I’m posting this because there have been moments during the lead up to the Brexit referendum when I genuinely did not know which way I would vote. Plugging into the mainstream debate has been of great help and I wanted to share why.
This may seem a little unusual given that the debate has been less about the political, social and economic issues and more like being asked to pick between end of days cults. Both camps have their scare story: your choice is between a Hitler run Europe or a world war. Since the referendum vote involves no third option or middle ground, from the point of view of the two campaigns, whichever way you vote some nightmare scenario looms in the post 23/06/16 world.
When I vote, I knew that I would be wanting to vote to make something inspiring happen, not to appease my fears. This here is where the debate has so far fallen short. UKIP’s success over the last years has been in conjuring up a self-confident Albion ready to engage with the world on British terms. “Leave”, on the other hand promises just exit and isolation, while “Remain” is such an insipid term that its passivity can squeeze any passion from those arguing we should be attempting to achieve great communal things in Europe.
This begs the question, why the focus, in both camps on the other side’s doomsday scenario. Well, it seems that very occasionally the underwhelming reality of success is let slip. For Leave, Lord Lawson admits that the “the choice is to be isolated inside Europe or to be isolated outside”. Meanwhile, David Cameron says the EU is “immensely frustrating” and leaves him feeling “annoyed” and “crazy”. It’s also a way to avoid talking about your sides biggest hurdles. Leave doesn’t want to talk about the fact it can’t point to maintaining our current economic position and Remain will not address the current closed-door decision-making that determines EU policy.
On top of this, we can’t trust either campaign. Not because of what they are saying about the current status quo but more because of what they are saying about what happens next; their elephants in the 24/06 room. This is a single-issue referendum. As such Leave don’t represent a single political party and anything one of their ‘leaders’ promises about how the post-EU Britain would look, trade or police its borders has no actual way of becoming national policy. Likewise for Remain, if the Eurozone decides to forge an ever-closer fiscal union, this would be a decision that an EU Britain would not be able to prevent.
Then there is the problem that the standout issue of this debate, immigration, is not being talked about honestly. Leave leaders know that immigration from outside the EU to the UK is higher than that from within the EU. Believe Leave and the UK would use its new control of our borders to bring down immigration, but the government has the power to reduce immigration from outside the EU now and it is not doing so. Also Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, non-EU members, must allow free-movement of EU workers into their countries to have access to the European single market. Clearly though, the mass movement of people (refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants) from outside the EU is a logistical and ethical challenge for the EU. However, it is not a problem made by EU law: outside of the EU, the UK like the EU would still have to deal with this logistical and ethical reality.
And it’s not just Leave telling porkies about immigration. For years, Remain leaders have not listened to people’s worries about immigration. As our national politicians, they have portrayed people fears about the impact of immigration as racist. However, the reality is that being worried about the impact 300,000 people moving to our country is not racist: it’s about school places, access to the NHS, job security and wages, house prices, benefits and changes to the community. In short, immigration touches on all the areas of public government that we believe the 21st century nation state is responsible for. These areas are still within our national control but it’s been easier to blame immigrants rather than fix taxes so that a fair share of the profits made by business, because of free movement, is spent on improving public services.
So this is how the debate has helped me know how to vote. I know that the EU can be democratically unaccountable and that ultimately there is something un-European about the UK’s ‘one foot in, one foot out’ relationship with the EU, when the rest of the continent is going ahead with a monetary union (that will require a fiscal union if it is to survive).
Stronger than this though is that I do buy into the blame game that our problems and inequities are made in Brussels. Look at the list of concerns over immigration: this is a list of government policy areas, worries about these stem from Westminster – unfairness in UK is our responsibility. On Friday, the nation will be seriously divided, so in or out, the emphasis will have to be on what unites us and makes us better together. That’s OK though because we have a history of just such unity. Political union is what makes this Kingdom exist; focusing on how we can face problems together is our legacy and today we all face global problems. So I’m voting in because I think working out how we can make the EU fit for our 21st Century futures is a moonshot made for Britain.
P.S. If you feel compelled to vote to regain our sovereignty, it may be worth remembering that at this very moment, a 3rd generation German immigrant is the head of our armed forces, puts people in jail, can summon and dismiss Parliament and the Prime Minister, and veto any legislation made in the Palace of Westminster. Before her, the power belonged to the Dutch and the Normans. In fact, through inter-marriage, we’ve been pooling sovereignty with Europe ever since the birth our democracy.
P.P.S. In researching for my vote I read articles across the spectrum online. One thing these all had in common is that the ‘below the line’ comments of Leavers actually sent shivers down my spine. In case you read this post, please Boarderguard54 don’t let this be your rationale when you cast your vote: “I may often be wrong, but never in doubt”.