WHEN news broke about the European Union referendum I was halfway over the Atlantic, returning from a holiday to Cuba, jet-lagged and a little jittery (I’m a bad flier). By the time we landed, bleary-eyed, I handed my passport to one of London Gatwick’s ever-zealous border patrollers. I couldn’t help wondering which country I was re-entering. Was this UK-OK, dear old Blighty, or Little England?

Three days on and nothing is any clearer. Economists are once again trying to stave off recession. Labour are falling apart amid a Blairite coup; an unassailable Tory top team has been overthrown. Labour loyalists and Liberals look ready to jump on the Scottish independence bandwagon. Hell, even Ian Paisley Jr MP told his Northern Irish constituents to take a second passport in the South.

In desperation, amid the chaos, millions of people have signed a petition to rerun the EU referendum; others, respectable liberals among them, demand that the UK parliament uses its sovereignty to overthrow the democratic will of the people.

Emotions, then, run high. Everyday voters are just as confused as the ruling elites who stumbled into this referendum. Many are angry. And yes, I understand the emotions, and I feel them too. An ultra-right-wing split in British Conservatism made this referendum happen. Nobody prepared for the potential of a Brexit, least of all the Tory-Ukip leaders of the Leave campaign, whose lies have unravelled like a cheap holiday souvenir. Therefore, chaos reigns.

Worse still are the media, whose campaign of misinformation would make Goebbels blush. As many as 45 percent of British newspapers backed Brexit, against 27 percent who backed Remain. That would be okay – it’s a complex issue – except that coverage never once reflected the real issues at stake, which are only now becoming apparent. Many Leave voters have only just realised that this referendum was about trade and the economy, not, as the tabloids continually led folk to believe, the “coming Muslim invasion”. Some want a chance to vote again, feeling duped by the whole affair. No wonder.

And then there’s another, not-so-secret Scottish emotion: let’s get the hell out of this mess, let’s run our own independence referendum, soon. And yes, I feel that too.

But amid all this fellow feeling, a few things make me queasy. There’s a real pressure, driven mostly by social media, for everyone to feel the same emotions. And in this case, I feel many of them – but not all of them. Some common sentiments, quite frankly, give me the heave. During an emotional frenzy, it’s all the more important that we respect everyone’s right to think clearly and have disagreements.

What truly makes me uncomfortable is the idea that Leave voters are all racist, stupid, and motivated by mean sentiments. I hear endless disparaging references to low educational standards in the north of England, and it sounds like the horribly posh “satire” you get on Radio 4. If these are your emotions, fine, I respect that. But they aren’t mine. I don’t want to abandon the north of England, a traditional bastion of social democracy and trade unionism, I want to understand it. Has everyone forgotten the “Take us with you Scotland!” petition, for if we’d voted for independence on September 18 in 2014?

I’m about as pro-immigration as anyone. I’ll welcome anyone with open arms into Scotland, or the UK – if it still exists – for that matter. I’ve campaigned against racist UK border policy. And I’m hugely proud of my own immigrant (Irish) roots. I want more immigration to Scotland, not less. But there’s one part of the pro-immigration argument I find embarrassing, and I want to distance myself from it.

I’m embarrassed by the liberal idea, shared by some on the left, that “everyone gains” from free trade globalisation. And I think restoring the left’s legitimacy in northern England starts with admitting that many people – including many older, white, working-class people – lost out. Corporate globalisation has been a disaster for working- class communities, and yes, this forms part of the backdrop to this debate. The Financial Times called this referendum a roar of rage against London and globalisation, and it was.

Unfortunately, in England as in America, snake-oil salesmen have dominated the “anti-globalisation” brand. They are peddling counterfeit products – racial profiling, fortress borders, a return to warm beer and Spam sandwiches – that will significantly harm human health. If people buy these products in desperation, then instead of bemoaning their supposed stupidity we should look at our own products, our own solutions on offer. What protection can we offer working-class communities where opportunities have shrivelled up?

Somehow, in this debate, the European Union has emerged as a leftist cause, seemingly unscathed by its horrific treatment of southern Europe, refugees and, most of all, Greece. Maybe being in the EU is preferable to an unplanned exit driven by the Tory hard-right. But let’s not take that truth and stretch it all the way to fantasy. Even when, tactically, it’s the best option, the EU is an ugly organisation.

The radical left can get stuck into a sort of blackmail here. Jeremy Corbyn, for instance, has lost half of his Cabinet because his enthusiasm for the EU was “lacklustre” and “seven-out-of-10”. A better term would be “honest”. Corbyn did meetings up and down the country. But because he offered a balanced perspective, and because he didn’t play the game of baiting immigration fears, it wasn’t enough to satisfy Blairite cravings.

Let’s be clear: whatever the blackmail, it’s a mistake for the left to become the pro-free trade lobby. That era failed. Yes, its aftermath is turning ugly and chauvinist. But our responsibility is to offer an alternative that’s equally, indeed more, radical.

The left has more to offer here, and we’re getting drowned out by a liberal sentiment that uses fear of Farage to banish opposition. I worry that we’re getting painted into a corner of middle-class respectability. Not so long ago, the left, from Syriza and Podemos to the Scottish referendum, was leading the anti-establishment crusade, and that’s where we should be.

Most of all, let’s avoid any chorus that blames or mocks “stupid” voters in working-class areas. That stance is a disaster. One way or another, people get their information from the media. If anyone is at fault here, it’s the slick media moguls of this world, not the alienated grannies of Yorkshire. Soon, we’ll have our own referendum back up and running. And we must convince working-class voters who voted against the EU to back Scottish independence; let’s do so in a spirit of generosity.