I write this post at 5am after my subconsious clearly sensed something in the air and I woke to find that all major news outlets were predicting the UK to leave the EU by 52% of votes. As someone who voted to ‘Bremain’as the ‘least-worse option’ and an attempt to keep any authority away from the disturbing racism and fascism of Farage and the imperialist-colonial throwback racism of Johnson, this result should be a disaster. But this is also the occasion, perhaps, to find some desperate self-assurance in naive future scenarios of how this result might still play out into a more just and equal society. Such a position (however ‘impossible’) intends to point us immediately towards hope (rather than despair); optimisim (rather than pessimism); and progressive construction (rather than melancholic cynicism).
The spread of votes has not been equal (across age, class, and geography) and, with those who voted to ‘leave’ most likely to lose out even further in any subsequent economic downturn, this means that the 48% of ‘remain’ might (eventually) have enough coherence to organise collectively and potentially steer this in a different direction (especially as many Brexiters have been frantically googling ‘what is the EU?’ since the result and now appear to regret their protest vote, perhaps not thinking their object cause of desire would actually become real).
Scenario 1. The economy crashes, leading to 4 years of socio-economic turmoil, but allowing Corbyn and others to actually offer a socialist alternative package at the 2020 election of investment into public works and able to renationalise natural monopolies (now free from EU neoliberal constraints on such a move, like TTIP). Socioeconomic precarity and isolationism (as has been the case so often in the past) actually turns into an opportunity for a more outward facing and worldly aware socialism (such as was the case with the post-depression New Deal for the US or post-war welfare state in the UK).
Scenario 2. A dramatic fall in migration leads the populist right-wing myth of Shroedinger’s immigrant – that immigration is both to blame for unemployment, diminishing quality of jobs AND a lack of money to run public services or welfare – to lose credence, making people realise how much the capitalist economy relies on exploiting migrant labour. What’s more, the increasing reliance on the goodwill of other countries to take care of British migrants fleeing the socioeconomic situation, leads to a soul-searching rise in compassion and empathy. People begin to realise that excessive ruthless competition and unprecedented inequality is the real reason to blame for their precarity, not scapegoated and helpless migrant workers.
Crowds booing Boris Johnson after Brexit result
Scenario 3. The loss of (albeit piecemeal) worker protections and human rights – which were underpinned by the EU and acted as a check and balance to the political power of financial interests in the UK – sees a turn towards a socialist alternative to restore those rights for the common good. An already precarious 99% realises that the Other is not to blame, but the 1%, causing cross-racial and cross-class solidarity. Looking over the border to a (now independent) Scotland, whose economy has been boosted by increased public spending (as well as investure in secure borders and surveillance to keep out the English), ideas of sovereignty and pride as the outcome of Brexit begin to seem a distant and naive memory.
Perhaps, when all seems lost, now is just such the time for utopian thinking, rather than slipping into melancholia or bitter in-fighting over whether the sociological unit of analysis should be ‘race’ or ‘class’ or ‘gender’. Now is the time to perform the art of the impossible: after we have taken a leap into an abyss where anything could happen.