I'm oddly thankful that this EU referendum is coming to a close - even if the aftermath is likely to be much uglier. Unlike the vibrant people engagement and progressive optimism around Scottish independence, this contest has been underwritten by a virulent, dismal and racist politics.
As previously outlined, my own inclinations have been towards Lexit, not Brexit. The distinction is important. It's about contextualising the issues in left, progressive ways, unlike the overwhelming EU 'debate' which has been framed, discussed, reported and analysed almost exclusively on the establishment's terms.
Cameron and Gove got prominent turns on Question Time specials. Osborne's warning of economic calamity was pitched against Farage's dark rhetoric over immigration, the essential message here being that only their versions, their narratives, are up for 'serious debate'. Where have we seen the same attention given to any left case, for in or out? Such is the 'choice' of perspectives allowed by our 'all-informing' media.
Battered by this mass propaganda, it's been difficult keeping focused on the central issues. Like many on the left, I have pondered and wavered. Yet core objections to the EU won't go away. Whatever its origins, the EU stands as a rapacious neoliberal institution, controlled by a self-serving banking class, and managed by a conservative political vanguard. Under the secretly-negotiated TTIP, driven evangelically by the EU and US, corporate sovereignty will be total, allowing big business unmatched legal rights to sue anyone obstructing their interests, from national governments to local councils. And even besides TTIP, a whole range of corporate-serving EU legislation already exists, requiring privatisation and deregulation of public services like railways and healthcare. Consider how this would seriously constrain any incoming left-aspiring Corbyn government. As one leftist observer notes in Lexit the Movie, a useful antidote to the mainstream framing, the EU is not some social democratic project, it's an aggressive trading bloc underpinned by corporate demands.
Beyond all the hype about 'reclaiming power', this is the real issue of sovereignty. The Remain case has been supported and funded by City sovereigns like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley. It's been commended by other champions of capitalist sovereignty like the IMF, WTO, OECD, World Bank and George Soros. Even the speculated outcome of the referendum has been boom time for City casino capitalism. As one City bond trader gloated: "You look forward to days like this...There's money to be made and lost". And in whose interests do mass warmongers Blair and Mandelson, Nato and Obama speak as 'principled' Remainers?
Nor is there convincing evidence that the 'workers' rights', supposedly originating from the EU, represent anything more than token crumbs from the same boss class. What serious social democracy, never mind actual socialism, can we expect from an institution run by elite commissioners and bankers? The UK may not be part of the Eurozone, but the momentous crushing of Greece tells us all we need to know about its ruthless neoliberal essence. We should be equally disturbed by the EU's expansionist agenda and bonded ties to Nato, as witnessed most alarmingly in their dual promotion of a fascist coup in Ukraine.
And yet, like much of the left, I've still had conflicted feelings on how to vote, particularly on a question pitched and fought over by two sides of the establishment.
Alongside Boris Johnson's vile rants, we've seen the wicked discourse on immigration from Farage, including a racist 'Breaking Point' poster that will live in infamy. Amid this febrile atmosphere, a decent-minded MP has been murdered in an act of political terrorism (two words barely uttered by a media that would have leapt on them had the attacker been a Muslim) underwritten by that same essential 'we ourselves' mindset and hatred towards the 'intruding other'. And yet, consider also the pernicious language and inferences Cameron, Osborne and other Remain Tories have directed towards 'swarming' migrants, 'benefit-grasping' Romanians and 'still undeserving' Turks. Isn't it depressing how we've been urged to think and calculate so selfishly around 'what's good for me' rather than how do we best challenge destructive power institutions and elites in compassionate consideration of wider humanity and planet?
In this faux binary contest we've seen the great Battle of the Thames, with Farage and Sir Bob Geldof, a farce that hasn't the slightest life relevance to immigrants, refugees or poor people relying on foodbanks. While observing the mass media attention given to this 'conflict on the water', a much more significant maritime-related event happened, all but ignored by the media. The key aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) took the momentous decision not to accept any more money from the EU, given its shameless treatment of refugees and its concocting of the Greece/Turkey deal to ship them back. The sham of a 'civilized EU' decisively sunk. Whatever the lamentable treatment of poor migrants and desperate refugees struggling to reach British shores, there's little or nothing to commend the racist record of fortress Europe.
Unlike the 'looming crisis' of immigration, there's been no such discussion over the real emergency threat of climate change. Some Remainers make the valid argument that environmental progress like the recent Paris Agreement could only have been reached through large EU bloc-type negotiations. Yet any serious advancement of environmental action still comes down to the meaningful policies and pledges of nation states. And all of that involves decisive exposure of the key corporate forces behind climate destruction, forces that neither Brussels or Westminster has the remotest intention of crossing.
For those of us in Scotland, the other more pragmatic case for voting to remain is the pursuit of Scottish independence. If Scotland votes to remain and the rest of the UK to leave, this would most likely trigger popular demand for a second independence referendum. For any Yes leftist, with little regard for the EU or Westminster, that's a strategic option well worth considering. Neoliberal Brussels with a growing right-wing politics is not a protective shield from Westminster. And a neoliberal, Tory and undemocratic Westminster system provides little assurance from that same EU.
Ultimately, in or out of Europe, in or out of the UK, the same much more crucial challenges for progressives remain: resisting neoliberalism; the breaking of loaded political systems; the realisation of true socialist movements, parties, policies and governments.
On that note, and as jaded and confused voters make late evaluations on such matters, I'd like to commend this fine, elegiac lament from the writer Steve Topple on the state of the UK in 2016.