by Kevin Meagher
A referendum, by its very nature, is a straight choice. ‘I am right and the other side is wrong.’ Not just wrong in fact, but hilariously, pathetically wrong. So voters must choose Path A, that is to say, the route to salvation that I offer, because Path B leads straight to the gates of Hell.
So it will be with our forthcoming plebiscite on the European Union, where the public will be offered the stark choice of keeping us in, or letting us leave. For campaigners on either side of the debate, there can be no ambiguity. No room for even the merest, fleeting uncertainty as they make their case.
Yet, reasonable people are persuadable. They are willing to hear different points of view. Capable of crossing the demarcations of a stark, zero-sum political offer. Bookended by the true believers of either side, the British people retain their doubts about political panaceas of either kind.
So here’s a thought for Remainers. If voters are torn between the competing claims of the pro and anti-EU camps – perhaps recognising the validity of aspects of either side’s analysis – would it not be wise for campaigners to also accept that parts of the Brexiteers’ argument have merit as a means of persuading the poor, conflicted voter that your case transcends the usual referendum propaganda?
The weary cynicism that greets politicians’ claims to speak the objective, unsullied truth might be lessened by instead presenting a balanced, synthesised message to voters that treats them as reasonable people capable of making a reasoned choice between one less-than-perfect offer and another considerably-less-than-perfect offer.
Why not concede that, while staying in the EU offers stability and security, the way it works is often pretty rotten. Unverified Commission accounts. Weak foreign policy co-ordination. Wasteful spending. Open borders that are encouraging a level of migration many feel uneasy about. A lack of focus on investing in skills, technology and infrastructure.
It’s surely any sensible person’s view that the EU is not very democratic and that people don’t like being told what to do by bureaucrats they didn’t elect. Accepting that eurosceptics are sometimes right to be so would be a refreshing change from the increasingly hysterical sophistry of the Remain campaign’s ‘Project Fear.’
And while Britain’s economy would certainly change if we left, (and in all likelihood get worse for many people), why not concede that we would still be free to trade with our former partners, albeit, with a host of new hassles, restrictions and costs.
Likewise, anti-EU campaigners would be smart to accept no-one can seriously believe that nations’ co-operating for their mutual self-interest is inherently a bad idea. And for all their obsessing, sceptics have never succeeded in painting a vision of a post-EU Britain. What would be so great about leaving, above and beyond the compulsive desire to do so?
For those of us living in the north of England, or South Wales, or Scotland, the EU represents a civilising influence. Without billions in EU structural funds to counter Thatcherite economic shock therapy, ex-coal fields and manufacturing areas would have become ghost towns. And are we really saying that all those EU directives on drinking water quality, which have brought our former “industrial rivers” back to life again, are a bad thing?
Both pro and anti voices in our stunted, reductive debate about Europe currently suffer from the same pathological inability to recognise that the other side makes a number of fair points. Perhaps the first to do so will find their candour chimes better with the electorate’s mistrust of outdated, binary arguments.
Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut