Decision day approaches

I settled on my EU referendum decision yesterday.
It was genuinely challenging. I have read two books and hundreds of commentaries in pursuit of my answer, whilst engaging in debate here and elsewhere.
Due to the nature of my employment – and a need for impartiality – I have restricted my comments on Facebook and Twitter to address issues of process, tactics and strategy rather than the core arguments for and against our membership of the EU. Suffice to say there has been plenty to say about both official campaigns and other people’s commentary.
Whilst the debate itself has been unedifying, I accept that the interest of many key players is divergent from those of the British people. On both sides, the job of campaigners is to win the referendum. There are no prizes for coming second, however honourable the defeat. So while I despise the campaign methods, I have some sympathy for the motivations.
This is not a decision where we vote for the best debater or the strongest campaign. Instead we must decide what is best for ourselves, or our children, or the UK or indeed Europe as a whole. In this respect the quality of the background debate is almost incidental.
My own decision is personal to me – a product of my worldview, my own personal biases and the research that has brought me here. It pays surprisingly little heed to what the campaigns on either side would like me to focus on.
For those of you yet to decide, good luck.
If you cannot bring yourself to vote one way or the other, please at least turn up and spoil your vote. It sends its own valuable signal. But if you lean one way or the other, even slightly, please vote in that spirit. So many of our brothers and sisters across the nation will be driven by ignorance or spurious motivations. Your voice carries equal weight. Make sure it is heard.

Why such a public malaise on migration?

It’s little wonder we in the UK seem to feel so much concern over immigration. It’s not – generally – the migrants themselves who trouble such a tolerant nation, but the state’s inability to grow infrastructure to keep up with population growth.

“No one told the supermarkets,” writes Fraser Nelson, “that there would be 4 million more mouths to feed since the turn of the century, but we haven’t run out of food.” But ministers “have struggled to provide the school places and the doctors clinics for all those who arrived.”

“It’s time to stop treating high immigration as a constantly-surprising blip.”

We need to better understand why immigration troubles people – typically (but not only) working class people of the left and right. It’s very often not xenophobia. People don’t blame migrants for immigration any more than we blame the water for an incoming tide. But when the state (at national or local level) fails to meet the infrastructure needs of the nation we shouldn’t be surprised so many voters want to turn off the population tap. Clearly that impacts our attitude to immigration and by extension our attitude to the EU, and (quite separately) the refugee crisis.

There is a public malaise on migration. Successive governments should reflect upon why they might be largely responsible for that.

Update: We’ve just learned that Rochdale’s Gillian Duffy has left the Labour Party and plans to vote Brexit in the forthcoming referendum.

Mrs Duffy rose to fame during the 2010 general election. Gordon Brown infamously described her as “just a sort of bigoted woman” after chatting to her on the campaign trail about (amongst other things) immigration from eastern Europe. I had her in mind as I wrote this blog post.

What reading to do on Brexit?

A few of you have been wondering where to find some decent impartial material on the merits or otherwise of us leaving the European Union. This is tough, because the facts which are uncontested by both sides tend to be so mundane as to be essentially worthless (eg How many nations are in the EU? How does QMV work? Who is the President of the European Commission). Other facts, while incontrovertibly true, may be contested by one side or the other because they are devoid of context and in isolation they might conceal a more important truth. Or perhaps one selection of facts favours one side of the argument more than the other.

It’s quite reasonable for each side in the debate to favour those facts which sell their case best, and therefore to take issue with a supposedly ‘impartial’ presentation which offers up only the others. Consider, for example the Government’s pro-EU leaflet: Why the Government believes that voting to remain in the European Union is the best decision for the UK. That document (as you might expect) is a demonstratively selective presentation of the facts and various media organisations have enjoyed dissecting them for closer inspection – see Full Fact here, for example.

In this debate ‘truth’ is absolutely crucial, but ‘facts’ are often easier to pin down. Truth is subjective. It depends upon a blend of objective facts and a context built through someone’s human fallibility.

To anyone who will listen, I am recommending this book by David Charter – Europe: In or Out? It lays out a broad explanation of the main arguments for and against, and explores the facts and (in some cases) myths presented by both sides.

Perhaps you won’t have time for a whole book. This BBC News Q&A provides an excellent exploration of many of the key questions.

But the arguments are important too. It is not enough, in my view, to understand the facts and truth alone. We need to hear why some truths matter more than others. So for me it is valuable to listen to a variety of voices and to read sincerely biased blogs from folks on both sides of the argument. Some of the most interesting/persuasive voices on the subject include Alan Johnson MP, Nick Clegg MP, Fraser Nelson (all remain supporters), Dan Hannan MEP, Steve Baker MP & Kate Hoey MP (all leave supporters).

A few days ago, The Spectator hosted a debate on the subject with three speakers on each side (including some of those above). This write-up (£) includes some detailed commentary on the debate along with audio from each of the participants’ opening speeches. It’s well worth 30 minutes of your time. NB Use an incognito browser if you don’t have a Spectator subscription.

The Spectator debate (hosted at the London Palladium, with a 2200 audience) concluded with a narrow victory for the ‘leave’ side. In mitigation, perhaps a Spectator audience would lean that way(?) even though its editor Fraser Nelson is a ‘remain’ supporter.

If reduced to its technical complexities, this is a tremendously difficult decision. There are so many facts and competing truths, along with a few lies too. But this is not just a technocratic decision, or it would have been left to our civil servants – and certainly not to us. It is about our hearts and our vision for this nation. Do we feel more British or more European? Is our European identity best met through the EU? Is our engagement with the world best delivered through the EU or independently? Is our future as an independent nation better understood through risks or opportunities? Are there more risks or opportunities if we stay in the EU? Do we have a responsibility to our European neighbours (or to the USA), and is that best met through the EU or not?

Most of us have a fairly clear view of whether we should be in or out. A significant proportion of us will remain undecided well into June. But our views are no less important. Indeed for those of us still struggling to decide, we have a responsibility to get there. Too many of our neighbours reached their conclusion on gut alone.

This decision deserves whatever agonising you need to do!

Addendum, from a specifically Christian perspective.

Theologian Ian Paul offers these thoughts on the dichotomy between “It hurts to go away,” and “It’s impossible to stay.”

And if you pray, consider this: