On Thursday, before the tragic and brutal murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in a shooting incident suspended campaigning, the EU referendum campaign reached further down into the gutter than it has gone before. Mind you it’s been in the gutter and rolling about in the filth pretty much since it started. Saying that the EU referendum campaign has produced a disgusting new low is a bit like saying that someone managed to be offensively undignified in a bare-arsed shit-slinging contest, but Nigel Farage’s unofficial leave campaign poster managed it.
The poster took the prejudice and racism of far too many in the UK, and put it into pictorial form. It depicted a line of Syrian refugees stretching out into the distance, with the slogan “Breaking Point, the EU has failed us all. We must take control of our borders.” Britain already has control of its borders within the EU. Refugees from the world’s war torn regions, which are too often war torn because the UK has cheerfully been selling weapons to some dictatorship or other, don’t have access to the UK as it is. That’s why there’s a refugee camp full of desperate people just across the Channel near Calais who are being driven to attempt crossings of the dangerous waters in inflatable boats, or trying to hitch a ride hiding in the back of an articulated lorry. It’s got nothing to do with Britain’s place in the EU. It just plays on the fear of people from the Middle East.
If those refugees in Nigel’s poster were able to enter the UK, a UK which is still very much a member of the EU, there would be no Calais Jungle. The poster seeks to conflate two very different issues into a miasma of fear, scaremongering which appeals to latent racism. But as Nigel would no doubt say, better latent than never. The tragedy is that Nigel’s disgusting and dishonest tactics have a very good chance of succeeding.
The choice we have is being a part of a UK which is dominated by a racism that denies its racist, a xenophobia which seeks to take us out into a mid-Atlantic dystopia where workers’ rights are denied and traduced, or a UK in which the elites feel free to lie, dissemble and cheat in order to retain their grasp on power. The best an ordinary punter can hope for is a two month contract in a call centre between appointments at the job centre.
That’s why there is little public excitement about the EU referendum in Scotland. This is not our referendum. It’s only happening in the first place because David Cameron was arrogant and stupid enough to believe that he could use the question of Britain’s EU membership as a proxy to settle divisions within his own party.
Cameron wanted a short snappy campaign, and then in his arrogance he thought that the question would be settled once and for all and he could go back to his patrician politics as usual. But that’s not what’s going to happen. Irrespective of who wins next week, British politics have fractured. The Unionist continually harp on about the divisions caused by the Scottish referendum, but those are mere cracks in the glazing compared to the Grand Canyons of alienation created by the Unionists themselves. And far far away on the other side they can just about make out the spirits of honesty, decency, and truth, waving goodbye. Those are on Scotland’s side.
From dire warnings of economic meltdown and World War Three to threats that we’re going to overrun by people who speak foreign languages and whose foreign food will take over shelving in Tesco, this referendum has been the nastiest and most unpleasant exercise in democracy since a Roman emperor asked the crowd in the Colosseum to give a thumbs up to killing some Christian kids. If anything illustrates the utter moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the United Kingdom and the Westminster political class it has been the way in which this supposed exercise in public consultation has been cynically sucked dry of anything approaching intelligence, wit, warmth, humanity and compassion.
Anyone who compares the nastiness, negativity and noxiousness of this EU referendum campaign with the Scottish indyref is only contributing to the lack of principle and imagination which characterises this EU referendum on both sides. In comparison the Scottish referendum was a joyous and positive affair. Where Scotland had wish trees and Lady Alba’s witty songs, Westminster’s EU referendum has covert racism and the imaginative brain power of tree slime on tranquillisers. The only wish tree is the one that says we wish it was all over. If you could plant a sapling in the soil of the EU referendum campaign, the only thing that would grow would be poisonous.
Whereas there was at least one side in the Scottish referendum which attempted to be positive, there’s none of that in the top-down campaign for the EU referendum. There is no mass public engagement, at least not in Scotland, and there’s no mass participation. While the Scottish indyref electrified a nation and sparked a flowering of democratic activity, Scotland sits on the sidelines of the EU referendum as a passive observer at the Colosseum. We don’t even get ringside seats as British democracy throws itself to the lions of hatred and fear and cynical manipulation. This is not a referendum, it’s a howl of impotent rage. This is what happens when the elites ignore the people and take them for granted. The people decide to destroy everything because they have nothing left to lose.
What this referendum tells Scotland is that there is no place for Scotland in what passes for British political discourse, if you can call two sides screaming at one another in contempt a discourse. Our only remaining role in the UK is as a hairy legged bogey man that the establishment can use as a threat in an attempt to scare Middle England into line. Scotland needs to give a thumbs down to Westminster’s Colosseum. We need an arena of our own. One in which we can star.
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