First off, it has to be acknowledged that I don't identify with the European Union at any level. Its institutions, goals, political culture, history - none of it really resonates with me. I'm sure there are reasons why this is the case, and the reasons would most likely have as much to do with me as they would with the EU. My guess is that this will be the case for many people beyond myself: I don't feel like I belong to the EU now, let alone the referendum result.
Secondly, I'm aware that I am an idealist rather than a pragmatist. That means that arguments about sovereignty, accountability, and governance all play much louder in my head than discussions about economics, immigration, and the like. Obviously, one could be an idealist about the EU project, but as mentioned above I'm not. And I tend to be fairly oblivious to risk when I think the principle is right. That also plays into a tendency to vote, as it were, leave.
Thirdly, I know that I have a tendency toward nostalgia, and would love to believe that Bagehot's constitution was still alive and well, or at least might be resurrected. There is a small part of me that thinks, maybe, outside the EU...
There are some of my prejudices - I frankly acknowledge them all. I suspect that everyone on all sides of the debate is driven more by this sort of stuff than we'd like to admit. My prejudices tend to make me a leaver, or as I believe we now have to call ourselves, a Brexiteer.
Recognising how non-rational this stuff mostly is (not irrational; there's a difference), I want to be a bit careful. I don't want to be swept away by this stuff without thinking. And there are three things that give me serious pause for thought.
For one thing, I know that one of the reasons I can afford to ignore practical arguments about the economy, jobs and the like and pursue my idealistic bent is that I'm relatively well-off. It's all very well for me to be willing to take a financial hit in order to regain national sovereignty (or whatever), but have I thought about what that might mean for other people? I hope I have, or at least I've started to. Suffice to say, I don't find the scare stories all that convincing, and I even wonder whether there might be the possibility to roll back some of the negative effects of globalisation here. Bottom line, I think we would take a hit, but it probably wouldn't be huge, and some of it - for example, reductions in house prices - could be of long-term benefit. Still, I freely confess my relative ignorance here; I've done my best with the resources I've got.
A second thing that raises questions is the implicit, and sometimes explicit, racism of parts of the Leave campaign. It's not that I subscribe to guilt by association in any way: people can support good causes for bad reasons, after all. But you have to ask questions about the culture that is driving the campaign, and whether it is the sort of culture you want. I think I'm right in saying that what we're suffering from here is just 'empty vessel' syndrome, as in 'empty vessels make the most noise'. We hear more from people making populist, and to me very unpleasant, arguments, but I hope they don't characterise the majority. I hope.
And the third thing that bothers me is the potential for 'Little England-ism', a desire for cultural isolation based usually on a firm and misplaced belief in the superiority of one's own culture. Here I think we would be wise to listen to Gildor Inglorion, despite his being both an elf and clearly fictional: "The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot for ever fence it out." Maintaining an openness to the world is so crucial. Still, again, I'm not sure this bad attitude follows necessarily from a vote to leave the EU; you could even argue that membership of the EU has in some ways closed us off to the wider world.
Although this has caused me to really think about my motives, it hasn't changed my mind. For the record, here are a few reasons (other than my gut feelings) why I will vote Leave.
Firstly, there is political philosophy. How obscure is that? I am a convinced disciple of John Locke in most political matters, and I can't help seeing Msr. J.J. Rousseau as the enemy. It is no secret that Anglo-Saxon political development has largely followed Locke, in maintaining a liberal opposition to overbearing government; continental political philosophy tends to go along with Rousseau in seeking 'the will of the people' as the foundation of governmental sovereignty. I think that is a dangerous idea - there is no 'will of the people' at the end of the day, and of course Rousseau was open to the idea that people ought to be 'forced to be free' when they themselves didn't quite understand what their own will was (i.e. they disagreed with the majority or at least the government!) I think I see this political philosophy at play in the EU project at several levels, not least the cavalier disregard for the expressed will of various national electorates which put the project at risk.
Secondly, there is good governance, or the absence of it in the EU. I think it is just too difficult to hold people to account within the system, and I am convinced that it is wasteful and prone to massive over-reach. Indeed, even the proponents of the EU recognise that this is a problem. I am unconvinced that it can be fixed, unless we go in for full federalism, with powers reserved to what used to be national governments in a written constitution. That might work, but nobody is proposing it, and I can't say I'd vote for it if they were.
Thirdly, and this is what swung it for me in the end, I've watched the EU response to various crises, and especially the Greek debt crisis, and what I've seen has not been benevolent. A project and an elite committed to self-defence and the perpetuation of the system is what it looked like. I don't want to be part of a club that plays that way.
When all is said and done, I wouldn't necessarily encourage anyone to follow my lead in voting! I'd just say this:
- Check your prejudices - we all have them, but it's helpful to be honest with ourselves and be sure it isn't only our prejudices that are motivating our decisions;
- Think about others - it's easy to think about what would be best for me, but more difficult to get into other people's shoes - but the effort is worth it;
- Be irenic - one of the problems with a referendum is that it whips people up into holding strong opinions about things they had previously barely thought about, and can lead to really bitter exchanges - we can avoid that if we remember to be kind;
- Consider your opponents' best arguments - and give more time to this especially if their best arguments aren't of a sort to immediately appeal to you - they probably have more force than you're able to recognise at first;
- Consider the weaknesses of your own side - are they inherent or incidental? Are you implicated in opinions and actions that are just wrong?;
- And finally, make up your mind and vote - knowing that you could be wrong. It helps to remember that the future of nations is not ultimately in our hands, but God's!