Unless you have been in Outer Mongolia for the past few months you will be all too aware that this Thursday, 23rd June, UK citizens will be voting whether to remain in, or to leave, the European Union.
Let me say at the beginning that I think that the worst mistake of many made by David Cameron was to call this referendum at all. I am in agreement with various commentators who have suggested that this issue is far too important and far too complex to be decided by a referendum. This is borne out by many media articles in the past few days that report the general public to be confused, unsure about the issues at stake, and also turned off by the increasingly bitter and negative campaigning. Andrew Rawnsley, writing in yesterday’s Observer comments “the telling of bare face lies has been rarer in our politics if only for fear amongst its protagonists of what will happen to their credibility when they are found out. This campaign has introduced a novelty to British politics: the persistence with a lie even when it is verifiably a lie.”
However, the referendum is nearly upon us, and the polls indicate that the result is too close to call. Presumably when Cameron agreed to a referendum he assumed that the result (in favour of staying) would be a foregone conclusion. Maybe if the votes had been weighted towards those most affected by the outcome he would have been right. Most pollsters agree that the older and less well educated the respondent, the more likely they are to vote leave. I think that it would have been fairer to have age-weighted voting, for example over 75s have a vote worth one point, 50-74 voters are worth two points, 30-49y olds votes are worth three points, and under 30s votes are worth four points. The older you are the less the impact of the outcome for you. Cameron has said that this vote will affect the UK for generations, so it seems vital that the youngest voters are strongly encouraged to vote.
The arguments in favour of staying in the EU have been depressingly negative, offering fearful visions of what might happen if we leave. I happen to share the fears about Brexit, and personally can see nothing in favour of leaving. It would be a huge leap into the unknown, and whatever Messrs Johnson, Gove, Farrage et al suggest, they have no more idea about what would happen than anyone else.
I prefer to focus on the many positives that we have already gained from being a member of the EU. It is a large family of nations. I come from a large family, as does my husband, and we have a large family of our own. I think that this is directly related to the fact that, for the first time ever, my husband and I are in complete agreement about our voting intentions. He is a right wing Tory, I a lifelong Labour left supporter, but we are both 100% behind staying in. We have experienced the benefits of being members of large families. Big families may not always get on with one another, there may be fights (sometimes bitter), there can be radical differences of opinion. However, these experiences rub the corners off family members, they teach tolerance and above all they teach how to share. I remember friends who were only children, and friends of my own children who were only children, and their unifying characteristic was their bewilderment about sharing, and their difficulty at being just one of a large number rather than the focus of attention.
I think that the ‘Leave’ campaign is behaving like only children, afraid to share, afraid of losing their identity amongst a bigger group. They collectively create ‘only child Britain’ (in fact mostly ‘only child England’) and want to reject any idea of joining a large family. Only child England does not want to share what it has with others and cannot see the many advantages of being part of a large family. I, on the other hand, have observed the behaviour of only children over two generations; I have experienced the pros and cons of being part of a large family over the same timescale. Interestingly I have noticed that large families attract others; parents of only children feel anxious and reluctant to invite lots of other children into their homes except in well planned and more formal circumstances (birthday parties etc). As a mother of four children I have frequently found my house full of as many as a dozen children, and as my children grew into adults our home was known to be open house for them, their partners, and their friends.
Staying in the EU keeps us in the big family. Of course the EU is full of flaws – what family isn’t? Of course members of the family will disagree; some will be reluctant to share with the more needy members of the family, but ultimately families are about supporting one another. Big families breed tolerance, openness, and understanding. I don’t want to insult only children by stretching the analogy, so instead I will suggest that an isolated Britain will quickly become an isolated England (as the home nations seek independence one by one). An isolated England will be scared to share, scared to play with others, and will rapidly lose any perspective of its own importance in the world.
There are many, many advantages to staying in the EU. Each of us will have different priorities. For me, being part of an expanding, multicultural, exciting family is important. Protecting human rights, women’s rights, and workers’ rights is paramount. Helping to maintain the safety and security of Britain as part of Europe is definitely important. Living in a multicultural Britain where I can meet colleagues from all over Europe on a daily or weekly basis is tremendously exciting. Do I want my granddaughter to grow up going to a nursery and then schools where several languages are spoken? Of course I do. These things encourage tolerance unless bigotted, xenophobic, nationalistic people waste media space railing against them. Take a look at those who want us to leave:
I would be ashamed if anyone I knew thought that I shared the politics of Marine Le Pen or any other far right enthusiast. There is surely only one way to vote on Thursday. Stay in the EU despite its flaws; believe in a safer Europe, help to reform the EU from within rather than become ever more isolated outside.