If tomorrow we wake up to find we've left the EU - the biggest single reason will be that the Leave campaign seized the hope agenda.
In reality, I think voting to leave the EU is essentially a gesture of despair. The only hope we have as a region is to help Europe, and by doing help ourselves as part of Europe.
The majority of the Leave campaigners I've talked to care about one thing and one thing only: immigration. And there the constant theme is: "We can't accommodate any more. We haven't got the room." The second thing people care about is a general feeling that life has got harder since the crash of 2008, it's harder to find a school, doctors' waiting lists are longer, etc. Lastly, there is the sovereignty issue, usually manifesting as vague feeling about the EU being unaccountable, and a rosy-tinged nostalgia for an era when England was England.
My belief is that leave campaigners have tragically and dangerously been misled on all three of these issues by a feeble Conservative government that for electoral reasons wanted to blame Europe instead of themselves - and are now horrified they have released a demon they can't control.
- Firstly, immigration. The issue is lack of control over it. But the immigration people feel we truly lack control over is immigration from outside the EU. It was this extra-EU immigration that increased hugely last year. Internal EU migration actually shrank.
This is the largest movement of humanity since World War 2, largely from war in Syria and from the longer-burning conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is absolutely no difference that leaving the EU will make to its pressure (unless the game plan is to impoverish Britain so much that we cease to be a desirable destination).
As for the EU migrants, here Boris and co have proposed their Australia quota system. This won't work, for a very simple reason - it will exclude all the people we really need. The doctors and lawyers and architects will get in anyway, as they already do. What it will exclude are the people who look after our elderly and clean up our mess and mow our lawns and fix our roofs.
We need them. Demographically, without them, the UK will have an ageing population and a shrinking group of increasingly burdened tax payers to pay for them. With them, we redress the age structure of the economy.
I think that economic migration is a good thing. Economic migrants want to make money. They contribute more in tax than they take out in public services (Leave have never managed to prove otherwise). An enlightened government would be planning for them.
- Secondly, declining living standards and competition for public services. Here, what's happened since 2008 is almost entirely due to UK government policies, namely Austerity and relying on the housing market to restart the economy. Austerity as a policy has been clung to by the Eurocrats but is not a creation of the EU and has faced bitter opposition - opposition that the UK Labour party is at last starting to join.
As for the housing bubble, this, more than anything else, is the cause of the social fracturing and rage we see. Southerners are getting increasingly pushed out of their own cities by global plutocrats snapping up the housing. Northerners stand by in bitter resentment as London, that multicultural Babylon, grows ever richer.
The idea that Gove, Duncan-Smith and Johnson will somehow rescue us from Austerity and usher us into a new age of prosperity and equality is so bizarrely the opposite of the truth that all I can do is admire their cheek in foisting it on the British people. They are right-wing Tories who have absolutely no interest in spending their EU money on centralised provision for the poor.
The UK population's willingness to believe the opposite, to somehow exclude these men from the despised class "politician", is only the measure of their desperation.
- Then there is sovereignty and democracy.
Firstly, the EU rules. EU regulations only form 60% of more of UK law if you include the mountain of regulation on minutely unimportant but necessary things: the shape of strawberries sold in supermarkets, the production process of olive oil, safety standards for electrical circuits. Many of these are international standards that are not even EU inventions. These would have to be devised by a bunch of mandarins in Whitehall if they weren't in Brussels because they are too boring to care about, but if you have a trading bloc you have to have harmonised standards, so it's good to devise them regionally.
Secondly, there is the real big, important, global stuff such as environmental regulations. Issues that no one country has power over. Here a co-operative bloc of countries is the only way to devise sensible laws. We will need a European fisheries policy whether we are in the EU or not, or we'll end up with cod going extinct, and no doubt fishermen in Plymouth will continue to complain about it, as I'm sure fishermen in La Coruña and Reykjavik do.
The stuff the EU does NOT legislate on is the stuff that really matters to most people. Schools, health, roads, social services, defence, even the constitutional makeup of the country. This won't change.
Yes, the EU is a hard-to-navigate and opaque institution. In some ways it was devised to be hard to turn round and not easily subject to political fashion. That dinosaur-like immobility has so far shielded us from nascent right-wing extremism in Europe - as it was designed to do. If the UK leaves the EU - then both they and us will be weakened and, in my opinion, much more likely to sink under the waves of right-wing populism. And that way, WW3 really does beckon.
However it's a mistake to confuse opacity for lack of democracy. The EU IS constructed as a democratic institution. It does have a parliament. Its Board of Directors are elected heads of state. There is nothing intrinsically more democratic about us, with our constitutional monarchy and House of Lords and Quangos and Sir Humphreys, than there is about the EU. It's all about who you feel comfortable granting power to - and I'd personally rather trust Angela Merkel than Boris Johnson. Yes. Really.
The reason the EU is perceived as non-democratic by the Brits is that ever since we've joined we're been the half-hearted cousins who don't get involved in the democracy of it. All we've done is extract concessions. If, as I hope, we vote to remain then I think it is incumbent on us to get more involved in the EU - as I hope, certainly, the Labour Party would were it ever to gain power again. And EU with member countries some of whose heads of state belonged to Syriza (powerless by themselves), Podemos and the Corbynistas, among others, would probably horrify any Tory - but could be the first step at forcing a new economic normality onto the EU Executive.
Yes, the EU is dysfunctional, and facing daunting, historic, literally Millennial challenges. But the point is that both they and us are less likely to meet those challenges if we leave. We cannot abolish our geography. We will be in a dangerous, unstable, threatened continent of former Empire-builders in decline, including us, whether we leave the EU or not. We can't relocate to Singapore.
The only thing we can do is try and make things better, and we won't do that by storming out of the meeting.
- I think to vote leave will be a tragic mistake. As a friend of mine said, it would be the electoral equivalent of a community rioting and burning down its own shops. The UK, the EU and the world would be impoverished - not just economically but historically, culturally - by such a decision. We have to be at the table, arguing tirelessly with our compadres about how to make an inch of progress in a world where the currents of history threaten to sweep us down to oblivion.
Voting Leave is nothing more than a gesture of rage and despair.
Vote for hope. Vote for Europe. Vote Remain.
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