Let’s be honest. There’s something deeply seductive about gaining your independence from anything.
The prospect of going it alone lights up practically every pleasure centre in the British brain. It’s the memory of leaving a hated school and taking control of your own life. It’s the recollection of telling a control freak of a boss where he can shove his job, before making a hero’s exit. It’s the gleeful desire to escape your future OAP’s home for the afternoon and get sozzled at the bar of your local boozer.
Well, that’s how my brain responds to the prospect of even the smallest sliver of independence. And as a middle aged fart of mixed English, Scottish, Irish and Belgian ancestry (to name but a few), I’m about as British as anyone.
So, even though it took me months to commit to one side or the other of the Referendum debate, it surprised no-one that I came out in favour of Brexit.
And when asked at the bar of my local boozer, or in the echo chambers of social media, why I wanted Britain to leave the EU, I would cite two reasons. First: I hated the undemocratic structure imposed on us. Second: we live in a world where to be agile and to respond to events quickly and independently gives you the edge, whether you’re a country, a company or an individual.
I still think those things, by the way. But something happened when the referendum campaign got properly underway.
I mostly stayed aloof from the vast majority of mudslinging and disinformation from both sides of the EU debate. Frankly, I found most of it wearisome and childish.
But what I did read or listen to made me think about the wider implications of Britain leaving the EU.
First I wondered what the hell would happen to Scotland (and by extension) Northern Ireland. When the Scottish independence referendum was reaching fever pitch, I was desperately worried that the UK would lose an essential part of its – and my own – being and identity.
And I realised that this much more heartfelt stance of mine was contradictory to Brexit. We really are, in the words of that cheesy slogan, Better Together. Sure, it hasn’t been a smooth relationship since 1603 or 1707 (whichever you prefer), but we’ve matured into it, to the benefit of both nations. By comparison, we’ve barely given the EU a chance.
I was certain that if Britain voted to leave Europe, Scotland would walk out on the Union. They’d rebel against England as England rebelled against the EU. And rebellion is what much of the current referendum heartache is about, right?
Losing Scotland would be bad, but the clincher for my change of heart was the effect Brexit would have on the rest of Europe.
If you’re familiar with my online witterings, you’ll know I’m in the process of polishing my French skills. It’s a long process and it reminds me of those pensioners hired by furniture makers of centuries past, who were paid to gently rub their hands on chairs to give them a patina. It’s slow work.
But I digress. One of the things I do to get my French up to par is to dip into papers like Le Monde and Le Figaro. And one of the side benefits of doing so is that you get a good sideways glance at your own country – it’s a bit like reading the Irish Times, but less boring.
So when I read in detail how Marine Le Pen was fomenting for Brexit as a prelude for France’s independence, backed by her similarly minded and unsavoury pals on the far-right in Austria and elsewhere, I really began to get the collywobbles.
Bloated, expensive and riven with incompetence that the EU is, it does at the very least act as a brake on extremism, whether nationalist, socialist or religious. It would be a barrier to le Pen victimising les musulmans in France. It would block any far-right basket case of a member country from stripping away the rights and freedoms of any minority – however imperfectly. And, in a fantasy world in which America was a member, it would tell Donald Trump to fuck off (and stay fucked off) when he tried to build a wall between the US border and Mexico.
And there’s the nub. The rise of the far right on the continent, and the institutionalisation of anti-semitism in significant chunks of the Left, are the things that worry me most in today’s world.
And to risk those things escalating into a divided and hate fuelled Europe because of your gleeful desire to tell your school, your boss, your institution or the EU to go and shove it… that is something I simply can’t do.
Especially when the positive case for Brexit has been written on the back of a fag packet.
So I’m voting Remain. I just hope the result is close enough to jolt the European project into the major reform it so seriously needs.