Two days to go until one of the worst campaigns in British political history finally comes to an end. I’m not going to explicitly accuse either side of outright lying, but both sides have definitely twisted the truth as much as possible by presenting very selective data and other such techniques pioneered by the tabloid press for years. The people of Great Britain are naturally struggling to make sense of it all.
As a Liberal Democrat, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that I support the Remain side (though in fairness there are a very small minority of Lib Dems backing Leave). Although this forces me to be on the same side as David Cameron and George Osbourne, I am extremely disappointed in the way the Tory Remainers have handled their campaigns. It seems to me that very little has been done to address to genuine concerns of the Leave side, or to highlight the positive aspects of EU membership – instead the focus has mostly been on the negative economic effects of Brexit. While it is true that there is a very strong possibility that Brexit would harm the economy, the Leave side have been able to portray this approach as a sort of conspiracy. Admittedly I haven’t actually looked at the reports being published to try and verify them, but it does seem quite unlikely that the government would somehow be able to coerce the vast majority of the country’s economists into publishing misleading reports. If Brexit did favour the economy, the distortion in reasoning required to make the jump to the opposite conclusion should be obvious to any journalist who actually read those reports. I’m not saying all the economic news regarding Brexit is accurate – George Osbourne’s “emergency Budget” does come across a little dubious, and is likely contributing to this skepticism towards the economic impacts of Brexit – but I do not believe that the government could pull off a deception on this scale, especially when there are Cabinet ministers who back Brexit.
Anyway, let’s talk about something that’s bound to go down well – immigration. This is the number one concern for the majority of Brexiters. A lot of people express concern at the strain immigrants are putting on public services, or the possibility that terrorists could be hiding amongst the refugees fleeing from Syria. To address the first point, statistics show that on average immigrants contribute more to the economy through taxes than they take out through using public services. Sure, the right-wing tabloids will be quick to draw attention to alarming cases of families with ten kids with massive houses whilst scrounging off welfare, but these cases are isolated. It is true that the NHS is currently under a lot of strain, and UKIP would be quick to have you believe that the main cause of this would be immigration. However, it is also true that the UK is experiencing the problems of an ageing population, and furthermore, if most immigrants are net contributors, then logically there should be nothing to stop the government from using that extra tax revenue to help get the NHS back up to speed. The Tories may have pledged to increase NHS funding, but far, far more is needed – and not only that, but we literally do not have enough British people studying to become doctors and nurses to provide for the NHS in the coming years, so immigrants are needed in this aspect too. It seems to me that the Conservative government is simply using immigrants as a means of plugging the hole in the economy left by the crash of 2008 and furthering their incessant plan to eliminate the budget deficit as quickly and harshly as possible. They are not prepared to give public services the boost in funding they desperately need, and although minimising the budget deficit is an admirable aim, the austerity which was needed in 2010 has gone far enough and is no longer needed – the government should now be taking a softer, more balanced path, with the elimination of the deficit being a secondary goal rather than a primary one. Therefore, the fault of the strain on the NHS is squarely on the Conservative Party and its hesitance to invest in the country’s future – this same attitude can be seen in the constant delays to transport-related infrastructure such as the electrification of various railway lines. It is not the fault of immigrants that these problems exist. With regards to the fears of terrorism, it should be noted that, as awful as the attacks in Paris and Brussels were, it remains highly unlikely that there will be an attack anywhere near where you are. Every few weeks now we hear about how a terrorist cell has been arrested – this suggests to me that Europe’s law enforcement is keeping on top of things, and in fact there have been no attacks in Britain which can be attributed to ISIS except for that one lone-wolf attack in a London tube station that injured a grand total of one person, which is worth noting for the fact that ISIS is now two years old and is now on its last legs in its territorial war and yet has only been able to commit a tiny number of terrorist attacks across Europe. Again, the scenes in Paris and Brussels were deeply heartbreaking, but let’s be real here, given the robustness of Europe’s and Britain’s counter-terrorism operations, why exactly are we scared of some bearded nutters in the desert? Besides, let’s not forget that immigration is a two-way system and it allows many Brits to easily move to Spain and France when they retire, as well as making life a lot easier for the two couples I know where one partner lives in the UK and the other lives in a different EU member state.
