TODAY the greeting at breakfast in the guesthouse, was “Euer Brexit ist eine Katastrophe” – Your Brexit is a catastrophe. Then: “Schottland muss in Europa bleiben. Der einziger Weg fuer die Demokratie.” – Scotland must remain in Europe. It’s the only democratic way.

Politics are always close to the surface. There is no shame here, in open discussion of politics. Everyone I have spoken to has been utterly incapable of going beyond the merest of greeting formalities before diving straight in to the political questions. This is not unusual in my 36-year experience of Germany. There is an atmosphere similar to that in the Yes movement during 2014, only the difference here is that I’m not in a “Central Belt bubble”, or equivalent, but in the rural provinces of Germany. I am struck by the way here in Germany political discourse is a considered part of normal life.

A constant practice. Not distasteful, as in the UK. In Scotland, the rural areas largely were the places where I’d overhear comments before the independence referendum such as “I really don’t like disagreeing with people or talking about politics” and after the referendum such as, “Thank heavens that’s over, now we can get on with life in peace without all this uncomfortable talk about politics”.

These may be throw-away comments, may not be meant seriously even, but for me these point to a serious deficit in our social democratic processes.

They show up a reluctance to dialogue and debate political issues, to learn to live with differences of opinion, to practise ways of holding the tensions which are present and only made worse by not being made manifest. Underlying the much over-used phrase: “I don’t like political correctness” there is a deeper structural issue. As a society we have a fatal weakness when it comes to being good at practicing political dialogue and debate. We are squeamish about discussing politics if it means we might disagree and as a consequence we have become poor practitioners of the arts of disagreement and healthy debate.

We get good at things by practising them. If we want strong dialogic, democratic societies and spaces we have to practise regularly and frequently. If we want to confront and overcome our imperial past and failings as a country we need space, structures and ceremonies growing alongside commissions, which do so unflinchingly, with a commitment to permanence. Otherwise, look what happens when we think democracy is an annoying ballot-box-at-best task. Catastrophe. And as we have seen recently, a determination by the UK Government to rig every committee in Parliament. The comedian Andy Hamilton said recently: “I’d be outraged at this, if I wasn’t already ‘outraged out’.”

Outraging us into exhaustion is of course part of the tactics of the powerful and always has been. It may work for a while, if we let it. For too many today even showing up in conversation to discuss political consequences is too much to ask. And voting, judging by the turnout figures across the UK for elections, is also a stretch, and not just because people feel disenfranchised but also because people would rather not bother with the whole sordid business of having to think about alternatives seriously.

If it feels too much like hard work to think for yourself or disagree with someone you like, we end up handing over the whole decision-making apparatus to someone else. It’s called dictatorship.

As a consequence, in the UK we are losing our democracy to autocracy by stealth and we are losing our rule of law. It’s in the early stages but moving quickly. If you don’t believe me, look at the case of the Samim Bigzad asylum seeker. His deportation order was overturned by the Supreme Court, and the appeal by the Home Office against this decision was also overturned – and guess what – the rogue ministry that is the Home Office deported him anyway to a country where he faces execution, only to be ordered by the courts to bring him back to the UK. Not only is flouting the rule of law wrong by any measure in a democratic state, it is ridiculously expensive.

More than 12 per cent did indeed vote for the far right in the recent elections in Germany – but that’s not the same as the percentages the far right are polling in the UK. Many of the policies of the Conservative/DUP alliance look remarkably like the agenda of AFD – anti-Europe, anti-immigration, and in the last election the combined vote for Conservative/DUP/Ukip was around 45 per cent in total.

This tells us everything we need to know about the stronghold of the far right in Europe today. In the French presidential election Marine Le Pen’s share was 33.9 per cent, on an anti-immigrant Frexit ticket.

What is remarkable in Germany is the fact that 87.4 per cent did not vote for the anti-immigrant party. Yes, it’s a dark day that sees a far-right party returned to the Bundestag, and there is absolutely no room for complacency. But given the rising tides of hatred of immigrants across Europe in countries which have taken in miniscule numbers of refugees comparatively, we need to look seriously at how it is that Germany took in one million refugees and did not give in to the fear-mongering, but continued to say “wir schaffen das” – “we can do it” when it comes to hospitality.

Alison Phipps is UNESCO Chair for Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts at the University of Glasgow