This New York Times report sets up the context:
underlying all the dire predictions of doom — that staying or going will cause Britain to fall apart in various apocalyptic ways — is a deeper emotional issue that speaks to the country’s sense of self. Who does it think it is, and where does it think it belongs? Has it ever felt like it’s part of Europe?It is a "deeper emotional issue" about whatever it is that provides value to people. In the brief time that we get to live on this beautiful planet, we handle our existential crisis in so many different ways. We try to answer the question of "who am I?" through many affiliations and ideas, When people search for meaning, there are different institutions that provide them with comfort. Even though I seem to be getting more convinced about my evidence-based atheistic framework, I do not go about criticizing what people believe in their respective faiths because I understand--and appreciate--how their religious beliefs help them with making meaning of their existence. And especially about that great certainty that awaits all of us, irrespective of the beliefs.
The political identity also plays an important role. While I personally and intellectually recognize that the political identity is a freakish accident--being born in a country--it is very much like the accident of being born in a family that practices a particular religion, speaks a particular language, eats particular foods, listens to particular music, ... All these accidents together help with understanding our own place in the cosmos.
We err when we conclude that those institutions that give us various identities are irrelevant. It is a huge mistake to force people into behaving as one. It was along these lines that I blogged two years ago about Scotland's (failed) effort to break free; I wrote then:
We are so much wrapped up with the idea of globalization that we forget we are humans and we like, we love, identities. Identities especially when there is a long and rich history of the peoples. Economics--being materially well off--does matter to us, yes. But, we seem to overlook that we do not live on bread alone. There is a lot more than mere material satisfaction that makes us human. Identity--religious, ethnic, linguistic, ... and often these are also intertwined.The challenge, as I see it, is to figure out how to understand each other and engage in constructive cross-cultural relationships even while holding on to the identities and without making those identities as a metric for hierarchical comparisons. The solution is not to erase the identities but to understand that we can create a much better future even as we tightly embrace whatever identity that we want to hold on to.