After my last post on the matter, I had intended to let it rest. There is now so much being said about the Leave/Remain debate that we start to hope for different news. Then we get different news, and it’s so awful that we would rather focus on Europe. Maybe there is a lesson on being careful what you wish for. Maybe that lesson will have some impact on the way we vote.
Despite the volume of words, very little is actually being said. Each side speculates on the financial effect of a Brexit from opposing perspectives; but no-one knows. Each side speculates on immigration, defence, security, you name it; but no-one knows. Each side throws ever more unpleasant (if often truthful) barrages at each other. The polls are currently weighted toward a Brexit. The bookies still marginally favour Remain.
I continue to wonder where to put my “X”. If you do too, you may find some help in EU Referendum FAQ’s produced by the UK200 Group, of which Hillier Hopkins LLP is a member. The UK200 Group has produced this document under its Campaign for Clarity project. The Times is trying to do something even more sophisticated. Laudable as all this is, I am not sure that anything is clearer.
The debate appears almost to have taken on a religious feel. We might have expected that there would be common ground about the facts, or the fact that most implications of a “Brexit” are unknown, with the debate being about interpretation. Yet neither side seem prepared to allow such a thing. Each claims to know the impact on the key discussion points: migration, taxation, trade agreements, economics, finance, wealth. But in fact, neither know, they merely believe. I struggle when men of religion tell me I have to have faith. But when men of politics do so, I am afraid it just creates a feeling of nausea.
I do commend the EU FAQs, not because it will clarify anything factual, but to the contrary, because it demonstrates with absolute clarity the following:
- The effect of a Brexit is completely unknown. It may be better or worse, we do not know.
- Pain of a Brexit may be short term or long term – stunningly there is general acceptance that there will be an effect.
- The two sides do not agree on anything.
- Since each side has claimed, in most cases without a hint of humility, that they know what the outcome of Leave and Remain will be, in doing so they discredit themselves and their arguments.
But no-one seems interested in learning why a very large body of opinion is undecided. It seems the wavering majority wavers because it does not really want to leave the European community, but it does object to the project itself. Ever closer union was not what many feel Britain signed up to. Yet there is a central core of EU Evangelists who will not countenance anything but the pure concept of Union. That concept is counter intuitive to a British public that wants co-operation and community, but does not want union. I expect many are disappointed that the PM’s negotiations were so wet.
Damping the Noise
If, like me, the endless, farcical disagreement about facts reminds you of a playground argument: “oh yes it is”, “oh no it isn’t”, then like me, you may be suffering from Euro-nausea. One solution is to forget the alleged facts and go with the outcome approach. For example, a natural gambler who always considers that the possible is better than the safe status quo may vote in a more risky manner than a person who seeks stability. Those who worry about loss will vote for the stable option.
Yet even this analysis is flawed. Why do many opinion poll studies suggest younger people are more likely to vote for Remain and older people want to Leave? Some suggest it is because of narrow perspectives: the young like travel, old folk resent the system. Perhaps the younger generation are more comfortable in a multi-ethnic inclusive society more than older people? Or it could be a strong sign that the polls are not very accurate?
When we really get down to it, though, we don’t even know what vote is more risky. The Leave outcome seems to be unknown and high risk. But what if in fact staying in the EU will actually take us somewhere we don’t want to be? History has a habit of laughing at us. Perhaps politicians should stop predicting and tell us how they will lead us?
Finally we look to the experts. The independent think tanks, the international financial institutions, the economists. And the we remember how far they have managed to get everything else wrong in the past.
And then, there is the Magic 8-Ball.