When your children leave school nearly all of them suffer the difficult burden of believing that there is right and there is wrong, and that’s it. All is black and white.
Life then teaches you, if you are prepared to learn, that most of life’s decisions are neither right nor wrong – you just need to make a decision (any decision!) and give it your best shot. But the shackles of your schooling can be difficult to shake off.
Supposing everyone is told to decide, all at the same time, between two options which appear black and white? One option is “in” the other is “out”, so your deep seated instinct is to assume that one must be right and one must be wrong.
Now imagine you are in Hunstanton with your girlfriend and the issue of the referendum comes up? It’s not a good outcome as you can see in the photo to the right, when Cassie and I took opposite views.
Being a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, I have a very English pedigree and so I begin my cogitation by dwelling on the long history of England and Britain, and then narrow the focus to see where the trends of recent history are pointing. I think this will inform me.
The Mongrel Case
On the other hand Cassie is a bit of a mongrel (border collie-cum-boxer), but she still has a valid point of view (so she tells me). Despite having a touch of German (the boxer gene) she isn’t so interested in the broad sweep of history. Instead she will listen to the experts, and has done so. They scare her, and there is lots of talk about the UK being dog meat if there is a vote to leave. Change means uncertainty, and that is scary too, so better remain with what she knows.
Of course I point out that there is huge uncertainty staying where we are. I explain that where we are is like being on the edge of a crumbling cliff – the opposite direction is merely a dense fog. This analogy just makes her more scared!
So what is the broad sweep of history?
The Greek American View
The UK survived and prospered for nearly 400 years before its membership in the EU. And one could argue that England, on its own, had a pretty solid run for over 1100 years without any form of “EU membership”. So says David Zervos, a US economist of Greek heritage, none of which I hold against him.
There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that “the British have built up the institutional fortitude necessary to establish a prosperous path forward without policy guidance from the “experts” in Brussels”, he continues.
Roger Bootle (another economist, though not one suffering from being part of the consensus) took this angle forward when he asked “What is the UKs greatest contribution to the world?”
Before reading his answer I wanted to have a crack at answering that one. I came up with a long list of possibilities but in each case a quick search on Google came up with “This was first discovered by the Chinese/Leonardo Di Vinci 500/1000/2500 years ago” – delete as appropriate.
My only stroke of luck was with soap-on-a-rope (invented in 1949 by the English Leather Company). This is particularly close to my heart as it was the grandfather of ball-on-a-rope – playing with which keeps me from getting under Cassie’s feet.
I digress. Roger Bootle suggested that the UKs contribution to the world is perhaps “the messy business of democratic government”. [I’m not sure the long sweep of English or British history justifies the “democratic” tag, but I’m being picky now].
The British Genius
He pointed out that it was British political genius and a willingness for independent thought which enabled the UK to sidestep the two most badly thought through EU projects – the euro and the Schengen passport-free zone, both of which are now in disarray. Can’t fault him there.
In fact there was something like a consensus of “experts” between 1997 and 2003 who foretold fire and brimstone if the UK did not adopt the euro toot sweet (yes, yes, I know!). Many of those same experts are now preaching the same dire outcome if you vote “Leave” on 23rd June.
[If your Queen had a voice in this column she would no doubt also point out that those same “experts” knew nothing of the extraordinary risks building in 2007/8 which nearly triggered Great Depression II – something she pointed out while visiting the London School of Economics in November 2008]
Roger believes that the EU is now beyond its useful life, and has now become the major factor holding back not just the UK, but Europe as a whole.
He might be right or wrong. I don’t know.
This Messy Business Needs YOU
But within the “messy business of democratic government” everyone is now being given the chance to make a decision which will shape the destiny of the UK and Europe for decades to come.
Mark Twain thought that “if voting made any difference they wouldn’t let us do it”, and perhaps this is so in ordinary elections – but this referendum is so much more important than any election.
So as you choose between the crumbling cliff face and the dense fog, perhaps you can ask yourself, knowing there is no right nor wrong answer, which option gives the UK its best shot in the years and decades ahead – being outside the EU or inside.