Since the date of the EU referendum was confirmed for 23rd June this year, I have had quite a few of my friends asking for my thoughts on it. I have been especially struck by the number of people who have candidly admitted their nervousness in knowing how to cast their vote. Quite understandably, these good and thoughtful voters feel the pressure that in a referendum there are no wasted votes – your vote makes a difference between the referendum motion succeeding or failing. Whether we vote to remain or leave, the outcome will impact the challenges and decisions we will face in the next decade. In view of that fact, it would be strange to not feel pressure in considering one’s vote.
To add to that pressure, there really isn’t anything by way of impartial analysis in how to cast one’s vote. Both sides are using quite similar tactics of describing the ‘doom-scenario’ should the other side win, while casting a vision of the sunlight uplands that lie before us if we only vote for their preferred option. The trouble is that it is foolish to predict the future: in the last 13 months the Conservatives won an unexpected majority, the SNP won almost every Westminster seat in Scotland, Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour party, and Leicester City defied 5000-1 odds to win the Premier League. The predictions of the In and Out campaigns are deserve to be treated as lightly and cautiously as any other prediction.
While I will venture some of my own thoughts on why we should vote a particular way, I can with a clear conscience give some advice which may result in readers voting contrary to the way I would hope – and doing so with my blessing and encouragement. I very strongly believe that the most important outcome of this referendum is not what we decide, but rather that we decided. Elections and referenda draw us in to the process of government, and are the crucial check on how authorities exercise their power. I feel no tension therefore between campaigning for my preferred outcome, whilst simultaneously encouraging everyone to get involved and vote, regardless of how they plan to vote.
The good news is that you can decide how to vote by answering two simple questions. These questions will enable you to assess the EU, based upon three principles below by which I believe authorities can be rightly judged.
The first principle is that effective co-operation between nation states should be encouraged. This principle applies not only to our role within Europe, but also in global trading agreements, in humanitarian initiatives, and in peacekeeping duties. Reducing barriers between nations helps to advance human flourishing; promoting greater trade, exchange of ideas, and cultural understanding. Put in a question, this would be “Are these nations delivering better outcomes by working together?”
Secondly, authorities must be accountable for their decisions. Democracy’s chief virtue is that it acts as a safety valve on public opinion. No government can govern for long without the sufferance of the nation, which in turn incentivises good decision making, and (more importantly) punishes poor decision making. I would express this principle in the question: “What can the public do to change a bad decision?”
Thirdly, authorities must deliver conditions for human flourishing. Put in simple terms, the role of all governments, whether national parliaments, elected mayors, regional assemblies, or local councils, is to use the power and resources at their disposal to leave the people they represent better off than if there were no governance at all. Put in three questions, one should ask whether a government:
1- has dealt with injustice or unfairness?
2- has invested to develop their area of jurisdiction?
3- has done so efficiently?
These three principles allow us to assess the role of the European Union as an overarching authority over the people of Europe, not just the United Kingdom. As you consider each, it enables you to answer two questions that will best determine how you should vote:
Question One: Are you satisfied that the European Union is delivering upon the three principles that are set out above?
Question Two: If you are not satisfied that is doing so, do you believe it is possible for the European Union to be reformed so that it delivers the principles set out above?
If you are able to answer either of these questions ‘yes’, then you should vote to Remain. Like many others involved in politics, I contest that it is better to be in politics, making a difference and looking to deliver change, despite the imperfections of our system of governance. I suspect that many who campaign for us to remain in Europe hold precisely that persuasion – Europe is not perfect, but we can only improve it if we remain in it. While I have sympathy for those who answer the first question negatively, and the second question positively, I have grave concerns about the wilful blindness who would argue that the EU can remain as it is and does not require root and branch reform.
If on the other hand you answer both questions in the negative, then you should vote to Leave. If your careful analysis and assessment leads you to conclude that the EU is not delivering on human flourishing for the peoples of Europe, and that there is no prospect of it ever amending its ways, then it would be not just illogical, but even immoral to consciously remain in an organisation that suppresses human flourishing and is beyond reform. It is of course a bold statement to say that the EU irredeemable – which is why I think that is the difficult question you have to answer honestly.
Let me conclude by crystallising the above down to one simple question: “Which outcome do you think we would respond to better as a nation?” Once you cut past the prophecies of the campaigns, the question really is about the challenges we will face on the other side. If we vote to remain, we are committing to being the best and most co-operative team player in the EU – which means dealing with the democratic deficit, slashing the oversized bureaucracy, and ensuring that it genuinely delivers for every member state. On the other hand, voting to leave means still playing a positive role in Europe from outside the EU, and building new trade arrangements around the world.
I imagine 75% of the electorate will vote with reluctance – whether to remain or to leave, those voting remain will wish they could register their discomfort with how the EU operates, and those voting leave will wish they could register their desire for a thriving Europe advancing human flourishing. Whatever way the country votes, the most important thing is not what we decide – it is that when we face the subsequent challenges we are able to say that we chose them.
Which way am I voting? Well if you tune in over the next fortnight, I will be explaining which way my conclusions took me, and what the key factors where in leading me to decide. For now I will keep you guessing – because this article isn’t about persuading anyone to vote a certain way – it is about encouraging everyone to make their vote count.