On the 23rd of September, we, the British public have a clear choice to make
On the surface, it is simple, in or out, stay or go question. Yet, this choice involves complex issues that go to the heart of how to run a sovereign state in a globalised world.
Here at I+O, we see it that this referendum exposes many tensions, primarily the dilemma of the nation state seeking to retain national autonomy, set against transnational agreements.
As on the One hand, the UK is and must have strong bonds with the EU. We need to act in solidarity and cooperation with our European neighbours, to achieve our shared aims.
Yet on the Other, we still wish to maintain national autonomy, to be able to set our own course as a self-determining nation.
Much of the debate is boiled down, to the simple either-or choice we must make; Leave or Remain. Though how we are able to simultaneously be both integrated into a collective transnational whole, whilst still remaining an independent sovereign nation, is a dilemma that will still be with us regardless of the result in the coming EU referendum.
We are constantly reminded that this will be the biggest political decision of our generation. Far exceeding any general election in terms of its political, social and economic implications.
With this in mind, how do we rate the standard of public debate, when facing this complex, multifaceted dilemma?
It has often reverted to hyperbolic fear mongering, accusations, and self-interested political manoeuvring. Merely attempting to guide the public, like sheep, into the relevant ballot boxes.
Throughout the referendum process, people have continually sought and asked for the ‘facts’ in order to make an informed decision. Which on the surface, seems a reasonable request.
But how do we get facts about an indeterminate future?
Those on each side of the argument, have sought to provide us, the public, with these “facts”. As though they are able to omnisciently predict the future, regardless of the many unknowable variables at play. Primarily using models and forecasting tools. Models that will spit out a definite answer to this complex, indeterminate task. 'Facts' that are then waved around as if the meaning they have has a direct relation to the future. Rather than being presented honestly as the reasoned guesses they are.
Presenting what is an assertion, based on a deductive model, as though it were truth.
When in reality nobody knows what the future will hold, as it is resuyltant on decisions, negotiations and events that can only be settled after the referendum. Reflexive and contingent upon facts we cannot yet know. Figures on both sides are of course able to present reasoned, well-argued cases, one way or the other. But they cannot justifiably present 'facts' like they have.
Here at I+O we want to dive into the complexities of the debate, not reduce it down. Instead, examining the core principles and values underlying each side's case. To recognise valuable insights and sound arguments exist on both sides of the debate.
To be One with Europe...
The European Union has evolved much since its inception in 1951. It now comprises 28 countries deeply united in their political and economic interests.
Even more, than we are trying to be one Europe, it must be recognised, we are one World. One closed, self-contained ecosystem, where our individual, national, and global fates are intertwined.
We are from One planet, Earth, plagued with challenges that know no borders. Foremost, climate change, an existential threat that requires global, collective action, if we hope to mitigate its potential effects.
As climate change is a problem cannot be rectified individually or by any one nation. How each individual agent acts affects everyone else. So logically we must have common institutions and processes, that allow us to each forgo short-term interests and negotiate to act in our collective best interest.
To act in the best interests of the whole, putting our macro, long-term interests first
With this in mind, the European Union, at least theoretically, is an institution for aiding transnational cohesion and creating international cooperation for the common good.
So retreating from such a project can only be foolish and cowardly. Leaving an institution for a perceived short-term benefit, at what long-term cost?
Surely we should stay and fight, to reform the EU over the long term. As ultimately we all need the European project to succeed, as the many problems of a failing Europe cannot be escaped by a vote to leave.
To see commonality as primarily, to understand that we are all ultimately all in the same boat and that rather than pursuing a self-defeating race to the bottom, locked in competition. We are best off facing our challenges, cooperatively together.
So the EU can be viewed as a vehicle towards finding tenable solutions and coming to a consensus. In short, of negotiating the means of reaching our shared ends.
Above all, a belief in unity, that recognises the importance of fostering relationships between EU nations in order to overcome shared environmental, economical and societal obstacles together.
