Fear And Loathing in Referendums

Why it’s okay to feel a little bit scared

Brexit cambridge students EU referendum politics remain Students voting

Over the past few weeks the EU referendum has made its sad inevitable slide from debate on policy issues regarding our membership to an assortment of deceit, name calling and fairly despicable behaviour from both sides.

The death of Jo Cox brought to bear the fact that nothing really is sacred when it comes to political point scoring: Nicola Sturgeon happy to conflate the entire Leave campaign with the actions of a psychopath, while counter accusations of such actions by Nigel Farage only serve to corrupt the headlines that should exclusively serve for the sake of memoriam.

The Jo Cox memorial site in London

Even more frustrating though, is this concept of ‘Project Fear’, an accusation hysterically repeated by both sides. Ask Leave and they will tell you the Remain Campaign is based purely on provoking some apparently irrational fear of economic decline, while if you ask Remain and they will tell you Leave aim to win by scaring us into the belief that our small island will sink into the sea under the additional weight of immigrants. It seems that the negative consequences of our actions are an irrelevancy in the scope of political debate. Dare to bring them up, and you are certain to be branded fearful, manipulative or potentially racist. If you’re after any kind of discussion of your fears, well I’m afraid you’re out of luck.

This petulant political tactic employed by both campaigns provokes the weirdest sense of nostalgia for the Scottish Independence Referendum, although in that case such employment was unilateral. Alex Salmond and his lackeys almost deluded an entire country into believing that they wouldn’t be committing economic suicide by voting to leave the UK, by simply deriding the pro-union campaign as negative and irrational. It is only now that the consequences of such a vote are laid bare. Scotland would be about as financially sound as a man with a mortgage provided by Wonga.com. So-called Project Fear were right and the Yes campaign had no right to slander them as manipulative and hysterical.

We can thank this dickhead for the sorry state of the referendum

Where this idea that fear is an irrelevant and unsubstantiable factor when it comes to major change has come from, I really have no idea. Anxiety is a natural reaction of the human body to avoid an unfavourable outcome, be it failing an exam or leaving/remaining in a political union, and the tendency to treat all such anxiety as irrational and dishonest in the case of the referendum is incredibly disingenuous. The potentially very real threat of a recession post-Brexit scares many, while the pressure that unchecked EU immigration may put on communities and services frightens others. Despite what campaigners may tell us, such fears aren’t irrational like fear of clowns and spiders (although that one is debatable), they are very real reasons to vote for a given side.

I must confess at this point that I will almost certainly be voting remain today, though my love for the EU lies somewhere around my love for Nickelback . While the build up to this referendum has saddened and bored me in equal parts, I’m very willing to admit that I’ve come to my decision on anxiety based grounds. I’m happy to concede sovereignty and border control to avoid the predicted economic downturn that would follow exit. Such an attitude doesn’t make me a proponent of either campaign, given there is nothing more annoying than the banal beacons of positivity both campaigns have morphed into over the last few days. It may be incredibly cynical but the fact is the position is perfectly rational.

Brexiteers would probably tell me I’ve fallen for the fear mongering tactics of the Remain camp, but tell me this: if you’re telling me to jump through the fire (read: potential recession) to reach something nice on the other side, who’s really irrational here? The one who’s afraid of getting burnt, or the one who gormlessly ignores the flames?