Tuesday, 14 June 2016
On the 23rd of June, the UK will vote on whether to remain a part of the European Union or to leave. It is being described as the political event of the decade, and some would argue this is the most important ballot for a generation of Britons. Now, with the polls on a knife-edge, I am pleased to announce that The Ephemeric proudly and without reserve endorses the Remain campaign.
Perhaps the most remarkable part of this whole referendum is the acknowledgement that such a thing would have been simply unimaginable just a few years ago.
Since the formation of the EU, Europe has seen an historically unprecedented era of peace, economic co-operation, and Human development. While the organisation's popularly may have intermittently wavered in the past, the support for our continued participation has not. But now suddenly the toxic cocktail of economic stagnation and the rise of a new wave of Islamic extremism in Europe has created a palpable atmosphere of anxiety and mistrust.
The stage has been set for the most significant revival of reactionary politics since the 1930s; a movement of xenophobes and luddites who thrive on their ability to take advantage of the fearful and vulnerable. Today they are popping up all over the world, Trump in America, Le Pen in France, and now in the Brexit movement at home.
The argument for staying in the EU
Reactionary policy is the political equivalent of trying to get out of a finger trap by pulling harder. For a lot of people it is the natural instinct in a bad situation, but only ends up making things worse. Throughout history it has never been a good idea, and it is no different now. Only the triggers change, in this case the fear of terrorism, economic migration, and eurozone instability. Without regard to the detail of any such issues, for Brexit proponents isolationism simply feels like a shield that will make it all go away. In reality history tells us that it will only exacerbate the situation.
On the other hand the argument for why the UK should remain in the EU is clear and well supported. Most pertinent is the economic benefit that the UK enjoys by being a part of the common market, bolstered by reduced regulation and boundaries to trade, and the completely free movement of workers between member states. This isn't controversial, there is near unanimity among economists that the UK stands to gain more by being a part of the EU. PwC forecasts that leaving the EU would result in years of fewer jobs and reduced household income. Far from scaremongering, this is a conservative estimate, the best case scenario in their forecast.
Now don't get me wrong, you should absolutely not be a sheep and follow what other people say, but even so, when one side (Remain) has Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, Richard Branson, Warren Buffet, and a long list of nobel prize winners backing it, and the other (Leave) has Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and George Galloway... well that should really set off alarm bells. I hate to be that guy, but if that's the company you're keeping then maybe it's time to re-evaluate.
But don't just take the word of the nobel prize winners and economists for it, the transformation in the UK since joining the EU in the 1970s is readily apparent; from the sick-man of Europe to one of the world's greatest economic powerhouses, directly brought on by the country's new role as a global hub. London in particular has transformed into one of the world's absolutely premier cities, an icon of stability and western ideals, and the world's gateway into the European market. When investment from all over the world, the US, Asia, the Middle East, moves into Europe, it passes through the UK. This has made the British people among the wealthiest on Earth, and turned the country into the world's greatest soft power.
The Brexit campaigners would have you believe this to be some crazy coincidence, they want us to go backwards to the 1970s when Britain was a struggling alsoran; a domestic economy dependent on the chokehold of the unions and bosses, and an utter irrelevance on the world stage. They want the UK to give up it's current position as a global cornerstone of all industry, the envy of any nation in the world, and sell your future short by retreating into our own shell out of fear.
But there's far more than just the economic reason to stay in the EU. The fact is everyone benefits when we combine our knowledge and resources. This has always been the case throughout Human history in just about any area of development.
Europe leads the world in scientific output, greater than the US, greater than Asia, it is Europe that is driving our future. It's obvious why this is the case; increased collaboration, fewer firewalls between researchers, greater alignment in goals and training. Our scientific community is treated as one, rather than divided into several competing groups. The benefits are clear, this creates jobs in the UK and it moves our society forward.
Then there's the national security benefit of collaboration. The Brexit campaign wants to convince you that working together somehow makes us less safe, but the opposite is undoubtedly true. Intelligence sharing and co-ordination of security efforts has prevented atrocoties throughout the decades. Brexit would have us sever our ties with EU security agencies so that if someone they're concerned about enters our country, we simply won't know about it. Don't forget that the Paris attackers were all EU citizens, without cross border co-ordination we would have no way of telling them apart from any other EU citizen. Does that sound safer? I believe that when it comes to national security, ignorance is not bliss.
These are all very high level factors, but even on the personal, individual level there are benefits to EU membership that we all feel on a daily basis. The ability to travel through Europe without a visa is astonishingly taken for granted, to say nothing of the low cost of intra-European movement. Anyone tempted to vote Leave needs to take a moment to think about whether they really want a trip to France to be as expensive and as administratively difficult as a trip outside the continent.
People also always seem to forget just how much of our civil liberty comes from EU law. The Convention of Human Rights. Clean air, product safety, net neutrality, these are all things given to us by EU legislators, many of whom are Britons elected directly by us.
