The Electoral Commission have decided that the wording on the EU referendum ballot needs changing. Instead of being a yes or a no question, there will be two boxes – one to remain in the EU, one to leave – and you tick one of the other. Actually, this seems completely fair to me.
The Eurosceptic Tories seem over the moon at the development, and the only reason I can fathom for this is that the Commission found a slight lean towards “leave” as compared with when the other yes or no question was asked in the research they carried our. This strikes me as something that probably has more to do with the polling and how people respond to that – or in fact, that the difference is small enough to be just on the precipice of statistical error.
Anyhow, all of the comments from the Eurosceptics yesterday reminded me of how similar they are to the Scottish Nationalists in one very important respect – they will never take no as being the final word on the subject in question. Even if we had a referendum every year for the next two decades, all of them coming back with the same answer, they wouldn’t give in – neither the Eurosceptics nor the Nationalists. This is because in both cases, we are dealing with a sort of religious fervour, something that is ultimately divorced from objective reasoning. This was demonstrated aptly when Nigel Farage was pressed on whether he thought Britain should leave the EU even if the country would be worse off economically and said that yes, he would still want to leave. For the same reasons the economics of it all have nothing to do with whether or not Scottish Nationalists want Scotland to be independent: they want to live in a nation-state that is wholly Scottish and whatever it takes, it takes.
Some Eurosceptics will retort that my pro-Europeanism is simply the flip side of the this coin; that I am motivated by my own religious motivations. But there are lots of reasons to want to stay in the EU, including good old fashioned conservatism: the world is a scary place and I’d really rather not throw everything up in the air right now, thanks. Or you could feel passionate about the European project and feel like Britain leaving it would place it in jeopardy. Or you could not want to piss off the Americans at this exact time. I could go on.
But if you want to leave, surely the first thing you need to be able to answer is this: what does Britain outside the EU look like? This will be one of the major questions of the EU referendum campaign. And few Eurosceptics can answer it satisfactorily – or worse, in synchronicity. Paterson wants us to remain part of the EEC; Farage wants us out of everything completely; Carswell wants out along with a total dismantling of the state apparatus. It’s a mishmash. And not one that is down to simply the early doors of a campaign type scene. What if Corbyn joins the leavers? How the hell are you going to get Nigel Farage, John Redwood, Jeremy Corbyn and Douglas Carswell to agree on a vision for a post-EU Britain?
But whatever happens, a vote to stay in will simply spur the leavers on toward the next referendum, to be lobbied for starting the day following the vote (with the possible exception of Farage, who might finally wise up and realise his ironic manifest destiny and head to America). Then our only hope is that at some point in the near future we end up with a prime minister who will dismiss this question as having been settled.