Dear British voters,
I promise that this is my last post on the subject which has managed to unify the nation. The ugliness of the referendum debate has spread despair evenly over the length and breadth of the country. (Incidentally, the Euros is just another opportunity to baffle non-Brits with what the United Kingdom actually represents. These past few days, I’ve had conversations similar to this: “- We could play Ireland in group C next. – No, no, that’s Northern Ireland, part of the UK. The Republic of Ireland – you know, Dublin, not Belfast, is in group E.”)
As a by-stander – having lived outside Britain for more than twenty years now – I still believe that the UK will choose to remain in the EU. I also still fervently believe it should do so because:
from a social point of view, the idea of groups of humans organising themselves into structures that offer peace and prosperity is an attractive one, to my mind.
And by “structure”, I don’t just mean our own village. The genie’s out of the bottle. We’ve seen other villages out there, big and small. We’ve heard other languages, admired other landscapes and works of art, experienced other customs. And if we haven’t, we’ve heard tell of them things across the ages, from traveller’s tales, tradespeople’s experiences and migrants’ stories. There’s a lot of good stuff out there. A lot of bad stuff too. A bit like in our own village, except that there’s a lot more to the world than our own village.
From an economic point of view, I still don’t know how anyone convinced bona fide economists to compile reports on likely outcomes of this or that scenario. I’m sorry, but I can only think the fees were good. I appreciate that economists know a thing or two about multiple, complex variables and I’m aware that sophisticated algorithms can do some amazing modelling but I’m not confident that it was even possible to frame the questions sensibly in the first place. They must all have run along the lines of: “If the UK leaves the EU and X does/does not interact with the UK in the future in the same way as it has previously, then what is likely to happen?” How does that take into account what Y, Z, A, B might do, for example?
From a geographical point of view, we hit a snag. The UK consists of this sceptered isle (not needing quote marks if it’s Shakespeare is a rule, isn’t it?) and a bit of the Emerald Isle – or a bit North of the Emerald Isle I should say. Anyway, the operative word here is “isle”. Islands are islands, defined by their insularity, and I can’t think of a work-around here, it would be so much easier if Europe were an island itself, rather than a bit of land bolted onto Asia.
Perhaps we should blast the Urals away or something.
From a historical point of view, I think I’ll just selfishly stick to the bit I know best: the relationship between my two countries, France and the UK.
A few millennia seem to produce the same sort of development on either side of the Channel. There is perhaps a preference for chalk figures for the artists from one set of tribes versus cave paintings for artists from the other. Probably the first chronicled event is the Romans going on their Pax Romana Grand Tour, putting Gaul then Britannia on the map and building handy straight roads for future tourists. When that’s over, the Vikings leave their native Scandinavia to go on their own massive expansion spree, which also incorporates France and Britain (and probably the US, but that’s another story). One William of Normandy is a notable figure in that context. He promptly inventories the assets of his new property and oversees a huge property development programme. There follows a long period of deciding whether we’re really talking about a big Normandy with an English annex or a British kingdom with adjuncts in the South West of France. A highlight of that period is the grisly murder of a 19-year old in my home town of Rouen, jointly organised by the French ecclesiastical authorities and the English. After a bit, the various kings and queen seem to be clearer about who rules whom in which country. Quite soon after that, the French decide they don’t want kings any more anyway, England welcomes a large number of Terror refugees and the French replace their kings with an emperor, who wages war against everybody. A lot more recently (hang on in there, I’m nearly done with history and we’re getting to the really good bit) Britain and France are on the same side in one of humanity’s bloodiest conflicts ever. They have stayed on the same side ever since, and even joined up with other former foes.
Today, conflict between French and British people is mostly expressed by disagreeable comments on each other’s bathing habits and culinary traditions. By and large, the same sort of relations currently prevail throughout the EU.
From The Archers’ point of view, the big question is: “Can Helen vote?” Legal expertise on this point would be greatly appreciated. The facts are that Helen has been remanded in custody but not tried, in a case of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship. (The Helen Titchener née Archer case will probably be the subject of future bar exam papers, such is the power of this 60-year old radio soap opera from the BBC).
So far, the only reference I’ve heard to the referendum in The Archers is one of the more likeable being quoted as saying it was a “moral duty to vote”. There has been no mention of which way anyone is going to vote, of course, but you can bet your bottom dollar/pound/euro that Susan Carter will be putting a cross in the “leave” box. Perhaps the script writers will provide a topical insert on Thursday and have Pip chat with Kirsty outside the polling station about the likely outcome of the vote…
I won’t be at any polling station, fictional or otherwise, but I will be staying up for the results of the referendum.