I don’t love bureaucracy. I am not a fan of the EU. I am a diehard localist. But I am also a realist. The big world out there is changing fast. We are either part of that big world or we step back. That is the decision we will make on 23 June. It is likely to be the biggest decision that will happen in our lifetimes.
I am 61 years of age. I remember the Cold War. I remember from the real fear that ordinary people in ordinary homes felt day on day as the radio and black and white television scared them out of their wits. That fear was very real in a nation still recovering from the Second World War. I heard then from my elders and have since read in books that the level of fear was much the same in the late 1930s. At that time, it was not a question of whether war in Europe would happen but when it would happen.
We are still frightened.
Mostly of terrorism rather than war because we have eliminated war on our own borders. Being part of a broader Europe helps us remain safe. We have spent centuries at war in continental Europe, famously fighting the French and the Germans, also creating uneasy alliances to bash the Russians, Turks or whoever was the next on the list.
We still bash the French and the Germans. Throw in for good measure the Greeks, Italians, and Spanish when we are in the mood. I hope we will never feel that we have the same cultural or political identity as these nations.
But if anyone thinks being part of the European Union is being part of a terrible world – no it is not. We are arguing politically, culturally and economically, not pointing guns at each other.
I hate this referendum campaign. The In and the Outs throw statistics at each other, hoping time and time again for a fatal wound the opponent. They fail to do so and resort to personal insults. That is even worse politics. An Ipsos Mori survey shows that the perpetual data and mud flinging has led to people misunderstanding key statistics about the EU and our role in it.
There are an awful lot of bad statistics out there. The reality is easier than the stats. We will always be a net payer to the EU while we are a successful economy. We are a successful economy. We are generally ranked the fifth largest economy in the world. Have we built such a strong economy in spite of more than four decades in the EU? I don’t think so. If the EU was holding us back, we would have sunk by now. The EU is part of our success story.
The Single European Market lowered trade barriers. Driven through by Margaret Thatcher, the opening up of Europe for barrier-free trade in 1992 was the greatest achievement of the UK in Europe. Since 1992, international companies have located in the UK to sell to the broader Europe. They have reskilled our workforce and kept engineering alive in our country. I rather wish we had done this on our own, but history and politics denied us that chance.
One of the consequences of a strong economy is inward migration. We need skilled workers. Skilled workers want to come here. So do unskilled hopefuls and that is not so comfortable. But it is far from the disaster it is portrayed to be by those that fear “dilution of our culture”. In this area, where unemployment is very low, we need incoming workers to help run our stores, pubs and restaurants and agriculture. Migrants living here are our friends, not our enemies.
In the end, this referendum is about an article of faith. Many people cannot accept that being part of a big, complex, and at times awkward, federation of states should be part of our future. As a localist, I respect that. But as a realist, I think that being part of the EU is the best way forward.
There is no going back on this decision. It is a decision we will not make for this generation, but for the generations that follow us.