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Death of a Russian doll. 
24th-Jul-2016 08:00 pm
I haven't posted on here for ages - I haven't even logged on for ages. Sorry. This is more of an attempt to post for the sake of posting than anything - that, and, I hope, something of an exorcism.

For most of my adult life I have seen my national identity as being like those wooden Russian dolls that nest inside one another. I come from Edinburgh, Scotland, the United Kingdom and Europe, in that order, and all are important to me. (I do actually have a set of four such dolls, bought for me by my father in a Russian shop in London when I was very little.) Beyond that, I am a citizen of the world, but those are the four subsets of the world that have my allegiance. So when I woke up a month ago now and found that - by a very narrow margin - we had voted to leave the European Union, it felt as if I had lost part of myself.

And a month on, it still feels like that. Oh, we (in the sense of the UK) will get by - we always have before, as the song says, although it looks very likely that there will be an economic price to pay, possibly a very considerable one. And for British universities (about which I care a great deal, as they employ me) there will certainly be a price, in that (unless we agree to the free movement of people, something that a large number of Brexiteers specifically do not want) we will lose our access to important funding bodies and exchange programmes. Those who say 'why don't you just work with the Americans/Australians/whoever instead' don't understand that we do already - the EU did not prevent us from working with other countries, but there is less funding to help us to work with them, and leaving the EU will not magically make it appear from nowhere. The set of dolls may lose more members - Scotland voted decisively to remain in the EU, on top of a narrow vote to remain in the UK two years ago. Our pragmatic First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is not committing herself to a second independence referendum at the moment - she is probably waiting, like everyone else, to see exactly what the terms of our departure from the EU are like - but there is every possibility that there will be such a referendum, and that it too, will be a vote to leave. (The other part of the UK that voted to remain was Northern Ireland - there have been calls for a united Ireland on the basis of Brexit, but I'm afraid I don't know enough about Irish politics to know whether the new circumstances would be enough to win over the Unionist community.) So it feels like the calm before the storm at the moment - we know nothing, and we are waiting.

Some of this does seem to have been a case of the usual suspects - dislike of immigration, fear of terrorists (both of these stoked by irresponsible politicians). Now that 'Leave' has won a narrative of the 'little people' socking it to the 'elite' is emerging - it's somewhat bizarre, when I cannot afford a house, to suddenly be part of an 'elite', and a metropolitan one at that! And, as in the case of Donald Trump, the representatives of the 'common man' seem to have backgrounds that are anything but common - Alexander Boris De Pfeffel Johnson (Eton and Balliol, distantly related to royalty) for example, or Nigel Farage (Dulwich College, former commodities trader). Beyond this are complaints about 'sovereignty' and 'democracy'. It's difficult to know what to make of these - the EU's decision-making process is certainly cumbersome and opaque, giving a great deal of weight to the appointees of national parliaments - but on the other hand we are a country whose parliament has an unelected second chamber, and which has no written constitution (something that potentially allows far too much power to the Prime Minister), so can we actually afford to throw stones? It is hard not to feel that 'the EU is not democratically accountable' really means that 'the EU is not democratically accountable at the level of the nation state' and that this is actually a mask for an English nationalism that wants to have full control of its own affairs. Which is fair enough, I suppose - but this means nothing to people who are not English. For me, the UK is already a composite body, for which we (as in Scotland) agreed to give up part of our sovereignty in 1707 - I think that this union has served us well, but am annoyed to find our partners getting all prissy at the very idea of a further union. However, this may just be me!

Whatever the arguments, wherever this is going, I do feel that the country is smaller now. Perhaps I just watch too much Star Trek, but, whatever its shortcomings, the EU always felt to me like a noble project - an attempt by old enemies to work together in the interests of a greater whole, a sort of tiny precursor of a United Federation of Planets. By leaving it, it feels as though we are turning our back on something difficult, and opting instead for the flattering, and easy. There is increasing talk of the Commonwealth - 'good' foreigners seem to be our former colonies, people comfortingly made in our own image (or so we think - wrongly, IMO). Above all, there is an embarrassingly fawning attitude to the US and the 'special relationship' - rather like the little old lady who proudly shows the photo of the successful son who barely finds time to phone, let alone visit. And there is a lot of rather jolly encouragement to 'pull together' and show that 'bulldog spirit' which is extremely irritating to those of us who remember that only 52% of those who voted chose this in the first place.

Oh well. Mustn't grumble, I suppose (but I will, oh, I will!)
30th-Jul-2016 03:00 pm (UTC)
I was utterly shocked by the results of this vote, and am now worried for the future. Like you, as a "Trek" fan, I never saw unity as a drawback, nor a possible one-world government as evil. The rise of nationalism combined with a very toxic racism in both our countries is horribly worrying. I do hope everything will be all right.

Anyway, excellent post. I'm thinking a united Ireland might be a positive result of this vote, and I'm also pleased to see the strong support for Jeremy Corbyn. Many of us Bernie supporters are turning to Jill Stein of the Green party, who also offers a humane vision.

But the world does seem a horrible mess. I hope you and yours are okay and that things will get better. Two friends from England came to see me at the library last week, and they told me many of the "leave" votes were based on a lying campaign, and that there's a lot of "voter's remorse", as it were. They also said it was a reaction against the very hurtful and wrong-headed austerity campaign.
30th-Jul-2016 11:18 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm not sure how much 'voter's remorse' there is - it's a such subjective thing. There are plenty of stories, but then 'Leave' voters counter with people they knew who voted remain and now regret it, so who knows? I thought the lies on the leave side were quite egregious. There was a lot of suggestion that Turkey would be fast-tracked into EU membership, thus opening the door to Europe not only to Turks but to Syrian and Iraqi refugees as well - that was one that particularly annoyed me. And the famous £350 million that could be spent on the NHS, which continued to be used even after it was shown to be false. More worrying still, for me, was the contempt for 'experts' - they were (obviously) 'elite' and as such, clearly in the pay of all sorts of shady people or groups determined to trample on the 'little man' - so only information coming from those clearly on your side should be trusted. This does seem to be part of a very disturbing trend that the internet has fostered.

And, talking of which, I wish I had your optimism about Jeremy Corbyn - but I don't. He has done a very good thing in getting left-wing ideas back into circulation in the Labour party - it was getting very lost last year, and had no sense of direction at all. Now it has one, which is great. The trouble is, however, that he is completely disorganised and seems to be very uncomfortable dealing with anyone who isn't a political fellow-traveller, so he is quite useless as a leader. There are endless tales of stories not given to newspapers in time for publication deadlines, policies being undermined on last minute whims without notifying the relevant shadow cabinet minister, a refusal to talk to the press (because of alleged bias) in favour of obscure internet news sources, and above all, lack of communication with anyone not in a favoured inner clique. It takes two to tango, of course - the press were initially hostile, but his open suspicion and contempt have given them no reason to change, so they have become worse. Some MPs were never going to work with him, but others (those who agreed to serve in his shadow cabinet, for example) were - if he has now alienated them, this is, IMO, at least as much his fault as theirs. But of course, to his followers it is all a plot, disaffected MPs are all 'Blairites', 'Red Tories' 'Neocons', and when he has won the leadership again they are likely to be purged, and replaced with people with much less experience, and much more dogmatic rigidity. But on the other hand, there is no possible challenger to Corbyn at the moment who inspires any kind of confidence either. It is all a horrible mess, really.

Edited at 2016-07-30 11:20 pm (UTC)
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