Alastair Meeks (the artist formerly known as Antifrank) had a piece on SL the other day pondering how each side in the EU referendum would react if they lost. His verdict on Remain was that they would just "give up". That may be technically true, in the sense that there would be a recognition of the reality that there is no prospect of the UK rejoining the EU for at least a generation (to use the dread phrase). But that would be the least important part of a much more complicated reaction. Pro-Europeanism is now built into the DNA of the centre-left and centre of the British political elite, and that is bound to find some kind of continued expression in the event of Brexit, especially if the Leave victory is narrow. For my money, the Liberal Democrats and Labour "moderates" would quickly start pushing for Britain to adopt either the Norwegian model (meaning continued membership of the European Economic Area, and a return to EFTA), or the Swiss model (meaning de facto membership of the European Economic Area via comprehensive bilateral agreements with the EU).
We haven't heard much about the Norwegian or Swiss options during the campaign, because both sides have good reason to avoid the topic. The Leave campaign's anti-immigrant pitch would be neutered if voters thought there was a fair chance we were going to end up with the halfway house of EEA membership, which would entail continued freedom of movement. And the Remain campaign don't want people to think they can safely vote Leave and still end up with an EU-lite option. But if and when the battle is actually lost for Remain, it would be perfectly within the rights of pro-Europeans within Labour and the Lib Dems (and possibly the Tories) to point out that Britain had been voting purely on the issue of EU membership, and hadn't expressed any sort of view yet on the EEA. The Leave side's counterargument would be that the campaign had been largely fought on the issue of immigration, and that in practice it was obvious Leave voters were expressing opposition to any relationship with Europe involving freedom of movement. I'm wondering if the tension between those two positions could lead us inexorably towards an EEA referendum at some point - especially if there is a change of government.
* * *
Meanwhile, Charlie Jeffrey of Edinburgh University has suggested that an overall Remain vote in which Scotland tipped the balance might destabilise the unity of the UK. I must say I'm highly sceptical about that. The vast majority of anti-European MPs are obsessive unionists, and even though it'll frustrate them hugely not to be able to make more political capital out of an English vote for Leave, they'll know they can't go too far down that road without effectively arguing for the dissolution of the UK. The nutter tendency in the right-wing press won't have the same inhibitions, but I suspect the whingeing will be a seven-day wonder and then we'll all get back to normal.
The future of the UK certainly does hang in the balance on June 23rd - but the only outcome that would trigger any sort of meaningful crisis would be an overall Leave victory in which Scotland votes Remain.