I haven’t penned something in a while, unfortunately life got somewhat in the way. I also had a bad case of what I can only class as writer’s block, I’d start a post get about three lines in and not know how to carry on. Frustrating. Anyway I’m going to force myself to write something and it may be a bit unstructured and messy but at least it will no longer be looming over me. So the EU referendum debate is overshadowing almost everything in UK Politics right now. Everything is being seen through the prism of Leave or Remain and the conduct of both campaigns so far leaves much to be desired. This is a huge and consequential decision and yet neither campaign seems to be treating it with the seriousness that it deserves. Perhaps that will change as the date of the referendum approaches, I certainly will struggle to put up with the debate as it has hitherto been conducted.
I had a chat with someone the other day, and they were criticising the campaigns as well. This was a genuinely undecided voter and they said something that made me think. What he said was this “all we want is objective facts”. A relatively fair demand you might say, however one that is at root entirely undeliverable. In respect of the referendum decision, there aren’t very many objective facts. The trouble is that we are being asked a complicated question to do with the UK’s place in the world and for a long time. The decision we take in June isn’t irreversible or forever but it will be for a substantive amount of time. That creates a problem for the pursuit of objective facts.
Both sides have to extrapolate from current circumstances and experience and construct hypothetical worlds around their particular construction of whether we remain a member of the EU or head for the door. There are a lot of facts about the hear and now, but when gazing into the future there are none and certainly not objective ones. Assumptions have to be made, educated guesses have to be entered into, worst case scenarios analysed. What you end up with is a judgment which it is up to you to determine how much store you place in it.
Consequently when various bodies have looked at the economics of leaving the EU they have made assumptions and reached a conclusion based on the assumptions made. It appears that many have determined that in the short to medium term there would be a cost to leaving the EU. Now I or anybody else may disagree with that conclusion, and we can do that based on our own assumptions. However what it would be wrong to do is to suggest that lies or untruths are being told. In my experience it seems that we see our own assumptions as facts and everyone else’s as opinion. The truth is that both are species of opinion.
The other feature of the campaign so far is to criticise interventions based on who is doing the intervening. This is a rather silly exercise in my view, especially as we will prioritise the opinions of those we like over those we don’t. Just because you dislike a person doesn’t mean their opinion is invalid, and moreover having been incorrect in the past should inform your judgement of a persons current advice but it should never lead you to dismiss it out of hand. The final feature of the campaign that I have disliked is the tendency to think that foreign leaders shouldn’t offer their opinion. This is absolutely nonsense on stilts to be perfectly frank.
I accept, as would the world leaders, that this is a decision that is rightly and properly for the British people and for them alone. However this is a decision that will have geopolitical consequences and it is right that world leaders have a voice in the debate. Again advice isn’t dictation and we can choose to heed or ignore as we see fit, but it is a curious campaign that wants to insult all the leaders of the world then if we exit the EU expects them to bend over backwards to accommodate us. Barack Obama and others will be affected by the decision they should be allowed the courtesy of offering advice. In the same way as when I was moving house lots of people whose decision it wasn’t gave me advice, I listened and didn’t heed much of it, but I certainly didn’t go around telling anyone who offered their opinion to butt out of my affairs.