How I’ll be voting in the EU referendum: Ray North

by Ray_North on June 4, 2016


I’ve always had my reservations about the EU. Not because I have a problem about Poles, Portuguese or Albanians coming to live in my town – far from it, I was brought up to have no fear of other cultures and so I fight the instinct to wrap myself up in the familiarity of my indigenous community (an instinct that becomes, perhaps, stronger with age). Nor, do I have any concern about spending ‘our’ money to help the people of Greece, Spain, Portugal or wherever – I know how much Wales has benefitted from EU money.

No, my reservations about the EU stem from its inability to create a closeness with the people within it – this has always troubled me. People struggle to relate to the European Union, they have little confidence in it – we hear it a lot, people saying: I don’t like the EU, it doesn’t do anything for me, and I don’t feel I have any influence over its decision making process, and that is something that can’t be simply dismissed; a feeling of disenfranchisement is dangerous and if it is left to grow like a weed it can strangle even the most effective democratic institutions.

Without doubt, great swathes of the people of our country feel resentful about the EU. They do fear the influx of people from European countries, they do feel that we are spending money on ‘foreigners’ when we Brits are going without, they don’t feel as if they have anything in common with the bureaucrats of Brussels who impose regulations upon them.

These feelings cannot be ignored. These feelings cannot be dismissed as ignorance, bigotry or racism, it’s more complex than that.

But is the solution to leave? Is the answer to leave the party altogether?

I have no hesitation in saying that leaving the EU would be absolutely dreadful. It is a proposition that the people of the UK should reject without reservation.

And the more this terrible debate has gone on, the more emboldened I have become in my view that we should remain in the EU. Not, because of anything I have heard from the politicians on either side of the debate (has there ever been a more intellectual lame and dishonest debate about anything?), no, the very fact that we are being asked the question has made me consider the whole notion of being British, and how secure I feel about my nation, my fellow Brits and our place in the world.

A couple of incidents stick in my mind, incidents which have demonstrated to me that actually, we have nothing to fear from close links with other cultures and that the EU is without doubt a force for massive good in the UK.

The first happened about a month ago when I went to watch my middle son recite a Welsh poem at the Urdd Eisteddfod in Wrexham. Now, for those of you uninitiated, the Urdd is a youth organisation unique to Wales; it was set up back in the 1960s to protect and promote the Welsh language and culture – every person who has lived as a child in Wales from about 1965 onwards would have had some brush with the Urdd (often under sufferance), either by being made to recite a poem, or sing a song or join a choir – it can be pretty serious stuff as well, the competition is fierce. Little Iorweth did really well to make it through to the Semi-National finals, and even better to get through the arduous preliminary rounds and into the final three. He took the stage in front of about 500 people – a little Welsh boy fulfilling his obligations to his heritage. He came third. I was proud of that – but what gave me a real buzz, what made me even prouder was that the winner was a little Italian girl, whose parents came over to the UK to work as part of the closer ties between European nations and the free movement of workers – they speak no Welsh, and will have had no concept of the Urdd or an eisteddfod until their daughter was asked by her teachers to become involved in the competition. But, it wasn’t just the sight of a nine year old girl who spoke Italian at home, reciting a difficult poem in Welsh with perfect accent and intonation that impressed me, over the course of the day I watched Polish kids singing Welsh folk songs, Somalian kids taking part in plays, Portuguese kids reciting – the sons and daughters of the people who Messrs Farage, Johnson and Gove want to dissuade from coming to our shores. Our culture is strong enough to embrace others, and we in turn are strong enough to learn from other cultures.

We should not be scared by people just because they do not share our history or our culture. We must be prepared to allow our own culture and history to develop with the input of different types of people from different parts of the world, because the world is no longer made up of a series of closed geographical entities – the internet, global culture, cheap travel, shared international experiences have changed us all, moving us away from the phoney Daily Mail view of Britain standing alone and proud, a series of rocks in the North Sea batting away the things we erroneously see as being alien.

Someone asked me the other day, ‘well, what has the EU ever done for us?’

And it dawned on me how our Westminster politicians have deliberately kept us in the dark about the benefits of Europe, and how even the most ardent pro-European governments have understated the positive effects of Europe, because a cursory look at the UK of the 1970s actually answer that question – sure, there are massive problems in our country, growing inequality and a diminution of opportunity is a disgrace, but, on the whole our standards of living, our prospects of longer life, our improved housing, peace, improved better protection at work, environmental protection, our continued accumulation of consumer durables that our parents would only have dreamt about, have all come about partly as a result of our membership of the EU. You can’t dismiss this – much of it is intangible, but it is there staring us all in the face – the last three decades have seen an significant improvement in the lives of most British citizens.

And we should be proud of that.

To jeopardise that for future generations would be an absolute scandal – especially when that fear is being caused by a misguided distrust of foreigners and a failure to understand just how great it is to be part of a fantastic organisation that has so embraced cultures and peoples who once had a propensity to wage war against each other.

Our generation has a duty to improve the EU – of that there is no doubt, but to remove ourselves from even being part of this amazing institution just because we fundamentally don’t feel strong enough in the ability of our own culture to withstand outside influence, and just because we don’t have enough confident in our politicians to put forward the arguments of the British people, would be a crying shame.

Sure, the EU is not a panacea, sure it needs massive improvements – but, I’ll be voting, without hesitation, and indeed with a certain amount of pride to stay in.

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