Our Guardian reading, Tory-hating, left-leaning friends came to stay over the weekend. I was shocked to discover that they will be voting "No" to remaining in the European Union. I didn't enquire more (I am, after all, trying to get away from political debating especially on a nice sunny Kentish day over some beers). However I was left to ponder how I'd respond to a "No" voter if they asked me why I will be voting "Yes".
My earliest political memory is reading a Tory leaflet about "nationhood" (their term in 1997 for "unionism") and fundamentally agreeing. Ever since, as I moved quickly away from any agreement with the Tory party, unionism has remained a fundamental part of my political make-up. I believe that we are "better together". Humanity must work together if we are ever to change our disagreeable and violent natures. I apply that principle on our country, on our continent and on our planet. That is why I support our membership of the EU. Can things be done better in the EU? Yes. Will leaving the EU give us more opportunities to work with a large number of countries closely? That is very unlikely.
At the same time I've adopted the federalist spirit of my chosen party, the Liberal Democrats. I believe that decisions should be made at the most appropriate level. Decisions about who collects my bins, what they collect and when should be made at the most local level possible. Decisions about defence should be made at the highest sensible level to reap the benefits of the largest resource base possible. I believe we should have a supranational body within which decisions at the highest levels can be made on matters of foreign policy, defence, international trade etc. I believe that the EU contains a large number of countries whose foreign policy interests and defence plans largely overlap. I think it is better we all work together on these issues on which we broadly agree than separately and risk misunderstandings and miss opportunities for collective defence against threats such as Putin's Russia.
I also believe that if powers deserve to sit at different levels then most powers deserve to sit with the individual. I strongly support individual freedom. Thanks to European co-operation (though not necessarily the the EU) we have not just got the greatest freedom of association and movement since before the First World War but we also have the European Convention on Human Rights which gives European human rights some of the strongest protections to ever exist. We lucky EU citizens get to choose where we live, where we study and where we work. That is good for individual freedom, good for business and good for inter-cultural understanding.
Working collectively with our European neighbours protects us from the dreadful calamities of the past. Europe is not yet at peace. But we are closer to that prospect now than we ever have been. The EU has helped support that process. It boggles my mind that within the lifetime of my grandparents there was a hostile military force just a few miles away from my home town. Bombs by the thousands fell on our villages, towns and cities. It is inconceivable now to imagine Germany or France threatening us. My ancestors would've been truly astonished at the peace we have managed to achieve. I don't believe that if we left the EU we'd suddenly find ourselves at risk of some military attack, of course not, but why should we not do everything we can to ensure communication, goodwill and peace continue unabated within our European community. I think the EU is an important part of helping with that.
The EU has a great many problems; above all sits the need for greater democracy. Reform is absolutely needed (though I'm not sure the needed reform is of the "David Cameron's gets some opt-outs for the UK" variety). In order to reform it our country must throw itself into the fray and get its hands a bit dirtier. No more holding back and moaning from the sidelines. We have been a great European power for centuries. It is time we started acting like one and got on with the hard work of making things better. A "Yes" is constructive. A "No" is a leap into the darkness.
That's why I'll be voting Yes.
That's why I'll be voting Yes.