I’m not a massively political animal, because in truth it matters very little whether we have one mainstream party in power or another. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing; we’re really a centrist society, and given our diversity, geography and psyche we always will be. We might lean a few degrees one way or the other over time, but the needle rarely swings too far from the middle.
That’s not to say we don’t get excited about certain things, of course. Sovereignty, borders, immigration. Being an island folk we have an institutional-like undercurrent of paranoia about the world over the horizon, and every now and again we go into a bit of a tizz about it all. Maybe we have some collective regression about previous invasion (those bloody Normans, coming over here and giving us modern English), or maybe we just like to get riled up about something.
Either way, here we are, getting all excited about Brexit and making the needle swing rather more to the right than usual.
There’s been an awful lot said about facts. That neither side of this debate has been entirely honest with them, that those we have had have been either been meaningless at best or dishonest at worst (Mr Gove, I’m looking at you and your £350m porkies), that in reality no one knows what’s likely to happen.
All true, and all lies. All at the same time. Have we had facts? Yes. Do people care one jot about them? No. There’s not a single person who understands the likely consequences of Brexit that suggests it’s economically the right thing to do. Not one. Even the Leave camp agree that we’re likely to suffer economically if we exit, at least in the short term. But this isn’t about economics, it never has been. This is about our undercurrent of paranoia. It’s our curtain twitching NIMBY mentality, the ‘some of my best friends are black’ argument. It’s about whether we want to share what we have with Them, that lot, the ones over the other side of sea. The ones that speak differently from us, and look differently from us, and who have different cultures and who wear different clothes. They make us nervous.
Forget the facts. It doesn’t matter whether the Poles are actually stealing our jobs, or whether Turkey is actually likely to join the EU, or whether we do send £350m a week over to Brussels. None of it is true (sorry, can't help myself), but it's irrelevant anyway. This referendum won't be decided on facts. It's entirely about emotion: we are collectively terrified of having to share this scepter’d isle with people that don’t look or sound or behave like we do.
Which is funny, don’t you think? I’m the grandson of a Syrian immigrant who moved to Italy. I’m the son of an Italian who grew up in Libya. I’m the great grandson of Russians and Poles. My daughter’s grandmother is a Czech from the Sudentenland. Go back just two or three generations and we all – all – have immigrant relations. Our language is Germanic, moulded by Latin and Norse. Our numbers are Arabic. Our political structure is Greek. Our Royal Family is German. Our footballers are from pretty much everywhere except, for the most part, England. What are we protecting from whom?
I offer no views on whether the EU – as a structure, as a club, as a facilitator to trade – works. It probably could do with reform. But it does work as a way of making us all believe that we are the same. Whether you are English, or French, or Polish, or Italian, or Czech, or Latvian, or Swedish or Greek, you belong to the EU and you are European. It’s not quite the United Federation of Planets, but hey, small steps. And let’s be honest with ourselves, this referendum was never about whether the EU needed reform. It was never about whether the economic case made sense, or whether we could or couldn’t find trade elsewhere, or whether our mythical sovereignty would be best served by being out on our own. It has always been about keeping the foreigners out. Look at why we’re even having it, a sop to UKIP, a party with no policies and no views that aren’t about immigration.
I don’t care whether you vote to Leave or to Remain. In truth, long term it'll have little impact. But you should care why. Please don’t let the needle sway too far to the right.