On June 23rd, 2016 — a Thursday — British citizens will have the opportunity to vote in an in/out referendum. The question: Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?
With almost every party in British politics split on the issue, with some MPs campaigning for Britain’s EU membership and others campaigning against it, the question has proved an unusually contentious one, and the competition for votes has been particularly fierce.
So far, however, both campaigns have focused almost exclusively on the issue of economics. Eurosceptics — or Brexiters — argue that the EU membership fee could be better spent elsewhere; that policies imposed by Brussels are hamstringing our small businesses; and that an influx of immigrants from other, poorer member states has overwhelmed the NHS and left British nationals out of work.
On the other hand, those campaigning for Britain’s continued membership to the EU — the Remainers — argue that the EU is very good value for money, particularly for the United Kingdom which has payed less towards the European Union than anyone else since the UK rebate was established in 1985; that Brussels spends most of that money on our own agriculture and industry; and that those immigrants help bolster our economy and offset Britain’s aging population.
But all of this is besides the point, at least for me; when I go to my local polling station in just over three weeks’ time I will be voting to remain in the European Union for very different reasons. I have outlined five of what I see as the most important below.
Having only recently voted against Scottish independence in favour of a United Kingdom I feel that it would be hypocritical to vote Britain out of the European Union. Besides, my reasons remain the same: I have always had an inherent distrust of nationalism — whether patriotic or xenophobic in spirit I cannot abide people who indulge in ethnocentrism — and have always thought the very concept of independence to be nationalistic in the extreme. It’s certainly isolationist, and in this day and age it seems counter-intuitive and backward-thinking to erect new borders or reinforce old ones when, given the inevitably global effects of globalisation, the boundaries that already exist are appearing more arbitrary by the day. Nationalism too is beginning to look risible and grotesque — just look at Donald Trump or Nigel Farage — but all it takes is one small about-turn and public perception could change. A vote for Brexit would inevitably lead to another, likely successful Scottish independence referendum, and could well trigger an irreversible chain-reaction as other separatist movements within Europe gain momentum.
As every European alive will undoubtedly know, having lived through the Second World War or studied its effects at school, Europe’s history is one of war and peace — perhaps the greatest outside of fiction. It seems as though, at one point or another, every European country has been at war with another, or even itself, with countless invasions, revolutions and international conflicts raging throughout the ages. And yet over the last few generations the countries of Europe have put their differences aside and favoured compromise over competition. Much of Europe now has open borders, a shared currency and reciprocal healthcare — surely an unthinkable state of affairs from a historical perspective? This shared interest extends further than the 28 member states of the European Union, of course, thanks to institutions such as the United Nations, Nato and the G8, but because of the supranational and intragovernmental nature of the European Union these bonds seem particularly strong — at least until the UEFA European Championship or Eurovision rolls around. There is much more than a monetary union at stake here; there is an ideal. Isn’t the whole point of learning lessons from the past to prevent history from repeating itself?
Over the course of 2015, in the wake of the twin attacks on Paris in January and November of that year, the word solidarity — or indeed solidarité — became intrinsically linked with Europe. On both occasions, following the respective attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the city at large, tributes flowed in from every corner of the globe, with world leaders lining up to condemn the attacks and share their condolences; but it was within the EU that the sentiment was most keenly felt. Even in Britain, the historic centre for Francophobia, people reached out, with the tricolour being projected onto buildings across the United Kingdom, from Edinburgh Castle to the London Eye. It showed just how outdated and archaic the cliches and caricatures had become; how it was far more than a Channel Tunnel that connected our nations. A vote to remain in the European Union feels like an extension of this — almost like a country putting its money where its mouth is. If actions really do speak louder than words then it’s time for an even clearer show of support. Just as Greece could also look on Europe for help after the financial crisis, and Syrian refugees were drawn to its borders in search of asylum, it holds that should we in the UK ever face a crisis of our own the European Union would come to our aid too.
With all of the fear-mongering that goes on in politics and the press it is easy to underestimate our safety in what is in fact one of the most peaceful periods in human history. That said, there are still issues to be dealt with, and with the ever-present threat of terrorism, extremism and ignorance there is a tendency to look outside our borders for the biggest threats to our way of life — sometimes, in fact, it seems as though we need protected from ourselves. After all, for whatever reason the United Kingdom electorate felt compelled to vote in David Cameron’s Conservative government for a second term, only this time without the Liberal Democrat coalition that had got them into power the first time. It was a truly shocking development, and I can only begin to appreciate the ramifications for the English people at their unbridled mercy. As much as I might moan about the SNP I have undoubtedly benefited from their mediating influence, as the Scottish Government has worked to reverse or regulate many of their most controversial policies. The EU, however, has played its part too, and with the Tories looking to scrap the Human Rights Act the European Convention of Human Rights might well be all that stands in their way.
At the end of the day, being European is part of my identity — as important to me as my Scottishness and Britishness. I can’t imagine not being a part of the EU any more than I could imagine being apart from the UK; I’ve lived in Scotland, England and Germany — in fact, I was living in Germany when the union was founded and the Euro introduced — and not only do I feel a strong connection with each individual country but with the attitudes and responsibilities that unite them. We’re all just people after all, people living on a planet than can no longer sustain us, and as long as we think only about the needs of those closest to us we are ignoring the threats and challenges that concern us all. If we are to put aside our petty differences and work together for the good of our species — of all species — then we must start with the pettiest of all — the invisible lines that only appear to divide us. Because we cannot leave Europe any more than we can leave the Earth, so rather than deny our obligations any longer would it not make more sense to fulfill them? Needless to say that should The Powers That Be ever decide to renegotiate our planet’s place within the galaxy, universe or wider cosmos I will vote as I always have, to remain, because we will still be better together.