Watching England vote to leave the European Union is a strange experience. It is one of those events which leave you dazed and confused but which may, a few years from now, prove to have huge implications of the future of Europe and the world in general.
Brexit will have a significant impact on the lives of many British people who have chosen to make their homes on Continental Europe. If those who have decided to work or retire in other countries, like Spain or Germany, don't want to go back to Britain they will have to seek naturalization in their chosen nations. This may or not be a possibility, only time will tell.
But beyond the significant ways in which individual lives will obviously be impacted, the exit of Britain will also have bigger, more ominous, effects. This morning the Scots are already talking about another independence referendum because they voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU. There are also huge implications for Northern Ireland. The peace in NI was maintained in part because the EU allowed for an open boarder between it and the Republic of Ireland. The reintroduction of a hard border could easily reignite tensions and fighting in Northern Ireland, particularly given that they were another region that voted to remain in the EU.
Another important issue to consider is that Brexit could spell the doom of the EU in general. The victory of those who have pushed for Britain to leave the EU will galvanize those in other countries who want to leave the Union. The EU is, at the moment, even less popular in France than it is in England, a rather ominous fact. The failure of the EU could have terrible implications for the peace and stability of Europe in general.
But one of the things that the vote yesterday reminded me of was the generational political split that we see happening in many places, North America included. The young people in Britain voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU. Young people everywhere seem to understand and embrace the need for greater cooperation, more regulation to control markets, and more open human and cultural integration. I have personally seen this generational split in people around me and it is noticeable and pronounced. In the US we have seen the amazing way that Bernie Sanders has brought young people into the political process, and this is good news for the future. But generational change can be a messy and disorienting business, and I can't help but think that the future of England and Europe in general looks rocky as an older generation, still steeped in an age of racism and Neo-Liberalism, seeks to hold on to its myths and power while a new generation comes up to redefine politics.
The split in American politics is as pronounced as that demonstrated by the Brexit vote. Old white folks have demonstrated a shocking degree of support for messages of division, racial hatred, and misogynistic rhetoric. Politicians like Trump use those simmering feelings to bolster a rightwing populism that talks about a return to the "good old days." But younger, more culturally dynamic people know that much of the "good old days" were terrible and they are looking for a way forward that embraces some of the post war drive for greater equality and cooperation without the racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and gender inequality.
The Brexit marks a moment in the battle for a new way forward. The battle was lost, but the fight will not go away because the ideas of those who voted to leave the EU are inexorably being replaced. The battle is slow but it's not going away.