13/05/2016 12:15 BST | Updated 14/05/2017 06:12 BST

Feeling the EUphoria, or Still Making Your Mind Up? Eurovision and the Referendum


Everyone knows that the UK is rapidly approaching a point where it needs to make some pretty difficult decisions about cultural identity and geopolitics. And then after the Eurovision Song Contest finals on Saturday, it's going to have to deal with the EU referendum.

I'm pretty passionate about Eurovision. Beyond the spandex, the wind machines and the occasional great tune, there's also a real sense of it being a participatory spectacle that goes beyond borders. There's very few instances of mass popular culture that directly relates the UK population to its continental cousins and a sense of being part of mainland Europe. So for myself and a group of four other friends, it felt like a really natural fit to hatch a plot to harness the Eurovision finals as a means to get people thinking about their referendum vote, and more importantly, make sure people are registered to vote.

As plans go, it's pretty simple. Like Bucks Fizz, we were concerned that people didn't "let your indecision, take you from behind." So over the course of the week via the What's your Euro Vision? website we've been encouraging people to sign up to a thunderclap, which is an automated mass social media moment, rather than a particularly unpleasant STD. in the space of 140 characters, we've managed to cram in references to Bucks Fizz, Sweden's 2012 winner Loreen and this year's UK entry Joe and Jake - all of it enticing people to make sure they're registered to vote for the referendum. At the moment the social reach of that message is over a million people and rising steadily - and that's on top of the massive traffic on the night of the Eurovision hashtag itself.

Eurovision is a bit like the Bible - it's always possible to tease out something that supports your own agenda. But the more we started to trawl through its sequined oeuvre for references and content related to the referendum, the more apparent it became that national pride as well as participation in a European identity were two recurring themes in the history of the competition. And that playoff between those two themes seemed relevant in asking people what their vision of Europe was in the context of the big EU decision.

We're primarily concerned in our project with making sure that more people vote - 6.6 million people in the UK watched the Eurovision finals last year, and many pundits are concerned about a low turn out for the referendum. But we're also transparent about the fact that we have a particular vision for Europe. A vision whereby we stay in to address international problems like climate change and tax injustice that require international solutions. A Europe that strengthens and extends protections for the environment, consumer standards and workers' rights, and where refugees fleeing war and conflict were offered sanctuary.

That vision, laid out in The Radical Case to Remain and articulated by groups like Another Europe is Possible, might sound as cheesy and idealistic as your standard Latvian power ballad, but it's certainly a vision worth fighting for. Of the five of us that put together the What's Your Euro Vision? website, two of us are from Italy and Denmark, and two of us have partners from EU countries outside of the UK. We're grateful for the privilege to live and work and love across borders like that.

Brexiters and Lexiters alike would decry this Euro Vision as hopelessly naïve, and they have a point. The EU is rife with corporate lobbyists who are trying to foist free-market fundamentalism on us all through the trade deal with the US, and the EU's recent militarised response to Syrian refugees is particularly shameful. But as things stand in the UK, I have more faith in addressing such issues aligned with much more progressive forces in Europe.

While that Euro vision of hope is speculative and optimistic, the vision I have of what a successful 'leave' vote would mean politically is bleakly certain. As much as I respect the position of many of the people raising criticisms of the EU, a vote to leave would inevitably be characterised as a victory for the right, for xenophobia and the increasing Faragian tendencies in society. My husband is Spanish and has lived in the UK for over 20 years, but in the last year or two has started entertaining a previously unthinkable prospect that the UK is becoming a place that makes him feel uncomfortable as a migrant and a foreigner. And a Brexit result in the referendum would be another definite step in that direction.

It's hard to get too political when a naked man from Belarus is singing with a wolf on stage. On Saturday, I will be enjoying the spectacle surrounded by friends from the UK, Denmark, Italy, Spain and Cyprus. And in June I'll be voting based on hope and inter-dependence rather than the politics of fear.

Sign up to the Eurovision/referendum Thunderclap on Saturday evening.

Image credit: European Parliament/Flickr