Britain seems to go crazy these days. We observe a country loosing its mind over an upcoming referendum deciding about nothing less than the future of this very country, disguised in a decision over whether to remain or whether to leave the European Union.
In what follows I will lay out that and why I belief various strings of argument utilised in campaigning for the referendum need to admit being flawed or unconvincing.
I realise that such a stance might not be the most efficient to convince anyone of voting in any kind of way prior to the elections which is why this should specifically be a piece of analysis rather than one of putting forward a specific political opinion designed to convince its reader. I will take a closer look at four positions in the following which in my opinion seem to give a good exhaustive overview of the referendum campaign landscape.
First, looking at a right-wing nationalist case made for Britain’s exist of the EU, one might instantly find nationalist, core-conservative arguments naturally and rightly repelling. However, keeping in mind that such arguments do in fact appeal to and convince a large portion of the British electorate, current polls suggest a marginal majority of votes casted for the leave case, a more thorough analysis seems necessary; neglecting such a nationalist argument solely out of disgust or ignorance is a rather rough and ready, quick and easy approach. Nevertheless, the facts of this approach seem screwed. Often times their analysis is built on a all-too-optimistic approach completely neglecting the reality, the advantages of the status-quo EU membership and disregarding consequences of leaving the EU such as the drop of standards or a decline in the economy. The factual arguments of a nationalist case for leaving, often flawed in themselves, fall. However, it seems rather likely that the argument overall does not lose much of its strength even if the facts it is built on are disregarded. The argument mostly draws from a fear of an international future, from a constant mourning of a long gone glorious past when Britain still was a powerful empire, the sole centre of the world. Interestingly, if we accept this goal of making Britain great again, voting out in the referendum is a rather inconsequent choice. The scenario that Britain, once out of the EU, wakes up to a reality of being a marginalised tiny country on the brink of Europe with lots of former but long moulded glory is much more likely. The case for a nationalist argument to leave the EU therefore lacks factual support, its argument inconsequently and questionably draws on emotions and patriotism.
Similarly, there seems to be a nationalist case made for remaining which while it faces the same problematic of using nationalist motivations does nevertheless make up the majority of the remain campaign. If one accepts the argument as such “we want to stay in the EU, because we want Britain to be great and strong as part of the EU, we want Great Britain to be leading not leaving” the reasoning itself remains highly questionable. Europe is designed and envisioned to be “united in diversity,” to be a pathway to a further international cooperation moving away from respecting the voices of national states, moving toward listening to the voices of the people. The reasoning itself should therefore and out of various other reasons connected to the threat of nationalism and patriotism not be accepted by anyone and not be used to reason for a remain case of Britain inside the EU. The argument for a nationalist remain position is flawed in its structure. When looking at the current and at the ideal situation of the EU no domination by anyone should exist but cooperation based on equality should govern. It is therefore equally unlikely if Britain stays that it will ever be allowed to lead as its is unlikely that if Britain leaves it will ever be able to reestablish its old empire-like powers.
Both nationalist strings of argument, for leaving as well as for remaining, have been proven to be void.
It looks as though that there is a rather strong left wing case to be made for leaving, mostly represented by Labour Leave as well as by fractions of the extreme left such as marxist or communist organisations. Their argument is a simple one with a focus on the European Union rather than on Britain as a country itself. While such a focus is certainly praiseworthy, concerned with the subject matter, not with an egoistic weighing of advantages for Downing Street and Westminster, while for the first time it seems to take into account, listen to and respect the people, their argument for leaving is to be rejected. It almost looks as though left wing leave campaigners mixed a couple of things into one hoping the electorate would not notice. Their main argument can be put as follows: “The status-quo of the European Union is bad, we dislike how the EU is at present, therefore we should leave.” The argument seems to be missing the possibility and in fact the likeliness of changing the EU from within whereas it is impossible to change the EU from without. It seems to therefore rather offer a case for internal change or remake, not at all an argument for leaving which would require one to argue that the EU in its core unchangeable ideas is bad or unsupportable, a case much harder to make and one the left Brexit supporters have clearly not made. It looks as though they sometimes argue for such a path; when however asked to elaborate on their worries regarding the core inherent characteristics of the EU, only present technicalities are cited.
Yes, the EU might well have flaws and mistakes but is Britain with all its free market capitalism, with its failing health care system, with its growing privatisation, with its immense tuition fees, is that Britain any better? And if it is not, would you then want to leave Britain and build your own state of Labour Leave somewhere else? Both Britain and Europe are capable of change and I would argue that you, dear Labour Leave supporter, are part of politics because you believe in that capacity to change, because you want to make that change happen.
Lastly, what is left to be examined is a non-nationalist case for remaining. I believe such an argument is the most credible and factually true one, having campaigned for exactly this argument myself. I however also believe that this position is more difficult and nuanced. Britain should not stay in because it would profit the British government or make Britain great again, nor should Britain stay in because the EU is this great perfect communal project that everyone loves and believes in. Rather, Britain should stay in because British citizens profit from the current EU when their national government fails to protect them or fails to grant them sufficient social security and because British citizens can help building a more ideal Europe. Such an answer is complex but even more quite naive. To be realistic, the chance of the British left and green-ish minded people changing Europe to the better is imaginary rather than real, considering the recent developments and trends of the EU distancing itself more and more from a government of the people moving towards a purely economic union of self-benefit. So if dreaming was allowed, and if complex arguments would appeal to masses of voters, the left case for remaining would be quite great. When taking a closer look at the British electorate, their preexisting opinions and reality, the left case for remaining is not quite that great anymore.
Have I now given a rather depressing account of the possible campaigns in this referendum? And if so, what next? Having criticised all present campaigns, a general unsuitability to campaign for any stance in this referendum suggests itself. Holding this referendum in the middle rather than at the end or the beginning of a process, where all developments of the EU are still possible, where neither a start nor an end is in sight, where only sentiments, feelings, prognosis and speculation decide one’s decisions, where however the outcome can be highly significant not only for Britain but for Europe and over 500 million people as well, might be a mistake in itself.
Holding such a referendum in 2016 is not only a political poker about power and credibility, designed for Cameron to prove his point and cement his stance as Prime Minister but it is also a pointless poker with the reality of millions, most of which even being without the privilege of being British citizens and therefore having the power to decide but with a definite interest in the outcome – me included.
Let’s hope that the majority of the electorate realises its responsibility and decides accordingly this Thursday, in a referendum in which almost every stance is problematic and which in itself is highly questionable.