largesse coming from Germany, EU’s largest contributor. These funds were spent to fix roads and subsidize agriculture in rural and suburban England and Wales, where populist sentiment to leave the EU was stoked to the utmost. As it was with the NHS, the EU programmes were something the voters could immediately relate to, not some abstract models of world trade promulgated by economists. Once Brexit is complete in two years' time, all those funds will have to come from the British taxpayers themselves.
When Jo Cox, a pro-EU MP from Yorkshire, was brutally murdered by a self-proclaimed “Britain First” domestic terrorist just a week before the referendum, both sides should have loudly, courageously denounced racism and xenophobia, affirming the truth that immigrants, expats and refugees have always been and will always be key threads of Britain’s social fabric.
Now, more people are out in the open to demand not just the closing of the borders, but the repatriation of 1 million Polish nationals, many having already lived in Britain for a decade or more. Of course these “Leave” voters are not going to get what they want – just like that £350M pie in the sky – and that will only make them even angrier, more malcontent and more prone to vote with their bile than their good sense.
Some think their “Leave” victory at the polls is a mandate that legitimizes their hostility towards anyone who is not white. Racism is now a prominent feature of democracy, for those who are truly racists, and those who rue being associated with them by voting the same way
Finally, Brexit is not just tearing UK away from Europe; it’s tearing UK apart.
The Scottish National Party might have “failed” to break up the United Kingdom in its 2014 referendum campaign, but it had impressed the Scottish electorate with its decidedly positive outlook of Scotland as an independent nation. So much so, during the general election a year later, it was voted in as the ruling party in Holyrood, and the authoritative representation of the Scottish bloc in Westminster.
-- CW, 28 June 2016
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