Remain means friendship
An early 20th century British writer, Hugh Kingsmill, coined the humourous phrase, “Friends are God’s apology for relatives.” Now you may have perfectly good relations with your kin, but most of us are aware of a sibling, a parent, an uncle or an aunt, who is, you know, ‘difficult’. Friends, of course, you get to choose. Friendship can mean any or all of a kind of gentle tolerance, an easy togetherness or a confidence of ‘being there’ when you need them.
Friendship between nations is probably a much abused phrase, the kind of thing trotted out at press conferences with all the vapidity of a used car salesmen extolling the features of the car which you’re looking at. But let’s not be under any illusions. My father and his father were soldiers in the two terrible wars of the first half of the 20th Century. The EU is a major factor, for my generation and those following, in not having had to go to war, at least in the EU. Friendship between nations may be a hyped concept, but the EU has shown that by creating structures and forums for working together, we can all live in peace.
It’s not just in the relations between nations that the EU has been a force for good. I hardly have to think to list four married couples I know where one is a Brit and the other German, French, Latvian or Danish. The EU has made it so much easier for people to meet their life partner from another European country. Leaving the EU will make it much harder for future generations to find love from such a wide circle of people.
Remain means fairness
When my children were young they would sometimes complain that something or other “wasn’t fair.” I expect most parents have heard that expression. I used to respond by telling them that life is not fair.
It’s obviously true that life is not fair – the rich and the powerful have advantages that those who lack their privilege do not. Political history can be seen as a gradual wresting away of power from a small, rich group to share it with what might be termed ‘the common people’ – so making life fairer.
That wresting away process has gone somewhat into reverse since the 1970s as neo-liberal reforms has allowed political power to be concentrated in groups of plutocrats in big business, over-mighty finance and grotesque media barons – the people who pitch up at the luxury Swiss ski resort of Davos every year. The demise of Trades Unions is just one example of this loss of power by ‘the common people’.
The EU has often resisted the might of these unaccountable plutocrats. Huge fines have been levied on Google and Microsoft for non-competitive practises, mobile phone operators have been forced to rescind punitive roaming charges. It has frequently been suggested that the Brexiters true motive is alarm at EU proposals that would limit their ability to avoid taxation both for themselves and their clients.
The EU can do these things because it itself, is powerful. The UK on its own would be much less able to enact these increments in fairness. As the media baron Rupert Murdoch said, “when I go into Downing Street they do what I tell them, when I go to Brussels, they ignore me.” As an aside, it is worth noting how much this indicates the falsity of the Leave slogan about taking back control – Murdoch is a foreigner (a US citizen, formerly an Australian) who controls The Sun, The Times and, until very recently, Sky.
The free market fundamentalists who yearn for Brexit see any attempt by society to compensate for the lack of fairness, whether inherent or driven by historical societal norms, as an affront to their masculinity.
The EU guarantees attempts to create a level playing field for all citizens. Remaining in the EU will help promote fairness; leaving will only help the very rich, the very powerful and the very cruel.
Remain means freedom
Nigel Farage proclaimed June 23rd 2016 as a date that should be commemorated as Freedom Day. It is of course entirely preposterous. For Nigel, who was educated at an elite public school and made his money by wheeler dealering in commodity trading, freedom is the opportunity for him and his ilk to make obscene amounts of money without anybody enforcing even modest limits on their behaviour or taxing them appropriately.
For the rest of us freedom is the right to live in a good environment, to have reliable standards of food and other things we buy and decent conditions in places of work. So remaining in the EU guarantees our freedoms; leaving will limit us.
It goes far beyond those freedoms though. The EU has allowed us to choose to travel, to work, to live anywhere within its boundaries without let or hindrance. A few years ago I read John LeCarre’s book, “The spy who came in from the cold.” It’s set in the 1960s, just after the Berlin Wall went up. What struck me in reading it was the hassle experienced by the main protaginist in getting through Belgium, Holland and into Germany. He was a secret service agent but had problems with visas and paperwork. The EU has removed the need for those difficulties and we all enjoy the freedom to move from Holland to Germany, from Spain to France as easily as we now travel between Scotland and England. When you drive from Holland to Germany, the only indication that you have crossed the border is that the motorway exit signs now say ‘Ausfart’ rather than ‘Uit’
The conclusion of ‘The spy who came in from the cold’ takes place at the Berlin Wall. We all rejoiced when the wall came down in 1989 and the freedom it gave East Germans and, not long afterwards, others who had been behind the Iron Curtain. Yet now Brexiteers want to erect their own Berlin Wall down the English Channel. Farage and other leading Brexiters are to freedom what orcas are to penguins. Dinna believe a word the man, or those like him, say. Cry freedom, Remain.