There's a reason people once thought it impolite to speak of religion or politics in public, outside private meetings of like-minded enthusiasts. A great many people are incapable of doing so without getting hot under the collar, and the referendum has been a firestorm of self-righteous spleen.
The indecorous tone for public comment and debate was probably set by mass broadcast media in which anger and excess, personal insults, slander, sleaze, and gossip have become far more common over the past twenty years. Political marketing was invented in the USA and the Donald Trump campaign is finding new depths to scrape in the bottom of the populist barrel of invective and mendacity. British habits of politeness and reserve remain widely evident in physical interaction, but on social media they have vanished. I think the personal vilification of politicians, so common to see now, has been especially damaging to debate and democracy.
I’m sure I wander about in my own little daydream and miss most of what’s really going on. I’m equally sure that the internet can make relatively distant and exceptional events seem closer and more commonplace than they really are. There is much in the world to get angry or frightened about, and it’s all there on our smartphone at every waking moment. A lot of people, me included, are wasting far too much time reading stuff on our smartphones that gives us a cortisone hit of nervous stimulation. Sanctimony is addictive.
And then there's immigration, the go-to topic for lazy politicians. All problems of domestic resource allocation can be reduced to immigration- school funding, the national health service, welfare benefits, prisons, you name it- all will be magically solved if immigration limits can be enforced. Apparently. Even though the UK has an ageing population that is about 90% white and British born. But that's irrelevant.
A vote to leave the EU will have the Labour hard left and the Tory right wing equally triumphant, as both seem to think that leaving will precipitate a socialist revolution, or a capitalist one, depending who you listen to.
Polls are ambiguous, but there seems to be a middle class of professionals swayed by the economic arguments for staying in, a lot of poorer and less educated people who feel that the EU is the reason they’re fed up with everything, and a cohort of older, retired voters who feel that Britain has lost some of its national glory by being in the EU. Different business sectors side with their own perceived interests. My local Facebook is hugely pro-leaving as are most of the vox pops I've seen on the TV. If there is a vote for remaining in the EU, it'll come from people who are keeping their opinion to themselves. That's what happened in the general election, to the pollsters' embarrassment. This time, the silent majority hiding behind their suburban net curtains may be rather more divided.
Update: Well, I must admit that was unexpected. The UK voted to leave, roughly 51% to 49% on a 70% voter turnout. The Prime Minister has said he'll resign, the Scottish leadership is calling for another referendum to leave the UK, as are Northern Ireland. Possession or lack of a university degree was the best predictor of voting intention. Areas of long term structural economic decline voted to leave. I voted to remain in the EU mainly because I thought the economic and political consequences would be long term instability for the UK and for Europe. The stock market, the currency and investment plans are already weakening precipitously. I hope I'm proven wrong in the longer term, but I can't see anything positive for the UK or world economy in the UK leaving the EU. The silent majority of older voters who swung the general election did indeed swing the referendum, with a large majority of over 60s voting to leave, along with large numbers of unemployed and lower paid people. A large majority of under 30s voted to stay in. The main political players of the remain campaign are already rolling back on some of their more outlandish claims, and we are heading for some sort of fudge, with much residual bitterness. The great British people have spoken, the politics of sanctimony have won the day, and we stumble back to the future. It feels like the 1970s all over again.