A few years ago I visited the camp at Dachau. Or 'KZ Gedenstatte Dachau as it says on the signs that point the way. And of course it was horrible. I don't think there has ever been a time when my mind might have been open to the populist racism of Farage and his like. Time spent at KZ Gedenstatte Dachau merely rubber stamped every one of my instincts. The peddlers of hate can so easily look like such good old boys. They always have. And blaming all the bad stuff in your life on people who have different coloured skin and speak in different languages will always have a simplistic appeal. And I guess people at the end of their collective tether will always be tempted by the simplicity of racism.
Do they vote for places like KZ Gedenstatte Dachau? Of course they don't. The Germans didn't and we wouldn't. But once you give the purveyors of racism a popular mandate, KZ Gedenstatte Dachau is always what you get. Every brick and cobble of the place was horrible. But there was one corner of the 20th Century hell that stopped me dead in my tracks. Dachau wasn't one of the death camps. The Nazis baulked at the idea of having human slaughter houses on their own soil. They preferred to carry out their Final Solution out of sight and out of mind in Poland.
Instead Dachau was a particularly brutal prison. A labour camp. Before the war started, almost all of the prisoners were released at the end of their sentences. They were broken shells of men, mere shadows of their former selves, but they were released. Once the war got underway Dachau was filled way beyond capacity and people started dying in ever growing numbers – from beatings, from disease, from starvation, from the cold. Bodies needed to be disposed of, so a small crematorium was constructed. This wasn't a vast factory of a place like the buildings that housed the ovens of Treblinka and Birkenau. And unlike those notorious ovens, it wasn't blown up as the US Army approached in 1945.
It is still there today. Brick built to last. And on one of the walls there is a small plaque bearing the names of four young British women. I can't remember their exact ages. They were all in their late teens or early twenties. They were fluent French speakers who had volunteered to be parachuted into France to work with the Resistance. They were all betrayed and arrested by the Gestapo. Remarkably, they all withstood Gestapo torture. The men in the black uniforms gave up the ghost and had them shipped off to KZ Gedenstatte Dachau to executed and cremated. They were killed with no fanfare. There were hooks on the ceiling of the Dachau crematorium. For hanging people. The hooks are still there. It was all about efficiency of course. Hang someone from the neck until they are dead. Cut the corpse down and the open door of the oven is a mere couple of feet away. It was how the four heroines who gave up nothing to the Gestapo torturers met their ends. One by one. Hang and burn. And now they are a tiny foot note in the vast history of those dark times. Four young British women who volunteered to play their part in slaying the foul, racist monster that was Nazism. Now they are nothing more than four names on a small plaque on the well built brick wall of the crematorium of KZ Gedenstatte Dachau.
I couldn't help thinking of these four young women last week as the facts behind the murder of Jo Cox's death stared to come in one by one. I didn't know Jo Cox. I never met Jo Cox. To be honest I had never heard of Jo Cox until she became the name on everyone's lips for the very worst of reasons. But it very soon became apparent to me that she was cut from similar cloth to the four young women named on the plaque. She had chosen her path. She had vowed to fight the hatred of racism with every fibre of her being. And it cost her her life.
A couple of weeks ago I chose words from Macbeth for the title of a blog about the growing spread of racist poison that the Brexit side of the referendum has released.
'By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes....'
Something wicked like a confused mind sent over the edge by all the words of hate in the air. 'Put Britain First'.
Throughout my thirteen years at First Base, I have got know several female MSPs well. Each and every one of them has been hugely supportive of the work we do. Aileen and Elaine and Emma and Joan. They have all gone out to bat for our clients when the State has been behaving disgracefully. Not one of them has in any way lived up to the popular view of politicians as being venal, selfish serial liars. Instead they are all thoroughly decent people working ridiculously long hours and getting virtually no recognition for their efforts.
Like Jo Cox, they enjoy no security whatsoever from the growing hatred of the times. And there is no escaping the fact that what happened to Jo could so easily have happened to Aileen or Elaine or Emma or Joan. Guilty of the crime of being decent. Guilty of the crime of trying to stand up to the rising tide of populist hate. Was it Jo's high profile that sealed her fate? Or was she merely in the wrong place at the wrong time? Who knows. I guess it will all come out in the wash. It was almost unbearably sad to hear what she had been saying in the days before her death. She told a reporter that she was losing the argument on the doorstep. She was daunted by the sheer strength of the poison that was infecting her beloved West Yorkshire. But she vowed to fight on all the way to the bitter end. And she did.
