Decisions, decisions. They're hard, aren't they? Luckily our brains are pretty good at taking the effort out of choosing - with a whole host of unconscious habits and tricks. That works pretty well until we're confronted by a totally unique dilemma, jolting the brain out of autopilot, and we're obliged to wake up and take conscious control. Such a unique dilemma is what's going to play out tomorrow, June 23rd, when the United Kingdom gets its once-in-a-generation chance to decide whether to stay in, or leave, the European Union.
Recently, when I really started to tune in to what both camps - Leave and Remain - were banging on about, I thought to myself - well, after so many months of intense scrutiny and endless debate the facts will have risen to the top and all the scaremongering horseshit will have disappeared, right? Wrong. Totally wrong. Instead I found the whole campaign to be incredibly difficult to follow and riddled with half-truths, misleading figures and poisonous personal attacks. Nice one, politics. As a consequence, I had absolutely no idea which way to vote or, more importantly, how I should even go about making up my mind.
In the run up to last year's general election I wrote a book to provide would-be-voters - who simply don't have the time to fact check and unpick everything - with what I hoped was a concise and balanced run-through of what exactly we were voting on. To be honest I couldn't quite face writing another book this time round, but I wanted to try and put something out to help all the other people in my position. My position, in this instance, being "This is a total nightmare, how the hell am I supposed to decide".
So I teamed up with Radio Wolfgang - *SELF-PUBLICITY KLAXON* with whom I host the excellent Science(ish) podcast - and we decided to try and make a show about my quest to understand the EU referendum: a clear and unbiased look at the facts on both sides of the argument that would allow me and my undecided brethren to come to a reasoned decision in the polling booth.
Given how important this vote is to the future of our country (hint: very important), it's astonishing how manipulatively both sides have been allowed to behave, even when it comes down to the seemingly simple matter of putting a number on how much money the UK pays into the EU pot. Should be pretty black and white, shouldn't it? Well, the Remain side says "for every pound paid in tax a little over a penny goes to the EU", while the Leave camp argues "we pay over £350 million a week to the EU". One sounds alright; the other not so much.
So who's telling the truth? Phrased in such contrasting and loaded ways it doesn't even seem to matter - nor is it possible to trust - what the actual number is (although listen to the podcast and I'll tell you). With both camps out to mislead and misdirect it's no wonder this referendum has become much less about the facts and much more about who you hear them from. And the big loser in all this noise and confusion is us, the voters, many of whom have been left feeling both annoyed and totally ill-informed.
So instead of picking and choosing figures and statistics to fit a particular agenda, what I've tried to do in this podcast is lay out the objective and impartial truths about our relationship with the EU: how it's run, what we contribute, and how much power we really have. I've also tried to emphasise that in many ways this upcoming referendum is even more important than a general election, especially for young people. We won't be able to overturn this decision in five years' time. This decision is final.
With most of the polls saying it's too close to call, turnout is going to be a huge factor on Thursday. As I've spoken about many times before, there is a clear and alarming demographic divide, with young people much less likely to come out and vote than older people. For me the real fear is that the older generation will end up, by default, making this decision for the younger generation - on whose lives this referendum will have a far greater impact.
I hope this show will provide all voters - of all ages - with the confidence to make an informed judgement for themselves come polling day. What it won't tell you is how to vote - that's up to you. Also, I still haven't decided. Must do that.