Voting Remain to build a better European Union

The EU is a beast that's difficult to love at the best of times. And these certainly are not its best times. The weakness of its institutions over the last decade has meant that it has found it difficult to deal with a series of crises. But it has not been the abject failure that some would have you think. While I disagree with much of the fiscal policy pushed by the Troika, it must be remembered that the EU managed to prevent a Euro collapse that really was on the cards for a year or two. It's easy to forget now that when the EU faces a serious challenge, it has the pragmatism and determination needed to find a solution. This spirit is what has saved the EU in the past and will help it move forward from its current stasis.

For months, I've been discussing disconnection, alone and with friends. I've been in Catalonia for fourteen years now, and my infrequent trips to England have left me worried about what's happening there. Increasingly, I've felt disconnected from England. I don't understand why there are Union Jacks everywhere, or why cool people I get along with suddenly shriek at me about the country being "full". I don't understand how people close to me can describe the EU as "horrible", while they simultaneously contemplate handing power to people like Boris Johnson, Michael Gove or Nigel Farage. Victory for Brexit will be a victory for nasty right-wing populism – the repetition of old lies and the fabrication of new ones. Look how UKIP supporters pushed an ever louder, ever nastier anti-migrant message and then went into overdrive trying to claim that Jo Cox's assassination wasn't political. That party thrives on people's fears, and has managed to poison debate in England in a way I never thought possible. And Brexit will hand Farage a huge amount of political capital.

Not wanting to empower Britain's populist right wing isn't enough of an argument for the EU, though. The other half of this narrative must be logic and fact – the LSE's Nicholas Barr is as good a source as any for a sensible, evidence-based approach to remaining in the EU. How telling it is that some Brexiters are even calling on their countrymen to 'Ignore the numbers!', as though that were somehow a noble way to approach this debate. It isn't: it's the very definition of small-minded ignorance, a quality which exemplifies the Brexit campaign. The numbers are, of course, vitally important. Which is no doubt why we're encouraged to ignore them. "You can prove anything with facts!", as Stewart Lee reminds us. Whether it's trade, security, democracy or the economy, all the evidence and research points to remaining in the EU as the sensible choice.

If Brexit ends up winning on Thursday, the sky will not fall. But things will change. Britain's democracy will have been dealt a major blow by arguably the most dishonest and hate-filled political campaign in our history – certainly since the Blackshirts. Voters will have sided with ignorance and demagoguery. Britain will, for perhaps the first time in its history, take a step backwards and explicitly reject progress and modernity.

This referendum will likely be my last chance to vote in the UK. It's also by far the most important vote I've ever cast. If you have a vote, please use it to vote to keep Britain in the European Union and reject UKIP's vile, populist propaganda. Vote for the hope that Europe represents for so many millions of people, and for the aim that together we can build a better Europe and a better Union. Vote Remain.

6 thoughts on “Voting Remain to build a better European Union

  1. Very nicely put.

    I already heard from you via another medium that this will possibly be your last UK vote. I am actively seeking to make that so for me: I am giving very serious thought to moving away from the UK. I understand that migrants get to vote for a period of time having moved away, but I'm talking about seeking new citizenship in a more civilised country.

    I too have found it surprising the extent to which the poison has spread, and its potency. Just a few years ago, I held the belief that Ukip's rise was a qualified good: splitting the right-wing vote might finally bring the Tories into the arena of electoral reform, if facing permanent opposition was the only other choice. Instead, my judgement proved badly wrong: Ukip seems to have taken at least as much Labour vote.

    My theory is that the dissatisfaction that has been converted into the populist uprising itself stems from the structure of Westminster politics. First Past The Post as a system leads voters to compromise their beliefs. It is a vulturine system, feeding off the carcasses of small parties that can never attain power. Big parties don't need to be fitter, stronger, sharper in wits: they only need to wait for smaller parties to stumble and wilt in the heat of the electoral desert, then fight to gobble up what they can of the remnants. It herds free thinkers into tribal pens, polarising policy decisions.

    This channelling of voters has also been a damming, and it seems that a lot of pressure has built up over some time. An oft-used reason for the wave of anti-politics is that scandals like the one over MPs' expenses have left people disillusioned with politicians. As much as there is truth in that, it's an incomplete picture. The very fact that for decades, any change of government has only been possible between two parties is key. The frustration at the only possibilities being "one or t'other" is the crucial context. With proportionality comes a lower hazard in trying another party on for size. Countries like Denmark have a diverse, flourishing and nuanced party system. If you want a left-wing anti-EU party, there is one for you. If your tastes are right-wing and pro-EU, again you have someone you can vote for. And if you change your mind, say, from left anti-EU to left pro-EU, you can find a party that will represent that without having to choose whether to discard your economic or your EU wishes.

    Finally, such nuanced politics allows for people to be more thoughtful. You don't have to swallow unquestioningly your party's line because the only alternative is "the enemy" gets in. You can switch parties without feeling like a sell-out.

    Until British politics offers many channels of political expression, I will continue to fear what dark water is massing behind the walls of the dam. That majority governments cease to be the norm or even possible needn't make us afraid. It might be just what's needed to stop a destructive and sudden cascade like we are seeing now. And for me, that would be a country that I could feel like remaining a part of. What make me want to flee is not the fact that there are people whose opinions I find repulsive: those people are anywhere. It's that the architecture of our system forces them to share a space with people who share their goal in kicking a hole in the dam, and who become more tolerant of the ensuing risks than they need otherwise be.

    Excuse the length of my comment. It's somewhat impolite to reply to a post with a comment longer than the original post. For that I apologise.

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    1. Thanks, Alun. No need to apologise.

      It's interesting. If Britain had proportional representation, probably UKIP and the Greens would have more presence in parliament. Would that further legitimise UKIP's message or would it take their victim rebel status away?

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      1. Well I think at the very least it would be fair. They could peddle their message safe in the knowledge that they would get a fair share of power in parliament.

        I guess my underlying assumption is that there are many people who will vote Leave not for their belief in leaving the EU but as a proxy for other grievances. Though if I'm being fair-minded I should add that the same is possibly true of some Remain voters. And that's unhealthy for the body politic. People shouldn't be making proxy votes, they should feel represented at all stages of the democratic process. Would Ukip's message be more or less legitimate were they to have more representation? I don't know, but I'm confident that they wouldn't be able to piggy-back as easily on the sensation of people being frozen out of democracy, and we could all take their message for what it is, whether or not we like it.

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  2. Very well written. I am also a foreigner living in Barcelona and I certainly hope for a "Bremain" outcome. This is critical also for the city I live in, and in order to avoid a collapse of the EU that could lead to dark forces lifting their heads.

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  3. Hi, I wrote a comment on your other blog. Sorry, I didn't know you had another for politics.

    And !!!. You defended the UK inside the EU? Isn't the EU impossible to reform, and the European PP and European PSOE trying to avoid reform? Or you just think in the future they will want to reform the EU? That's exactly what I think about Spain, that in less than 10 years podemos and other parties will change Spain, as probably will happen when PSOE and Podemos make a government agreement.

    But I think your acquaintances in Barcelona are mainly independentists, since you said that 'Catalan language is under constant threats'. I agree that the PP would prefer a monolingual state, but the State has no longer power to change things about Catalan, it is the Generalitat who makes those laws. In Catalonia anyone is threatening the Catalan, I only remember that it was proposed a minimum of 2 subjects in Spanish, since nowadays only Spanish language and literature is in Spanish. There are many voices in Catalonia, in the other hand, that want a monolingual independent state, ignoring that 65% of Catalans speak Spanish.

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