Joyce McMillan: Brexit is clarion call for European far right

BREXIT will create long-lasting ramifications not just for Scotland and the rest of the UK, but for Europe as well, writes Joyce McMillan

After the Brexit victory, the far right will be celebrating all across Europe. Picture: PA

When in doubt, turn to poetry.

“A glooming peace this morrow with it brings,” says Shakespeare, after the tragedy in Verona that marks the climax of Romeo And Juliet; and that’s how it feels in Edinburgh today.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

With the hurly-burly of the Referendum battle done, but a people left shocked and shaken by the news that a city and a nation that voted emphatically to remain in the European Union is nonetheless to leave it, at the behest of a non-metropolitan working-class England that has been neglected, ignored and silenced for too long, and has now staged a rebellion so ill-directed, and so divisive, that its constitutional and political implications are almost incalculable.

Reaching back into recent history, it’s possible to identify some key moments in the long betrayal of ordinary working people that has led to this seismic decision. There was the election of Margaret Thatcher as Tory leader in 1975, and the effective end of the postwar welfare consensus. There was the coming of New Labour, and the key moment when they parachuted in Peter Mandelson as MP for Hartlepool, as if the representation of working class communities had become just another pawn in their neoliberal game. There was Gordon Brown’s Gillian Duffy moment, eternal symbol of Labour’s failed response to the toxic anti-immigrant and anti-EU bile pouring daily from some sections of the press.

Add the 2008 crash, and the subsequent imposition of Con-Lib austerity combined with sharply declining real incomes, and you have a people with a right to be angry; what is mysterious is the alacrity with which almost all of England, outside the cities, has mistaken the opportunistic toffs, reactionary clubmen and stockbroker-belt quasi-fascists of the Brexit campaign for friends of the people, and enemies of the “elite”.

The consequences for Scotland, of course, could be immense.

Our working-class rebellion against neoliberalism, which began in 2007, led us towards the pro-European SNP; and on Thursday, we voted to remain by 62 per cent to 38 per cent, opening up a huge political gulf between the UK’s two largest nations.

My advice to the Scottish Government, though, would be not to seem too eagerly opportunistic, at this traumatic moment; to steady the ship if they can, to seek discussions with EU partners about our national wish to remain, and to let Scottish voters draw their own conclusions about whether the England of Farage and Johnson remains a fit partner for our 21st century future.

Forgive me, though, if on this occasion I find myself listening to a drumbeat far more significant even than the possible final severing of Scotland’s ties with Westminster.

Because what I hear, after the Brexit victory, is the sound of the far right on the march all across Europe, of Geert Wilders rejoicing in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen celebrating in France.

These are the politicians who want to take a wrecking ball to the peaceful, annoying, haggling, horse-trading half-continent in which we have grown up, a great postwar experiment in human history of which I have been proud to be a citizen, and which I now feel myself mourning, like a lost part of myself.

On Thursday, a sufficient majority of the voters of England and Wales gave that wrecking ball its first, fatal push; and whatever Scotland finally decides about its own future, our fate will be bound up with the consequences of that deliberate act of destruction, for at least a generation to come.