Perhaps it's too soon to be worrying about the aftermath of the EU referendum. Magnanimity in victory is all very well, but let's have victory first. Or failing that, let's not be good losers until we have actually lost.
There is going to be a price to pay regardless of the outcome. Do any of us really believe, for example, that the Scottish independence referendum resolved the issue? The United Kingdom can never be the same again after the nastiness of that campaign and the narrow result. Many naive English people discovered, watching a horror story play out north of the border, that millions of their fellow citizens genuinely dislike them on imaginary ethnic grounds. Nice English people who are never likely to meet a "ned" socially were rather disturbed by this. Nice Welsh people who had never taken Plaid Cymru seriously also learned what goodies can be extorted by pseudo-ethnic acting out. The Kingdom's unity was clearly weakened.
I fear a similar outcome to the EU referendum. If, as bookmakers still believe, the British vote to remain members of the EU it will be by a very narrow margin. Our Continental brethren have learned both the fierce intensity of anti EU sentiment in Britain and the lack of any genuine enthusiasm in the Remain camp. "Of course it's rubbish in many ways and a bit corrupt, but it's useful on balance and we should stay in to fix it" is not the warmest of endorsements. If that's the level of patriotism to expect in the United States of Europe, God help it.
My Continental friends know that I am voting Leave because I hate the EU, not Europe. But the Continental equivalents of those English people with no Scottish friends who were shocked by SNP "neds" can be forgiven for now thinking us hostile to them as people. Ironically that's not because of anything the Leave campaign is saying. It has mostly avoided SNP style nastiness and is usually scrupulous about being anti EU not anti European. It is the Remainers who, in characterising Brexiteers as little Englanders, Empire nostalgists, uneducated elderly white males and sheer bloody racists are frightening the horses on the Continental street. Particularly as in places like France, Germany, Poland, Hungary and Greece "eurosceptics" are often closer to fascism than mostly perfectly rational British Brexiteers who come from all political persuasions and none.
Britain has always been out of step in the EU for reasons I have explained here before, but I would not blame Continental true believers in the European Project for now seeing us as permanent obstacles to its success. Especially as they will also see that a narrow Remain result is not final. As in Scotland the issue will come back again and again until we finally Leave. We can hardly blame them for thinking, as many English think about the Scots, "... bloody well get on with it, take your hatreds elsewhere and leave us in peace..."
There will be different but equally serious problems if we vote to Leave. Britain has long been a country divided against itself on class, national and regional grounds. If not united by a common enemy a shocking number of us find reasons to despise and try to prey upon groups of our fellow citizens. Cameron and Osborne are open to much serious criticism of their policies, but how much easier it is to sneer at them as Bullingdon Club toffs. I was brought up in t'North to see Southerners and particularly Londoners as parasites and perverts preying upon honest working folk. On the other hand, fans of the London football club I now follow sneeringly chant "we pay your benefits" at the locals when they play away in the Midlands and North. My mum, an Englishwoman in Wales, has experienced ungentlemanly treatment at the hands of Welsh nationalists. And so on ad infinitum. We sure as hell do not need more division.
How would those of us who fought to take Britain out bring back into the national fold the loyalists of the EU and the ordinary Brits they have frightened into line behind their banner? It would be hard to avoid triumphalism, given how they have derided us. Yet if we allow the celebrations to last for more than one joyful night, we risk fracturing the very nation for whose independence we have struggled. The Conservative Party will swap leaders and unite under pressure to win an election. But what about the rest of us? Will UKIP dissolve itself, its mission accomplished, and let its members and voters drift back to mainstream parties? What purpose will the EU-compromised LibDems fulfil in a post-EU Britain? There will be plenty of political issues to resolve because people want Brexit for many different reasons. From Galloway on the authoritarian statist wing to Paine on the libertarian flank, we agree on leaving the EU but precious little else. We can't afford as a nation also to be divided over what should then be a dead issue.
I have no solutions to offer. I am merely thinking aloud. How, gentle readers, do you see this playing out?