This past week, for me as for many others, has been almost entirely consumed by the EU referendum.
I have been pretty certain of how I would vote since the idea of a referendum was even mooted – I feel more European than I do British, and the thought of walking away from an institution that has successfully secured peace on our volatile continent, and has always been there as a buffer to protect us from the increasingly right-wing leanings of our government, just does not sit easily with me.
Still, though, I have wanted to put my conviction to the test – both as an individual and as a town councillor I have wanted to ensure that I am not missing a trick: that I am not so blindly caught up in an emotional response to this seminal issue that I skirt over the facts, and promote a stance that is, in fact, not in the best interests of me or my community.
I expected to discover, as I delved deeper into the realities behind the propaganda, that things were not as clear cut as my gut was telling me. That whilst there were good reasons to Remain, the Leave camp would also have compelling evidence to support their point of view. After all, there are many people just as passionate about getting rid of the EU as there are about staying within it – almost exactly as many, if the polls are to be believed.
But the more I dug, and read, and reflected, the more I became convinced that not only is remaining in the EU the right thing do, but that a huge number of people who are planning to vote to leave are doing so not because they believe that it will lead to a better future, but because they are fed up with the status quo.
They are fed up of there not being enough money to go round, of our resources not being enough to sustain us, of other people deciding their destinies. With this referendum, they have been offered a scapegoat: and bolstered by the lies of the Leave campaigners they have been fuelled to protest against this (to them) faceless organisation that (they believe) has done far more harm than good.
Except they are participating in a ‘revolution’ led by the very people who have the most to gain by reducing their voice even further, and they are protesting against a reality which doesn’t actually exist.
Take fishing, for example.
This is probably the key issue for voters here in Brixham, and the reason why even breathing in the direction of the Remain campaign gets you labelled a traitor and an enemy of our community. When I started looking into what it was that had prompted the fishermen to bedeck their boats with the livery of the Leave campaign, I was almost certain that this was one area where I would be proven wrong: everybody knows that our fishing industry has suffered at the hands of the EU, right? Meaning that, surely, leaving the EU would solve all their woes.
Except the reality isn’t quite that simple.
There is little doubt that, over its lifetime, the fishing policies introduced by the EU have had a negative effect on our fishermen. However, the policies were introduced in response to very real concerns about over-fishing – the impact of which has a potentially devastating effect on both the environment and fish stocks, and therefore on fishermen themselves.
Since Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight campaign the Common Fisheries Policy has actually been subject to considerable reform – and is one of the best examples of how we as a member state of the EU can affect change from within. The figures now actually point to a real growth within our fishing industry, which is heavily reliant on the EU as a market for its exports.
There is still a problem with quotas, but the allocation of these is within the hands of the U.K. Government – it is them that have chosen to favour the huge commercial players at the expense of smaller-scale fishermen.
I completely understand why people in the fishing industry might want to use their referendum vote to retaliate against past injustices, but I do not believe that their position reflects the current realities. Given how many other areas – the NHS, the arts, scientific research (to name but a few) – will suffer if the UK votes to leave the EU, a Leave vote as a protest seems a very, very risky move to make indeed.
This whole issue of risk seems to be the thing that the referendum is hinging on right now. The Leave camp have somehow manipulated themselves into the position where to support them is the maverick move, the thing to do if you are fed up with any aspect of your life within the current system. Nigel Farage, with his hate-fuelled political career, is on the verge of precipitating the biggest shift in our government in my lifetime: he has made people believe that this is the only real opportunity to effect change that we will ever be offered.
But let’s just leap forward thirty-six hours to Friday morning. Let’s imagine what that vote to leave would really mean. We would have not only rejected the views of our current Prime Minister – someone who, on the vast majority of issues, I am utterly polarised from – but we would also have rejected the views of the vast majority of our academics, our business leaders, our artists, our scientists, our health practitioners, our trade unionists. The only group who would be united in celebration of this outcome would be UKIP, and in a blur of fear and propaganda they would have leapt from being a minor political force to the key drivers of our future as a country.
I really hope that is not going to be the case.
There is no doubt that Europe is not perfect, but no aspect of our political system really is. If we vote Leave, we are decisively saying to all of the European countries who want to be our friends, that we have no regard for them – and we have no regard either for the myriad of experts and professionals who have been warning us that this is a very bad idea. And that vote to leave would be conclusive: whatever the consequences there will be no going back, not without convincing the rest of Europe that despite us shunning them so hugely we deserve to be welcomed back into the fold.
If we vote Remain, we are putting our faith in unity. We are recognising that, in the words of the late Jo Cox, “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”.
There is still a long way to go before this European Union that we are a part of is the perfect fit for all of its members, but those are words that I would like to strive for, and a truth that I believe is the key to the future of our world.