FOUR days to go. As in Scotland two years ago, the torrent of public participation in England is running faster than the politicians can keep up with it. And there’s another resemblance. This referendum is supposed to be about membership of the European Union, in or out. But at a deeper, hidden level it’s a debate about English independence – England’s own indyref.

For all who remember Scotland in 2014, that giddy, looking-glass feeling only grows stronger. Giddiness can make you laugh, but it can also make you nauseous. It’s as if a film of 2014 was being played to us inside-out: the same lines, but spoken by lousy actors in strange costumes.

Here comes Project Fear again, with its dust-storm of factoids and fairy statistics. But here, too, come all those figures who brayed at the Scots that their banks would emigrate, their trade would be in deficit and their pensions would shrivel if they left the Union. And today many of these same voices, now in Leave, say that the banks will prosper, the trade balance will boom, the pensions will actually increase if Britain leaves the other Union.

Now it’s English voters who ask: "Why should our laws be dictated to us by distant people we never voted for?" (Aye, right …) On the other flank, those who dismissed the Yes movement as "anti-English racialism" now dismiss English anxiety about immigration as "racialist bigotry". Which it sometimes is, but more often expresses the ill-informed but genuine worry of decent people.

And there’s a sight on English and Welsh doorsteps now which first became familiar in 2014 Scotland: the growing horror of Labour canvassers as they realise that their voters are defecting en masse to a populist, "separatist" cause. (Will history repeat itself at the next election, with southern Labour’s vote collapsing towards UKIP or something worse?)

Down south, many factors are combining in the surge of opinion towards Brexit. But the strongest is the one that dare not say its name: English nationalism. This is why what happens on June 23 is England’s independence referendum.

It’s not the way voters in England understand it. But it’s the best way to understand the formless, uncritical rage which has been stirred up from Cornwall to Tyneside by this referendum campaign. In a very general way, this is rage against the whole system of governance, "the politicians", the unfairness in how burdens are shared. It’s the wish to "govern ourselves".

In outline only, it’s like the profound upwelling of democratic feeling which Scotland experienced two years ago. But the content is very different. Like it or not, the proposition of Scottish independence was a serious and plausible response to injured democratic feeling. But "Middle England" 2016 is not dealing in realities. In bellowing about "taking back control" from "the diktat of faceless Brussels bureaucrats", it’s simply aiming at the wrong targets.

Are English people justified in feeling unrepresented, underprivileged and manipulated by a remote power-clique? Yes, they are. But that enemy is not the Commission and it’s not Brussels. It’s London. It’s the geopolitical dominance of London and the south-east, and the elitist power-politics of the United Kingdom.

Direct rebellion against that metropolitan elite would threaten both Remain and Leave leaderships. Most of them belong to it. So Leave campaigners have adeptly diverted political anger into the existing English panic about immigration.

Much of that panic is baseless. Some real cases exist where European immigration has pushed down local wages or overloaded English schools, hospitals or housing. But it’s not Brussels that is to blame, let alone Polish or Romanian families. It’s recent governments – Labour and Tory alike – who gave up on council housing and failed to finance the growth of schools and hospitals. As Scottish governments have realised, the post-2004 influx from ex-Communist Europe has helped demography, returned a fiscal profit and stayed within manageable numbers.

But "take back control" – the only referendum slogan which has gone viral – stays trained on "foreigners", not Westminster. That, of course, conceals the sort of control which the Leave leaders would exercise if they won the referendum. On Tuesday, Tory rebel ministers led by Boris Johnson unveiled a programme of public spending to balance an end of European support and subsidies. The Remain camp, backed by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, called it "fantasy economics". But the Leave Tories are behaving as if David Cameron was already history, and they were a government in waiting.

So why do English voters, though simmering with outrage about supposed affronts to democracy, fail to see through it all? It’s now plain that something like a Tory coup d’état is planned after a Brexit vote. Cameron, George Osborne and others would be thrown into the Thames and replaced by an even more right-wing cabinet. Who voted for that? What happened to that democratic determination to "take back our country"?

When millions of people hold a sincere opinion, even one as wrong-headed as the immigration panic, they are entitled not to be sneered at. The problem with English nationalism is lack of leadership. There is widespread resentment – "we are the majority, but we don’t get a parliament or a fair share of the money like the whinging Scots and the Welsh". But there is no serious English National Party.

Even Ukip is carefully "UK". The Tories in William Hague’s time fiddled briefly with the idea of becoming an "ENP", but dropped it. England’s large and liberal middle class – the group which traditionally leads civic nationalism in Europe – draws back in fastidious horror; St George’s flag, they think, is only for working-class football hooligans. This snobbery surrenders "English" politics to confusion, primitive xenophobia and easy manipulation by any passing bunch of demagogues.

And yet England does deserve its independence. A tolerant, tough nation with a unique sense of fairness, the English are badly governed in Britain and increasingly they know it.

It may be that intelligent men and women will stop holding their noses and take up this cause. It may be that only Scotland’s secession can break the spell of "Britishness" and let England take itself seriously. But Thursday’s "English indyref", if its choice is merely to quit the European Union, will leave England further from independence than ever.