I’ve been discussing the European Union question with friends over the last few weeks, and the level of emotion and division that the referendum campaign has brought to the fore is palpable. While for some people the choice to remain or leave the European Union has become a vexed issue, with strong feelings emerging on either side, I’m not one for searching for the correct theoretical or ideological answer to the problems of globalisation and Britain’s changed place in the world. I would rather look for practical solutions than resort to easy slogans.
It strikes me, however, that it’s easy to blame other people for our own failings, so the European Union debate needs a certain amount of careful unpicking. What I’m certain of, though, is that dividing people and making them feel unwelcome is no solution. It’s one thing to say that we want to assert our national identity, it’s another thing to blame people who want to come to this country to work, and to settle and raise families here, for problems that are created in other ways.
I am wholly in favour of immigration to the United Kingdom because it means that our culture and sense of community can be refreshed, and some of the more entrenched and recalcitrant attitudes and practices in society can be challenged. The world has changed since my formative years, and we no longer have the stable and embedded communities that we once had. So being nostalgic for them doesn’t help. Instead, embracing diversity and being flexible is our main advantage. After all, English is rapidly becoming the world language. Why would we want to give up the advantage that affords future generations the chance to be global citizens because at this time we choose to adopt a parochial attitude to globalisation?
I do accept, however, that people need help when coping with these changes. Austerity is the real culprit here, as it’s taken away many of the support mechanisms that people once had, and is destroying lives for want of a different approach to the banking crisis. Let’s deal with the fifty per-cent youth unemployment in Spain first, creating jobs across Europe where they are needed, before we blame hard working people for moving to the United Kingdom for the chance of a better life. Isn’t it something to be proud of that people want to live and work here?
Britain should therefore be challenging the German-led austerity agenda from within the European Union. Nothing can be achieved from outside. The Labour Party should have turned this debate into a referendum on austerity, but there is too much caution. Imagine the support the United Kingdom would have if we had been arguing against the pernicious economic policies that have cast Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy into penury?
Likewise, just who do the Brexiters think that we can trade with if we leave? It’s a fantasy that Britain can trade on its own in a global market. We have very little power against American corporations, and yet they seem to dominate our economy more than European businesses do. Little is said about businesses like Apple, Microsoft, Google and MacDonald’s when it comes to issues of sovereignty.
One thing in my mind is certain, however, and that is if the vote is to leave the European Union, then we will quickly see the break-up of the United Kingdom. Scotland will be justified in asserting its independence if the Scots vote to remain and the English vote to leave. Who can blame the Scots for wanting an alternative to the politics of the English South East.
Not only will the United Kingdom break apart, but there will be a brain-drain, as highly qualified people, myself included, decide that life in an increasingly isolated and selfish Britain just isn’t worth it. So rather than moaning about other people taking jobs, we have to redouble our efforts to improve our skills and capabilities so that we are ready to attract jobs.
I want the freedom of movement and thinking that the EU represents. The open borders, the free travel, the mix of cultures and the exchange of ideas. My life is richer because of these things. This decision should not be a nostalgic hankering for the past, but a confident view of the future, and so I will be voting to remain in the European Union.