ENGLAND is in a state of civil war – a very modern form of civil war, but a civil war nonetheless. There may be no armies and no dead on the battlefield, but the mood in England, the mindset of many on both sides of the Brexit debate, is bellicose and martial.

The nature of the conflict goes far beyond a constitutional crisis, and lies somewhere between a revolutionary culture war and an internal social cold war – but in all respects, society in England is divided along hostile lines, and politics is now a form of them-and-us combat which cannot leave the enemy standing.

History will view what’s happening in the UK today as a new kind of conflict. Wars tear countries apart and change everything. In the past, the result of war was graveyards. In the 21st century, it seems, graveyards can be avoided, and countries can be brought to their knees and society altered forever without bloodshed.

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However, although we may say that there’s no violence in this strange new type of English civil war, that’s not quite true. Even before the European referendum, the MP Jo Cox was murdered in the street. Hate crime has soared. Intimidation and harassment is commonplace. Threat still hangs in the air in this civil war 2.0.

With portentous echoes of the first English Civil War, Remainers and Leavers are now almost religious in their zealotry. Each side sees the other as traitorous, evil, almost less than human at times. Compromise is a dirty word, and battle lines have hardened: a national debate which began with a vote to leave the EU via a friendly deal and a wave goodbye, has now become one centred around an apocalyptic no deal Brexit. Civil wars do that – they kill off nuance, and leave only the starkest, most binary choices.

In the midst of the maelstrom of events which we now endure, it’s folly to go in for predictions. In ordinary times any one of the recent events which we’ve seen would dominate the news for days – now we witness a dozen such events in an afternoon. Majorities lost. Elections threatened. Expulsions. Defections.

Who knows what will happen in the next few hours, let alone days or weeks. Conflict cannot be predicted. Will Boris Johnson be consigned to history as a joke prime minister who lasted a bare handful of months? Or will he be remembered as the man who dragged the UK out of Europe, trashing every democratic convention in his wake.

In truth, it doesn’t matter that much how Johnson is remembered – what matters is that the conflict we’re now in will leave Britain divided and the people at each other’s throats regardless of what happens. If we get an election – will that heal the wounds? If Remainers like me get a second referendum – will that heal the wounds? If we leave Europe with a compromise deal – will that heal the wounds? Hate and anger won’t disappear. And, of course, Johnson could game the system and manipulate the UK crashing out with no deal. That, I fear, could be the tipping point from cold civil war to hot uncivil protest.

Division is inevitable. It cannot be avoided – and it’s hard to see any way that the UK can heal this divide. Terrible things have to happen to bury the ghosts of civil wars – that’s if they’re ever buried.

Like the civil war of the 1600s, our current conflict is an English matter. This wasn’t a conflict stirred up by Scotland or Northern Ireland – this was a conflict stirred up in England over the soul of England. Instead of Roundheads and Cavaliers, this time the nation is split among English nationalists harking back to the past, and internationalists drawn to a European future. The schism affects everything – from how an individual views the Second World War, to whether they like or loathe the teenage green campaigner Greta Thunberg. Everything is infected by this conflict.

As with the Civil War of 1642-1651, Scotland and Ireland have been sucked into the chaos. Like today, any conflict in England creates such a force of gravity that the other nations of these islands aren’t able to escape its draw. England’s strife becomes our strife.

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What’s happening is down to the imbalance of power in the United Kingdom: of four partners, one – England – is dominant, and so disruption there disrupts the equilibrium of the entire union. If three normal-sized people are sitting in a lifeboat, and a fourth person, who’s eight foot tall and 300 pounds in weight, stands up and overbalances then everyone will drown.

Yet for the most part, England doesn’t see the chaos it creates for the rest of these islands – or if it does see, then many don’t care.

Who knows where England is bound for as Brexit unravels – it could end up somewhere very unpleasant, somewhere that feels more Hungary than Home Counties.

This Brexit civil war in England has killed any notion of the union as a party of equals. It now feels dangerous to remain linked to a disintegrating England, which is leading the UK towards the position of a failed state. The power imbalance is such that if England goes down, she will pull the other nations with her.

Federalism is a hopeless alternative to the status quo – it would not solve the imbalance of power, and nor would England want to see herself carved up into constituent parts to keep the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish happy.

Many Scots oppose independence – and as a Yes voter I can understand why, and I empathise with their many fair and legitimate concerns. Like many, I’m opposed to nationalism – which partly fuels my fears of what is happening in England – and I’ve no time for the gross patriotism, sentimentality, and Scottish exceptionalism on display from some SNP supporters.

But the hard truth is that the union is now dead – it just doesn’t have the wit to climb into its grave and lie down. The new English Civil War which started in 2016 killed it off. Scotland – and Ireland – cannot let themselves be sucked into the bottomless whirlpool of chaos that’s still to come as this English conflict grinds on for years.

I do not believe that independence is a panacea – far from it. The road to independence will be hard and fraught. But we need to walk away from a battlefield which we did not ask to step foot on – and letting England go her own way, may be the only possible route left to exit safely.

Neil Mackay is Scotland’s Columnist of the Year