Even little things like cheap phone usage within Europe. On my plan I can do everything on my phone in Europe that I can do at home, for just £2 for 500mb, or 0.4p for each mb. If I visit America it's at least £6 per mb, I can't do a damn thing without it costing an arm and a leg, essentially rendering me disconnected from the world and lacking services that in this day and age are considered basic amenities. Why do you think there is such a differential in cost? Phone data isn't more expensive the farther it has to travel, it's all about the shared market, which has moved to ban roaming charges in any of its member states.
All of this can be summed up by a very simple idea, that people really are better off unified and working together than split up into antagonistic partisan factions. Whatever nation or culture or religion we come from we are all Human and we have far more in common than not. The course of Human progress has followed a clear trend throughout history, small tribes of people gradually unifying into larger settlements, into towns, cities, countries. No amount of reactionary politics or draconian extremism will reverse that trend.
The argument against staying in the EU
Now let's not delude ourselves into thinking that the EU does not have problems. The economic woes of the Eurozone, driven by the collapse of fringe economies like Greece, are well publicised. And then there are the security issues, particularly now with the recent wave of terrorism in Europe. The problem there is not so much the security in developed nations like France, it's that those nations share open land borders with far less developed countries, whose security capability is clearly not at the same level.
This is the key point of the EU's problems, it has expanded way too quickly. An economic and security unification of the most developed European countries makes perfect sense, but when you expand that unity to much poorer countries on the fringe of western society you essentially entrust your security to them, and you treat them as an economic equal to the more developed nations. This is clearly a nonsense. Don't get me wrong, ideally one day it would be great to have unity between all these different countries, but that clearly isn't feasible at the current stage of development. This is not a problem in concept, it's a problem in execution. It's movement in the right direction, but poorly judged timing.
The question before us then, is whether we over-correct for these mistakes and take a massive step backwards, or actually address these issues so that we can keep moving in the right direction. Clearly massive reform will be needed, temporary economic stratification or more centralised co-ordination of EU-wide security, but that effort will pale in comparison to the negative impact of Brexit, and ultimately leave us on the right side of history.
So the decision we have to make is clear. On the one hand we have the EU, an unprecedented union of nations that has placed the UK at the centre of the economic world, driven forward society from both a scientific and development perspective, and has tangible benefits in our personal lives in terms of free movement, access to information and services abroad, and such easy and affordable access that a trip to the beaches of Barcelona is barely more troublesome than a trip to the countryside.
On the other hand we have scary people doing scary things, who may or may not be able to do even more damage if we leave, and poorer people than us in other countries who require our financial assistance. These are problems to be sure, but to say that abandoning the progress of the past decades along with our modern ideals is an overreaction is putting it very mildly indeed, especially with no reason to believe that it will actually help. And that huge leap of logic comes with more difficult, regulated movement in Europe, extortionately expensive fees, taxes, and phone access, and less demand for British workers who will no longer have access to the shared market.
The fact is there is little, if any benefit to leaving the EU in the short or long term, and the only reason it's gaining such traction all of a sudden is because unscrupulous politicians are taking advantage of you, waving images of dangerous gunman and trying to fool you into believing that leaving the EU will make them go away. To reiterate, the Paris and Brussels attackers were EU citizens, they were not refugees, leaving the EU will do very little to keep them out unless we completely close our borders. This is the 21st Century, you can't just build a wall and shut yourself away from the rest of the World, and quite frankly you wouldn't really want to.
There is nothing new about this movement. There have always been politicians using wedge issues to drive people apart. It turns out it's a very effective way of gaining power; stoke people's fears irrationally to boiling point, then present yourself as the only man who can save them. I am asking you to be smart, to take a step back and see through these games. Don't fall into the same traps that have been tricking ordinary people for generations, rise above that and take self-determination back into your own hands.
As technology and globalisation has continued apace, and human ingenuity shows no sign of reaching a limit, it is increasingly the case that the biggest impediments to progress are the artificial barriers that we erect.
It is not the ultimate goal for us to be divided into squabbling factions, creating artificial hurdles to survival and prosperity. Unity is what has brought us the scientific marvels, the comfort and abundance of the modern age. In the short term, union with Europe has brought us peace, economic prominence, and scientific and social development that far exceeds what could have been achieved had we stayed closed off from the world. When people are unified they can rise above the conflicts that have mired our civilisation for millennia, and truly solve the fundamental problems.
For all its flaws, the EU is arguably the biggest step mankind has yet taken in that direction, and regardless of how the vote this month goes, there is no doubt that society will continue to progress. A Brexit will merely be a blip in history, the real question we face on the ballot is whether we want to be a part of the generation that said 'yes' and pushed society to take those next steps, or if we want to be consigned to the history books as a temporary setback, the fearful last dregs of a darker time.