The day before – tomorrow is the big day, and I can only worry about what the situation will be on Friday morning. With many others, I am seriously depressed at the level of conversation. Basically, the Leave side, making its appeal to the heart not the head, has trashed any attempt at addressing serious issues and facts. In a clear blast from the Scottish IndyRef of almost two years ago, sober comments based on secure facts figures and forecasts have been met with “that’s just rubbish”; “they (the experts) are paid to say that”; “we can’t be lectured by unelected bureaucrats from Europe”, and “you’re just talking down our great country”. Their pitch is to “take back control”, which works well with people who have trouble with authority figures and with people who have not done well in the recent economic downturn. “Go on” they say: “your vote is stronger than the considered opinions of ten academics and professionals”. They are political adventurers with nothing to lose: “Let’s press this button (vote leave) and see what happens. Wheeee..!” As Jo Cox’s widower said, people throughout Europe are feeling unsettled and threatened, and there are plenty of cynical politicians happy to exploit them. We know where that led the last time this happened on a big scale, in Germany and central Europe in the 1930s.
Living standards in this country have been falling partly because the good days are coming to an end in the western world, and partly because of our own government’s austerity policies. Migration is a phenomenon in the entire natural world, not just a human or a recent thing. Migration is in pursuit of a better more secure life, whether forced or opportunistic. Our ancestors did it: look at the Europeanised Americas and Australasia. There are limits to what immigration policies and border controls can do. Leaving the EU doesn’t solve any of this. But it’s hard to persuade an insecure and anxious native population to recognise all this, far less to be generous. The Leave campaign has deserved the tag “project hate”.
Nobody pretends the EU is perfect and doesn’t need reform. It really can be remote, and in some important ways it really is dysfunctional. But it is a serious attempt by the people of a quarrelsome continent to learn to live together. The answer is not to walk away from it but to get involved more. Furthermore, a referendum is no way to settle the matter. See my earlier blogs and letters to The Herald on the subject: this is a failure of our well established representative democracy. This reduces constitutional decision-making to the equivalent of a medieval battle, or a cup final. Having become detached from the electorate (Jo Cox was and others are honourable exceptions), politicians have become field-marshals and cheer-leaders of their teams, preparing them for victory on a day. But we elect them to do the hard thinking, the hard talking, and the hard negotiating, and to make themselves responsible. Boring though it may seem, best results (that’s not always getting our way) come from dialogue, not from conflict nor from walking out the door.
Anyway, I’ll be out on Leith Walk and neighbouring streets this evening, trying to persuade the Remain voters to turn out tomorrow, and to persuade any doubters to vote Remain. Oh dear. Tomorrow is going to be a long day and a long night. I had a very bad feel about the IndyRef a couple of years ago, but it turned out OK. Maybe it will be the same this time. I just wish I could be happier about it.