For many of us who work in politics it feels like we have been having the In/Out debate forever. However, it is only now that the local/mayoral/PCC elections are out the way that the public at large will start to 'tune in.' What does this mean for me? Which way should I go? Do I really care?
Many people will be asking themselves the third question and concluding that they don't. But for those of us stuck on the first two, what have we got to go on? For all the supposed heat and light surrounding the debate, has it actually left us cold?
I for one have, surprisingly, found myself in turmoil over the whole thing. I say surprisingly as until the date was set I thought I was implicitly a 'Remainer'. Yet, now I'm actually being offered the option, I've become less sure.
Predictably we have seen the lines entrenching for those for whom there was never any question over which way they were going to vote. For the open minded, the undecided, and indeed the ditherers, navigating the rhetoric of both sides is challenging. Fact finding in a debate where there are very few known knowns and lots of known unknowns (to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld) becomes a very subjective business - not helped by the echo chambers of our social media.
How do I reconcile my conflicted brain with the current arguments being deployed in this increasingly hyperbolic debate? I think immigration is generally a very good thing for our economy, but I accept we don't have much control over it whilst in the EU (and that understandably worries people). I am nervous about the apparent drive for deeper integration our neighbours over the Channel seem to have in mind. Yet I'm also worried about quite so flagrantly sticking two fingers up to our fellow Europeans - I don't think they'll thank us for it. I believe peace on the continent is an achievement that all Europeans should be proud of, but I don't think that was down to the EU. It probably had more to do with the Soviet Union pointing nukes at us for decades. For every argument I've heard lumped into the left set of scales, I can think of a decent one for the right set.
To many this may just sound like I have an awful lot of splinters in the seat of my trousers; but given the gravity of the question before us perhaps a little fence sitting is prudent.
Fundamentally, I'm quite positive about Britain's prospects in or out of the EU. I think we'll make a good fist of it either way. But I do believe that if we're going to be in the club, we've got to want to be in the club. The worst outcome in my view would be in, but only just. My rationale is thus, if we vote to stay it needs to be by a decent margin i.e. 60/40 or thereabouts. If it's much lower than that, we will unfortunately be in the realms of 'neverendum' (like in Scotland). Brexiteers will be emboldened by a close result. We'll be undermined in the EU as we'll be seen as having one foot out the door and trigger happy with referendums.
If we're going to remain, Britain needs to stand up and be counted, lead from the front - and do so with a sizable majority wanting to. A strong majority would allow Britain to reengage with a mandate as a committed EU member.
However, if that's not going to happen, and half of the country really does want to leave, perhaps we really are just better off out. Let the EU get on with it without us holding them back. Crispin Blunt MP, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, has declared his vote for out this week along these lines.
Therefore, in light of all the above I am rather tempted to outsource my decision to the British people. There's something in psephology called the 'Bandwagon' effect. In essence it's the theory that voters vote for the side that looks most likely to win. As someone open to both sides I feel that perhaps I should lend my vote to the side that has persuaded the public.
If the country really is flirting with exit, then we should just get on with it, get behind ensuring Britain is the best it can be, and that we have the most constructive relationship with our neighbours possible despite the breakup. But if 'Remainers' can actually make a positive case for the UK to stay in, and secure the mandate from the British people to really get stuck in, then that's where Britain should be.
One foot out the door just won't cut it anymore.