Will Britain leave the EU?

Will Britain leave the EU?

Britain's EU membership is divisive on the left and the right. In conversations recently, I have been told on separate occasions that there are no valid arguments for staying in or leaving the EU. I believe there is a case for both remaining in the EU and for leaving it. Leaving aside which way you should vote, can we predict what the result is likely to be?

The polls are currently predicting a narrow win for the remain camp, but after last year's surprise general election result, faith in polling is low. All polls should be taken with a pinch of salt at this point.

The majority of the electorate has not made up their mind. Very few people engage with politics outside of a general election, and the looming implications of the referendum are yet to dawn on most people. The majority of voters will decide 2 weeks or less beforehand, around the time they realise that their vote matters because referendum results are more proportional than a general election.

The way a voter makes up their mind is important when considering the outcome of any vote. In the EU referendum the argument for leaving is mainly an emotional one. It hinges on the belief that the EU is crushing British identity and pushing the country in a direction the people do not want to go in. If you on the right this is epitomised by uncontrolled migration; on the left it is a corporate assault on the NHS. Voters who make up their mind based on emotional arguments are more likely to do this immediately before the election itself. Emotional decisions are quick ones, they feel instantly right.

The remain argument is a more logical one. It is simply that Britain will be better off as a member of the EU than outside it. It comes down to jobs and money. It is not inspiring, it is cold and rational. Voters who make decisions based on logic tend to make them further in advance. This is why polls taken further out from an election will generally return a result that follows an argument based on logic. Polls taken nearer to an election will show a greater degree of voters influenced by their emotions.

With most voters likely to make up their minds only in the final few weeks, the emotional resonance of the leave argument is yet to have an impact. This makes it difficult to predict what the result will be this far in advance.

A case in point is the Scottish Independence referendum. Similarly, remain was a logical decision, based on jobs and money, and leave was an emotional decision, based on freedom and national identity. Polls taken far in advance showed a clear majority for remain, whereas polls taken immediately before the vote showed a majority in favour of leaving. Remain started strong and slowly declined as emotional voters moved from the undecided to the leave camp.

On the day, more voters were influenced by the logical arguments based around the money in their banks accounts than an emotional appeal to their national identity. However the emotional argument still resonated and that has translated into continuing success for the SNP.

There is clearly a lot of dissatisfaction with the EU. The left have found it hard to articulate their support in a concrete way. There are lots of problems with the EU - how undemocratic it is, how secretive it is, and how it pushes a neoliberal agenda on its members. I get the feeling that many on the left support the remain campaign because the leaders of the leave campaign are so repulsive. There is very little willingness to agree with Michael Gove, Chris Grayling, Nigel Farage or George Galloway (regardless of how the latter sees himself as the saviour of the left).

I always thought of myself as intrinsically pro EU membership. But when I tried to articulate my reasons for this in a positive way, I found it hard to build a concrete argument. A lot of things I like about EU membership - visa free travel and the diversity of London - are unlikely to disappear if we leave. We currently do not need visas to visit Iceland, Norway, Switzerland or Israel, and London will always be a cultural melting pot.

The argument for remaining is mainly the frightening thought that if we leave, there will be job losses and the Tories will be free to do whatever they want to the people of Britain. This negative argument makes me doubt my own support for EU membership.

My own experience seems to be symptomatic. There is a lack of a positive pro-EU vision coming from the left, and without this, many of those who support EU membership do so grudgingly.

If this shortage of enthusiasm on Election Day results in low turnout from left wing voters then Brexit will become more likely - those who are passionately anti-EU will be guaranteed to vote. If the left cannot find a positive and inspiring argument for EU membership then Britain will leave the EU.

The polls may indicate that Britain is staying in the EU, but I think the question of whether Britain will leave is still wide open. This far out it is too difficult to take an accurate reading. If I had to make a prediction, it would be that whichever sides wins, it will be by the narrowest of margins.