This was a purification ritual which in turn evolved from animal sacrifices. Hunters, feeling guilt at killing animals for food, would rope the entire village into killing an ox - a valuable working animal which it had previously been prohibited to kill. Thus, the entire community comes to share the guilt of killing, so now everyone is equally culpable. When everyone is equally guilty, nobody is especially guilty, and the hunters can carry on killing and the tribe can be fed, just as our rulers have decided to continue with the project of killing the planet to keep our civilisation going.
This is how the primitive mind copes with guilt - by projecting it onto someone who is blameless. And they say the Conservatives no longer stand for traditional values!
in the context of economic and ecological collapse we can expect persecutions and even pogroms to break out. One group can only be victimised for so long. I know that of which I speak - scapegoating is as predictable in British political culture as the weather in Death Valley. In the 1990s, they blamed single mothers for everything that was wrong with the country. In the 2000s, immigrants. And now - the victims of the recession and of bad economic and social policies generally, as well as the physically disabled.
When things really get going, we can probably expect the victimisation of ethnic, national, and religious groups to come back into fashion. The breakup of the UK is not unlikely, and then it will open season on the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh. The Muslims already say they fear "another Bosnia", and let's not forget the disturbing fascination many on the Left here have with "anti-Zionism". There's a precedent for small, bucolic European countries like ours falling apart, and it's not a good one...
Could the UK destroy itsself? There is no particular shared experience that joins us together except for our hatred of the weak and our desire to inflict cruelty upon them. The country might not stay politically functional in the absence of a narrative condemning the poor, especially if the recovery fails to take hold and large numbers of Britons join this out-group. At that point, we will cast around for new victims - and find them everywhere.
There is an alternative. After the animal or human sacrifices of ancient times, the community would feel cleansed, go about its business and deal with the problems in a more constructive way. But powerful psychological drives may conspire to prevent that sense of cleansing. In particular I am worried about cognitive dissonance. In cognitive dissonance theory, people are attracted to thoughts that make them feel good (cognitive resonance) and repelled by thoughts that make them feel bad (cognitive dissonance). Realising that you've just condemned a couple of million people to abject poverty for no good reason seems like an excellent source of cognitive dissonance - it would tend to make you feel bad. So if someone could come up with a narrative about why they supported the total destruction of the NHS and the welfare state, one which absolves the public of blame for supporting it, they'd be quids in, politically speaking. So far we've absolved ourselves of that guilt by attacking another out-group, but it's like a guy who cures himself of alcoholism by taking up heroin... you quit hating one group of people and move on to the next. But hate is an addiction, and eventually, they'll pick on someone who can fight back. And that should scare the shit out of you all.