Now the millions of us who wouldn't use the Express or the Mail for toilet paper hang onto the hope that Jo's martyrdom might stem the racist tide. My gut feeling is that her death will deliver a vote for 'Remain' next Thursday. Sadly, the same gut feeling tells me a narrow 'Remain' vote will be the worst thing that can happen.
Those of us who lived through the heady days of the Scottish Referendum know only too well what happens next when millions of people feel they have been defeated by the lies of the British Establishment. Remember the birth of the 45? Remember how over 100,000 signed up for the SNP and the Greens? Remember the instinctive mood of defiance? Of course you do. And what happened next? 56 out of 59 MPs happened next. The death of Scottish Labour happened next. Huge seismic change happened next.
I fear a narrow 'Remain' vote will provoke a similar mood of defiance south of the border. But this time people will not be signing up for anyone as decent as the SNP or the Greens. Instead they will be pledging their allegiance to much darker forces. UKIP and worse. UKIP and much worse. No wonder a leaked memo from UKIP command confirms Brexit is the outcome they truly dread. Of course it is. Brexit will be the end of Nigel as we know him. Instead Brexit will be the Gove and Johnson show and nothing much will happen. It will be a true blue Tory Brexit. Will the corporate backers of the Tory Party accept the end of free movement of people? Of course they won't. The corporate backers of the Tory Party are addicted to the idea of cheap labour. And so a fudge will be quietly slotted into place. A Norway deal will be signed with as little fanfare as possible and the status quo will continue, only under different leadership. And Farage will scream and wail, but nobody will hear him any more. He will be yesterday's man. A Pound Shop Enoch Powell. Consigned to the dustbin of history's might have beens. It will take years for people to wake up to the status quo truth of a true blue Tory Brexit. The truth that absolutely nothing has changed much. The truth that immigration from the EU is just as high as ever. The truth that the corporations have got their way just like the corporations always get their way.
A narrow 'Remain' vote offers a completely different prospect. Farage and his merry men will be empowered: turbo charged. And like the Pied Piper of Hamlyn, the seductive tune they will play will attract acolytes by the million. Their message of hate will find fertile soil. And the memory of Jo Cox and her martyrdom will be washed away.
I will not be voting next Thursday. I cannot stand the thought of lending my support to either side. The EU isn't a club I have any wish to be a part of. What has been done to Greece is despicable. One by one the countries of Eastern Europe are voting for Governments that are Fascist in all but name. Twenty years ago Carol and I could happily visit almost all of the 28 countries of the EU. As a white man and a black woman. As a mixed race couple. Now that number is more or less down to two. Britain and Germany. Britain and Germany are that last places where a mixed race couple can sit in a bar and not have to suffer cold staring eyes filled with loathing.
On the other hand, I cannot abide the idea of giving my vote to the likes of Johnson, Gove and Farage. From a purely selfish point of view I hope next Thursday sees a vote for Brexit. It is the only thing that will stop Farage and his fellow travelling racists in their tracks. My two sons like to go to England to see family. Right now they free to walk the streets without looking over their shoulder. Without listening for the sound of heavy boots coming in fast. Without waiting for the sound of drunk, angry voices.
'I first felt a fist,
And then a kick,
I could now smell their breath.
They smelt of pubs and Wormwood Scrubs
And too many right wing meetings'
Only this time it will be so much worse than when Paul Weller penned these words back in the dark days of the 1980's when the skinhead stormtroopers of the National Front used to strut their stuff.
And then of the course there is the issue of Scotland finding a way to become Independent. Nicola Sturgeon has been singing from the same hymn sheet as Jo Cox. But what will she say if 'Remain' wins by a whisker? What will she say if Scotland's innate decency has been enough to drag England back from the gates of a Brexit? And will she claim that 51% for 'Remain' is enough to settle this issue for good? I bloody well hope she doesn't because if she does how can she possibly demand we have another say because only 55% voted for the lies of 'Better Together'.
Like I said, I am being entirely selfish. Brexit means my sons will probably be safe from the kind of far right pond life who made the lives of their mum and their aunts and uncles such a misery. Brexit means the end of Farage and all who sail with him. And Brexit means our dream of Scottish Independence can be stronger than ever.
But I ain't voting for it. To vote for it would feel like spitting on the memory of Jo Fox and the four forgotten heroines whose names are on that plaque on the wall of the crematorium at KZ Gedenstatte Dachau.