The day after Britain voted to leave the European Union, BBC politics correspondent Nick Robinson told News 24 that he did not know where Boris Johnson and Michael Gove were and that he could not establish any contact with them.
The two Leave campaign leaders and the future leadership of the UK presumptive were in no contact with the state broadcaster at a time of profound national crisis.
The chancellor, the main architect of the UK’s austerity regime and Theresa May, the lead candidate of the Tory centre to be the next Prime Minister, were also thought to be in hiding, discussing their options with allies.
This earie spectacle underlines that Brexit was not the plan, and has thrown the majority faction of the British ruling class into a state of panic. Even those who lead the campaign for Brexit are stunned and, faced by the emergence of multiple crises in the wake of the vote, probably frightened.
Of those crises the most potent is a probable second independence referendum in Scotland, but numerous national, political, economic, social and class crises latent or semi-active are likely to come to the fore in coming months and years, animated by the UK’s dislocation from the EU.
These crises include the extension of constitutional crisis to Ireland and Northern Ireland, which would inevitably be aggravated by Scottish independence.
In politics, the Conservative party has essentially just experienced it’s ‘Corbyn moment’, with the defeat of its centre tendency possibly turning it, like Labour, into less a successful political party than a staging ground for a more radical and confrontational political sentiment.
The eventual result could be that the UK has lost both its stable parties of government, the dramatic new departure being that the Conservative party is the predominant political formation of capital, and has dominated British politics since before the UK was even a parliamentary democracy.
The crisis in the Labour party, with a slew of cabinet resignations meant as the starting pistol for an overthrow of Corbyn’s leadership by parliamentary party conspirators could easily still come to nothing. But the most important development in the struggle for the soul of the party would be the direct intervention of the party membership into the faction fight to defend Corbyn. This again, would accelerate the unwinding of the party and possibly lead to a split.
Overall, Brexit must be understood as a development that will massively accelerate the economic and geo-political decline of the UK. Outside the EU, the UK’s partnership with the US is in question, it’s pre-eminence as a financial hub insecure, and its military capacity significantly curtailed. All of this will only be re-enforced by the continued unwinding of the UK state, which now looks almost inevitable.
The Instability of Brexit
The hard right has for decades used opposition to the EU as a scaffolding around which to build a populist, reactionary politics. That has obviously been a successful project in terms of the EU referendum, but it is now itself in extreme crisis.
This is because the vision of the EU created by the populist right was always been at least semi-mythical, and the institution is not the essential source of most of the problems for which it is blamed.
In the populist right schema the EU, often through the vector of EU migration, is to blame for the UK’s shortcomings from the shortage and expense of housing, through increasing structural unemployment, to public debt and struggling public services.
The socially insubstantial class element (compared to the strata of capital and state management who dominated Remain) of small and medium sized business interests who formed the leadership of Brexit will soon discover, if they don’t know already, that leaving the EU is not a real panacea to any of these problems. Indeed it may only exacerbate them.
In addition, and perhaps just as importantly, Britain’s identity as a proud and historic post-imperial nation will be repeatedly diminished and soiled in coming years as Britain slips further down the international pecking order.
The working class vote that powered and eventually won it for leave will no doubt be rapidly disillusioned by its failure to resolve any problems. This means that any future Tory leadership of the country could be extremely precarious, especially given the eccentricity of the most likely candidates to form the next government.
The middling strata of British capital lacks both the social weight and familiarity with real power to consolidate the larger class element that it mobilised for Brexit. Confrontation and disaggregation is absolutely inevitable.
The Immediacy of the National Question
This is all to say that the crisis is far more extensive than even the most doom-mongering remain campaigners predicted.
In Scotland independence could come before the worst of the damage even becomes apparent. But if it is the case that Nicola Sturgeon made her announcement that a second referendum is “highly likely” with as much purpose as it sounded like she did, then hers was undoubtedly a strong move.
Not only has Sturgeon calculated that Brexit could win significant sections of civic society to and independence that secures Scotland within the EU, she also recognises that the profound political instability brought in by the leave vote is a fleeting window of opportunity.
In the event of another independence vote, the only coherent, well organised political opposition to a ‘Yes’ vote would presently be the Conservatives, who’s UK leader is, presumably for now, Boris Johnson.
The Yes vote still faces a big obstacle given that Scotland’s economy is weaker than it was in 2014, but then again the long term prospects for the UK economy are far from rosy.
The detonation of the UK’s multiple national crises by the Brexit vote would seem to confirm the analysis, extended on this website and elsewhere, that national questions are key to the decline of the British regime, with class antagonism providing the engine force.