Messy and fraught with challenges, undeniably so.
Though a project worth remaining and fighting for its improvement.
The UK is Other from Europe
As much as we may seek to find commoniality, we can also find justified dividing lines. And as a separate, island nation, with its own history, we must be able to distinguish ourselves from Europe in certain key regards.
Perhaps the most appealing argument in favour of Brexit is the principle that the people who make our laws ought to be accountable to the people to whom those laws affect.
In other words, the EU is an ineffective means of expressing the political interests of British citizens.
So as much as we will, of course, have cooperation and integration with Europe in many ways. A vote to leave is a vote to reinstate the self-governing autonomy of the UK over itself, rather than accepting the imposed laws of dubiously elected, faceless officials.
Can you name your elected MEP without googling it? Odds are you can name you uk MP
To see that the UK is not Europe and as such should be able to control its borders, and determine its own laws without the need for The EU’s approval.
Europe has fundamentally changed since the UK joined, primarily due to the Eurozone. Whereby a large part of the EU has sought to integrate far further than the UK wishes to, in sharing a currency. A profound step that radically changes previously held notions of national democracy. As a result, the EU will be dominated by a currency union, Britain has no desire for.
So it is perfectly conceivable that the UK can sit outside an EU dominated by its Eurozone countries, all aiming for "ever greater union". Retaining strong trading and social ties in many regards, though crucially with extra degrees on local, national self-determination
Dividing lines - Borders
Arguably, immigration is the key issue to have sparked the need for a referendum. With large influxes of EU economic migrants moving to the UK, it has undeniably had social consequences.
Many Brits see immigrants as an ostensible threat to their own employment prospects. Yet others see immigrants as a more insidious plight, not after their jobs as such but simply eager to benefit from the welfare afforded to British citizens.
However, the question of whether leaving the EU is the silver bullet to ‘solve the problem’ is an open question. Yet undoubtedly the allure of pulling up the drawbridge and sealing the UK of as Other from the EU has widespread appeal.
The public desire to be out of the free movement of people across Europe has grown momentum over the passing years.
Though is this how we want the future to look? Should everyone simply erect walls? From UKIP to Trump, to the many other far right up swells of late. Each preying on people's disaffection with the status quo.
There is a beauty in the vision of a borderless world. Open, inclusive and free.
As Stephen Hawking puts it: “the exchange of people enables skills to transfer more quickly, and brings new people with different ideas, derived from their different backgrounds.” So staying in the EU should allow us to progress more rapidly, to draw on the ever-increasing pool of innovation in academia, science and technology. Utilising the many positive effects the free movement of people can have on our lives.
Reforming - The future
Reform from the outside or reform from the inside, either way, change must and will ultimately happen.
Both sides can find major common ground in the need for deep structural reform, in many aspects of the EU and our relationship with it. Though of course they disagree on what this change should be.
Though if we vote to remain, will reform actually happen? Or will we simply continue with the status quo, kicking reform into the long grass
And if we vote to leave how we the EU subsequently react in its dealings with the UK?
As there is a need for greater transparency regarding the way in which decisions are made. To bridge the divide between the EU and those it seeks to represent. Opening up the processes that govern it to democratic inspection, thereby validating decisions coming from the EU.
Beyond this the most pressing reform needed in Europe is arguably that of the Eurozone. To come up with a coherent strategy to drive the economy toward the green industries of tomorrow, providing employment and stability to its people. Raising the level of employment, especially addressing youth unemployment, in many of the eurozone's floundering economies. Which in turn is a key driver of the increased immigration to the UK, causing social anxiety
In the end, whether we decide to remain in or leave the EU, we will still find ourselves moved by its goings on. In need for continual dialogue and negotiation with the EU and its member states.
So the question is ultimately whether we want to carry out our complex dealings with the Europe from inside or outside, the preexisting framework of the EU.
A binary choice for a far from binary question
This piece was produced in collaboration between Niall McDonagh and Eduardo Fawke