I was going to attend a party political meeting last night but I decided, at the last minute, to give it a miss. The subject was the argument in favour of Britain remaining in the EU but, as the referendum draws closer, I become less inclined to pay attention to what is being said – particularly by politicians who, whatever their true thoughts on the matter, will always have an underlying agenda of political manoeuvring which they cannot separate from the core issue. Besides, my mind – or should I say my heart, for I see no way in which a rational, balanced judgement can be made on this subject – has been clear from the start: I would like us to remain.
The problem is that the factors which sway one’s decision on this vote are not common to everyone. When someone claims “it is in Britain’s best interests” what exactly do they mean? If they are referring to the economic health of the country they might consider that, as the fifth richest nation in the world, our problem is not so much the accumulation of more wealth as the uneven distribution of what we already have: a vote for more of the same would be in the interests of the minority, not the majority, of the nation’s people. The term “Britain’s best interests” is too general - too jingoistic - to be meaningful. The definition needs to include everyone which, ultimately, means our neighbours as well. Our best interests are only truly served in a world-wide context of increasing peace, prosperity, education, cultural enrichment and environmental custodianship. Pulling up the drawbridge and disengaging from other nations will not make us masters of our own destiny; it is more likely to make us victims of circumstance. What is in Britain’s best interests, ultimately, is the well-being of all nations.
But the siren voices of persuaders on both sides seek to win their arguments by playing on our fears: they identify individual concerns and present them as consequences which can be resolved by a simple “yes” or “no” vote. For example, communities which have been disrupted by immigration have cause to be concerned, but communities will always be disrupted by one thing or another: they cannot remain static if there is to be progress. The decline of heavy industries is a much bigger factor in this respect. And those who complain that workers from abroad are taking their jobs might remember Auf Wiedersein, Pet, the popular 1970s TV programme featuring Brits who were obliged to find work in Germany. The free movement of labour works both ways: it started when the Romans brought craftsmen to Britain to build their forts and villas and continues with those who take the Eurostar train, crossing international borders to work where there is demand for their skills.
Immigration also introduces cultural diversity. Whether this is a good thing or not depends upon whether you view elements of other cultures as having potential to enrich what we already have. And since what we already have – and have had for milennia – is an evolving pot-pourri of traditions, then adding a few more ingredients to what has developed as a robust and distinctively British mix is merely a continuation of the process. Of course anyone wishing to halt progress on this front may try their luck at .
And so, prior to casting one’s vote, it is important to dispel one’s fears, whether they be economic disaster, cultural displacement, Vladimir Putin or Recep Erdogan. For as the philosopher Bertrand Russell observed: "Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of great fear".