I will now talk a bit about some positive aspects of EU membership which have been largely ignored by the pro-Remain Tories. There are many policy areas, including the environment, counter-terrorism, the refugee crisis, and scientific research, which are all better off as a result of the framework for co-operation offered by the EU. Simply put, there are some issues, most notably climate change, which simply cannot be changed on a national level – they require global action. Britain reducing its carbon dioxide emissions might not make much difference – but what if the whole of Europe reduced its emissions? EU regulations are having that exact effect right now, and you can bet that the Tory government would gladly ditch those regulations if we left given how they’re already dismantling the green initiatives sponsored by the Lib Dems when we were in coalition government. In fact, on that theme, there are plenty of things this country’s Tory governments did not have the spine to implement themselves and which we only have because the EU dragged them kicking and screaming into the modern world, including, perhaps most glaringly, rights: not only the basic human rights which were first drafted by British lawyers and endorsed by Churchill which our current government has now said they want to replace, but workers’ rights, consumers’ rights, animals’ rights, and so on. Given the disdain the Tories have for trade unions, workers’ rights would be seriously under threat in the event of a Leave vote. The same also applies to funding for scientific research – remember, George Osbourne is driven primarily by his desire to abolish the deficit over all else and UK science is already struggling to retain its world-leading status, so without the extra EU funding it recieves it would go downhill even more quickly.
Now it may occur to you that my arguments here are far from perfect. I am well aware of that, because not only am I not an expert on all these matters, but because only a fool would suggest that EU membership has no drawbacks. Of course it does – the EU has some serious flaws. But here’s the way I see it – so does the UK. At least the EU Parliament doesn’t use first-past-the-post for its elections! And yet, I don’t see anyone suggesting Britain should leave… Westminster? Because, of course, that would be silly, unless you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. And yes, I know it’s easier to influence politics on a UK level than on an EU level, but why should that stop us? All across the continent, there are political groups who also see lots of problems with the EU, so there’s no reason why we couldn’t obtain the changes we wanted if we worked together to get enough control in the Parliament and the Commission. This is a similar principle to progressive UK political parties having to work together to achieve proportional representation at Westminster (which, by the way, should be another major goal of ours). I’ve seen a lot of people very dismissive of this – “achieving proper EU reform is impossible” etc. – but it’s no wonder when so many successive UK Prime Ministers have said they’ll do something about it then only made half-hearted attempts, and when so few people here care about EU elections and when literally only 5% of people can actually name one of the MEPs representing their area! The point I’m making is that the people of Europe are entirely capable of improving the EU, we’re just not yet used to this whole extra dimension of politics which it opens up. I’ve never seen running away from problems as the solution, that’s why I was opposed to Scottish independence. Scotland has always had a very healthy amount of influence on a UK level and has produced some of the finest politicians Britain has ever seen, from Adam Smith in the Enlightenment era to the Lib Dems’ former leader the late Charles Kennedy. Instead of abandoning ship and leaving England to an eternity of Tory rule (Scotland has nearly 60 seats of which the Tories hold 1, reducing their majority significantly), Scots who want the Tories out should be following in the footsteps of those politicians, campaigning on a UK level alongside the rest of us, as they will ultimately improve far more lives that way. I see Scotland’s relationship with the UK as the exact same as the UK’s relationship with the EU. Just as the opponents of nationalists are conflated to “Westminster unionists”, blaming the union for problems the Tories created, the EU is almost being seen as a sort of phantom political party which can and should be voted out just like any other party you don’t like. The EU has, in its Parliament and its Commission, people who are equivalent to the Tories in my Scotland analogy. If we look at the EU and we see problems, those are the people we should be going after, not the EU as a whole. It may not be as easy as campaigning for a change of government on a UK level, but I feel that it is worth it given the positive aspects to membership I have discussed here alongside the economic risks of leaving which I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of throughout the debates. These, to me, are my reasons for voting Remain.
P.S. While finishing this up I saw on Twitter a very interesting article on Lib Dem Voice by our former London Mayoral candidate Caroline Pidgeon about the European Investment Bank; as a big fan of investment in large-scale infrastructure projects (never mind HS2, we’d be up to HS9 by the time I was finished if I was given the chance) I found this another very compelling reason to vote Remain – give it a read here.