The Scottish referendum was fought on a prospectus that had a bare nodding acquaintance with the economic and political realities of the early twenty-first century. Divisive and absurd ideas were bandied around by the SNP as a sort of alternate reality. The same has been true of the Brexit campaign. Although both sides have resorted to negative and nasty campaign tactics, the fact is that the statements made by the Leave side are repeatedly fact checked by independent scrutiny and found to be totally untrue. By contrast the evidence from genuinely independent research from a very wide range of sources still- despite the attempted rubbishing by Leave- strongly supports the case for Remain. As with the Scottish referendum, the intellectual case is overwhelmingly for the status quo. More to the point though, the moral case is also with the status quo.
The fact is that this debate has been conducted by Leave with an absolute contempt towards the truth. The fact is that the Leave attacks on immigration, framed in a narrow minded and bigoted way are little short of disgraceful. 99% of those who come to the UK come because they are not only social useful, they are needed. This article by Jakub Krupa, a Pole, points out that the attitudes revealed in this debate are little short of racist xenophobia and are threatening a hard working community that contributes a lot more to the UK than it takes out.
The impact of the referendum on Europe seems set to be as unpleasant and divisive as the Scottish referendum, but the Brexiteers may not gather much of a boost for their ideas, as happened, perhaps only temporarily, for the SNP. Instead they seem set to be damaged from their encounter with the electorate. The Hard Right in British politics has revealed itself to be just about as incompetent as they are ruthless and obnoxious. The vituperation they issue is indiscriminate. Everyone, from distinguished economists, business people, journalists to even wavering Brexiteers, has been treated to insult and abuse. Caught in the cross-hairs of these shouts of rage has been the Prime Minister himself. The insane conspiracy theorists of the fruitcake, xenophobic Tory hard right have even had the gall to suggest that David Cameron does not even know his own mind on this issue, that he is a traitor to all he holds dear. In the face of this shrill cacophony it is increasingly hard to see how Mr. Cameron can reunite his party, or even that would wish to.
For the Tories now face serious problems. It is not just the bitterness that many seem to feel towards their own party, it is the growing number of scandals that beset the organisation. The tragic suicide of a young Conservative activist amid allegations of bullying and predatory sexual advances has seen a set of heart broken, baffled but decent parents caught up in a battle against some genuinely nasty individuals- some of them the same people now running the Leave campaign. The, at best, casual disregard for the niceties of electoral law has set off a chain of investigations into Conservative cheating in the 2015 General Election and several by-elections. In fact there is evidence that the scandal goes way beyond some small misunderstandings and amounts to a wholesale electoral and financial fraud which has subverted our democracy.
The fact is that the Tories have behaved with a contempt for the truth and quite possibly a contempt for the law. The arrogance that the Leave campaign has shown is of a peace with an attitude that regards truth as optional and that the only thing that matters is victory.
The referendum campaign has been a period of phony war. June 23rd will be an inflection point for a new crisis. If Leave wins, then there will be a national crisis which will probably distract to some degree from the crisis in the Tories. If Remain wins, however, then the storm around the Conservatives will break. Those who have felt obliged to keep silent in order not to affect the referendum result, will lose their constraints. Those on the Remain side who were aghast at Mr. Cameron's referendum gamble but could not speak out, will also gain the freedom to speak.
The explosion of noise that will follow could see not merely the emergence of the full scale of the details of the Conservatives alleged financial misdealing, but even further scandals may come to light.
The Conservatives who one year ago gloried in their trouncing of their erstwhile coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, may in one years time themselves be facing an existential crisis.