Well, tomorrow (Thursday) we all get to vote. Then what?
Today The Guardian ran an article by a German music teacher who has made their home here for 18 years (look, singular they pronoun because the gender of the author isn’t specified). They worry if they will have to go back to Germany if the UK leaves the EU, and they worry that they might not want to stay anyway, because the atmosphere here has become so poisonous towards “foreigners”.
I’m afraid that my initial reaction to that article was to think that I have never felt welcome here. Sure I am a UK citizen, but every week something like this turns up in the newspapers reminding me that people like me are not popular with a large part of the UK public. I have plenty of friends here, but I am always worried that one day I’ll find a mob wanting to drive me out of my home, or that something like what happened with US immigration will happen to me here. In theory I have rights; in practice, who knows?
What rights I do have are mostly a result of rulings of the European courts. The UK and Irish governments both held out for as long as they could against allowing trans people legal gender recognition. The Leave people rail constantly against how the EU has “control” over British law, and how they want to be able to set their own laws free of European interference. What will that mean for me, and people like me, if Leave wins?
It is impossible to say for sure, but one of the leaders of the Leave campaign is Michael Gove, who happens to be the current boss of the Ministry of Justice. On his watch two trans women in prison have committed suicide and another, quite recently, was saved from a suicide attempt by prison staff. All three had been sent to male-only prisons. You will, I hope, forgive me for not having a lot of confidence in the future of my civil rights should Mr. Gove and his friends get to run the country.
Most people, of course, do not have my specific concerns. They are worried about the economy, about their standard of living. So much misinformation has been spread during the campaign that it is impossible to have a sensible discussion about the UK’s prospects as an independent country. Besides, economic forecasting is my job, I know how dodgy it can be. But one thing does seem clear to me: the Leave campaign is all about walls and ditches. It is an attitude of “I’m all right, Jack, and I will fight to protect what is mine.”
I can understand that people are worried, and want to hang on to what they have. I can also see that people have been very deliberately frightened by scare stories in the media. Personally, however, I have never been a fan of isolationism. I have, after all, lived in Australia and the USA as well as the UK. I have also spent a reasonable amount of time in others countries such as Finland, Canada, New Zealand, Croatia, Sweden, Denmark and France. I have briefly visited South Africa, India and Mexico, and I’ll be adding Spain to the list later this year. I have met lovely people wherever I have traveled.
The upshot of all this is that I have always believed that people of different countries, different cultures and different ethnic backgrounds can and should get along. Whatever problems we face on this small, watery rock adrift in the vastness of space, we are far better off facing them together than letting everything go to Hell and fighting over the scraps that remain.
The EU is far from perfect. Goddess knows I have uttered enough sweary words about their VAT laws over the past couple of years. But I also know that the VAT problem could have been much less serious had British officials been prepared to support and fight for micro businesses instead of taking every excuse to spread anti-EU sentiment.
We can, and should, do better than this. I’m not quite old enough to have lived through WWII, but my parents did, and a grew up with a strong impression of how awful that was. I did grow up under the shadow of Mutually Assured Destruction, and never did a political philosophy have a more appropriate acronym. I remember the sense of relief that everyone felt when the Berlin Wall came down, and I can’t quite believe how we have let all that hope and good will go to waste.
My choice tomorrow is pretty clear. I can vote to stay in a political institution that has promised to protect my civil rights, or I can vote for people who are threatening to take them away. That, as they say, is a no-brainer. That aside, it seems to me that the choice tomorrow is between sticking together in the hope that we can build a better world, or building a bunker in which we hope to hide from a world that is too terrifying to be part of. Again, I know which choice I would make.
When all else has been loosed on the world, Pandora, there is always hope. She will stay with you. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.