Bremain or Brexit – the rationale for rational debate

Mat Mathias calls for a move away from the type of debate we’ve seen so far ahead of the EU referendum.

February 20th of this year saw the announcement of the date of the referendum for Britain to stay or leave the European Union. Starting with a bang was a bit of an understatement as 24 hour rolling news and every single programme on every single channel ever were dragging out people to tell us why we should be out or in. If it had been a week long campaign it would’ve been perfect. It isn’t so it wasn’t. We even had in-depth looks at the splits in Boris’s family while not one person from Sky news bothered to ask me, my Mam or my Auntie Melly. What’s wrong with us?

Grief, do we really start needing celebrities to pick sides in order to help us to decide the future of the United Kingdom? I have a huge man crush on Pierce Brosnan and I could happily listen to Sandy Toksvig read out the Future Generations Bill, but while I’d be interested in their views they wouldn’t push or pull me into any camp.

Anyway it’s only two months later and it feels like every punch has been thrown and they are just standing there, hugging each other due to exhaustion. They used up all their arguments in one go and there was so much of it, no one who was undecided was really listening.

What about those undecided though? Well, it’s official, because Twitter and Facebook continually tells me – If I am considering choosing to stay in the EU, I am a benevolent lover of the human race, and if I consider leaving then I am a goose-stepping Nazi.

To others, if I choose to stay I am complicit in destroying the very fabric of British culture and letting in a load of people that don’t understand fish and chips, hate Coronation Street and will refuse to learn English once they unload off the lorries they hijacked in Calais. Leave? Well, I am a 21st century John Bull, proud and stout and not giving an inch to what Jonny foreigner tells me to do.

Social media rarely does rational debate, it barely does middle ground. Actually, I’m wrong. If it’s a debatey love in between people who agree with each other then, yes, it’s rational, polite and entirely one sided. But an actual debate?…hell no.

Add one nay-sayer, even one who just wants to find out a little more information on the issue then they are leapt upon with a rabidity found only in political nerds around a just released Roger Scully blog. I see people I know in the flesh, decent clever people turning into bullies. It’s not intentional, it’s just they believe in their cause, their ideology so much, that they see things only in black and white and there are shades of grey everywhere. That’s shades of grey as in doubt not shades of grey as in sado-masochistic eroticism.

It means the more timid or the people who are unsure don’t get involved, don’t comment, don’t share, don’t retweet. Which means we increasingly only hear or see one side or one part of an argument. We don’t get a true picture of what people think. It happened in last year’s General election, in the last months leading up to polling day all I saw was anti tory/coalition or pro Labour posts. It was continuous. I know lots of centre right people but I didn’t see anything or very little from them. It felt like there was momentum towards a left wing win. We all know what happened and we all heard about the silent voter that won it. The progressive alliance had all the keyboard warriors, the rest just got out and voted.

We saw a little break from the EU on social media when the clever meme and funny political picture creators focussed all their fire on IDS passing on his devil horns, evil laugh and trident to Preseli Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb but the cowardly awful attacks in Brussels brought the focus back to the EU and no, not in a rational way either.

Project fear is alive and well but it’s being used on both sides. I don’t mind though, I am an adult and I can handle hearing the negatives as well as the positives. Let’s not drag in the celebrities too much though, it shouldn’t be about personality; which is good job really when we consider some of the ‘personalities’ wheeled out by both camps.

What both sides need to remember is that they are there to convince not demonise. While I have seen first-hand plenty of cases, not everyone is voting out because they are a racist and not everyone who wants to remain is anti-British.

For many of us in the ‘real world’, this vote is a tough decision. People know this is a big deal, they know there are huge challenges whichever which way the UK votes, but the day after, it will still be drizzly outside, I will still be stuck behind people who cannot work self-service tills and I will remain untrusting and a little scared of geese.

By all means let’s listen to rational and passionate arguments, yes lets even have a bit of project fear as long as it’s balanced out by project Lovebomb. Cut down on celebs and let’s circulate some independent information for us to look at. Lastly cut the jeering and bullying, it demeans the argument as much as the ones who make it.


P.S yes I know that Mr Brosnan is an American and Irish citizen but I haven’t got a man crush on any British citizen…and I am also aware that Sandy (I feel like I know her) was born in Copenhagen but she did become a British citizen in 2013.

Mat Mathias works for the charity sector in Wales.

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