A Through Pass to the 'In' and 'Out' Camps of the EU Referendum Debate

The aftermath of the referendum will hardly bring a descent into biblical darkness. What it will indicate however is what and how we thought during our vote, and it is our responsibility to contend with that with courage and reflection, not timidity and deflection.

If there is one thing that the world doesn't need right now, that's another article on the upcoming EU referendum. Or as a colleague's mum aptly put it in a text to her daughter abroad: "Don't come back! It's hot and humid, and everybody's talking about Brexit". I couldn't agree more, and what this witty remark echoes is a widespread unease that there is something amiss about the nature, the style, and the very content of most Brexit debates so far. They are artificially polarised discharges urging people to stay or leave, when they could be open exchanges that would encourage a "real", difficult dialogue about a rather complex issue, instead of a limited and often self-referential debate.

The difference between the two is important and it is one of kind. While debates divide issues up, with each side priding itself on its monopoly of good arguments, they fail to cut across in order to join the dots between arguments, or, better, to cut through them in order to extract and pry loose the richness and depth of what's being discussed. As a disgruntled witness of such everyday prattle, I can't help but think that there is more to the issue than the "remainers" and "leavers" would have us believe. And while I do not pretend to have the magic recipe for the right decision, I can humbly offer some home remedies that have been helpful to me as a voter. The intention is not to nudge anyone towards voting "this" or "that" way, but to share my strategy for arriving at a decision, while also outlining the rationale behind it.

The main ingredients that make up this home-made concoction are few, but they sure are potent. The first of those ingredients is a pound of political judgement with which to refute the proposition that a sensible decision to remain or leave can be reached by working out the odds and winnings, thereby betting on the basis of the outcome of an unpredictable event. Instead of painstakingly weighing up pros and cons, I would personally examine the very grounds of my position on the matter, based on political judgement, not economistic calculation. To sidestep the political dimension of the issue is to instrumentalise and de-civilianise citizenship, as well as mistake a political union for a trade agreement.

The second ingredient is an ounce of identity, invoking a sense of belonging. Any decision to leave or stay must also involve composing a mental picture of who we are, what we think, what we want, where we see ourselves belonging to, and how much we value our position within an alliance of member states. Put simply, it is a decision which must balance the staying/leaving for what (politics, economy, culture, environment, migration, workers' and human rights), and as what (Europeans, Brits, nationalists, pluralists, cosmopolitans).

The third ingredient is a generous dose of commitment to the EU, or a profound lack thereof. Much of what we think about the EU ultimately determines how we vote about our place within it. The question here depends on how we feel about an ideal EU or the EU as it currently stands. If, we are against anything resembling a political union of any sort, then the decision is clear. If we are dissatisfied with the present state of the EU however, we have a more difficult choice to make. That choice, hovers between opting out by deriding the whole experiment as hopeless, or staying firmly inside with a desire to change it in accordance with our principles and values. In my view, to abandon such an alliance at its weakest moment is to exploit it by reaping the benefits without contending with the downfall. To come together to face a common problem however, is a good first step towards transformation, as opposed to extinction due to indifference, free-riding or sheer betrayal.

These being the three main ingredients of my home-made cure for treating political ailments, the preparation method for cobbling it together is simple as it is challenging, requiring a certain amount of fair-mindedness which erases demarcation lines between in and out. Complicated problems require neither attack, nor defence but the desire to occupy a midfielder's position, armed with independent critical judgement that allows one to see what she would otherwise be blind to, where she to wear the claustrophobic blinkers of this or that side. Such a "midfield position" consists of four necessary steps to arrive at the desired result.

The first step invites us to think about what kind of society we wish to live in, and what might increase our chances of getting it. The second step, urges us to admit how we intend to vote; emotively, ideologically, strategically, in blind faith, fatalistically, vengefully, or responsibly with a sense of civic duty. The third step, asks us to clarify exactly what we are trying to express through our vote; be it ideological credentials, political concerns, or emotional responses to a problem. The fourth step, demands that we are honest, courageous, forthright, and responsible in our choice, by admitting what kind of "electorate" we are; be it public-spirited and solidaristic, or self-oriented and individualistic.

To apply the above method to voting for the EU referendum, involves training ourselves to make a choice that is informed by knowing not just what to vote (in or out), but also how (as what) and why (for what), thereby balancing one's position, principles, and reasons in order to make an informed choice before approaching the voting booth. Above all, the key to this vote may well be the determination to disregard forecasts of imminent disaster from either side. The aftermath of the referendum will hardly bring a descent into biblical darkness. What it will indicate however is what and how we thought during our vote, and it is our responsibility to contend with that with courage and reflection, not timidity and deflection.

Dr. Lambros Fatsis is Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology at the University of Southampton

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