The two campaigns, 'Remain' and 'Leave', have hardly covered themselves in glory when it's come to giving us - the general public - the facts of the matter. To make things worse, the EU is a bit of a mystery to most, often characterised by its more bizarre attributes, either as the butt of a joke or, sometimes, in the form of an outright conspiracy theory.
My general feeling a few weeks ago was that I'd be voting Remain. I like Europe, I like Europeans, I love visiting Europe (as I have luckily had the opportunity to do several times with my book published in a number of foreign editions), and I like Europeans being in my country (I believe diversity does not dilute our culture but enriches it - not to mention the fact that migrants give the UK a £20 billion tax benefit). Most of all, I like the idea of a shared international vision and of being an active part of that vision.
As the date has drawn closer, I've become more interested in the debate, especially in how the result will affect me - both in the things I care deeply about in the wider world, and in my own personal life. The more I've researched and learned about both sides of the argument and about the EU in general, the more I now think a vote to Remain is pretty much the only sane choice. In fact, I think a vote to Leave could be potentially devastating.
I'm not going to write an essay going into all the details and conclusions I've come to, but I would like to present some of the broad strokes, and let you know why I think being part of the EU is a good thing, despite the fact that it, of course, has many problems too.
First of all, I believe the EU is generally a force for good. It was born out of the desire to see lasting peace in Europe, and it has achieved that very well. It promotes cooperation and has what I see as basically a positive Humanist agenda. It also provides a number of checks and balances on our own government who may not always pass laws with our best interests at heart. An example of this would be various directives that serve what I call the 'greater good' - that cover the health of the environment, tackling climate change, defending human and civil rights, limiting the power of private corporations and protecting minorities. The EU does all these things.
Of these I think the question of climate change is the most urgent, and this is something that simply has to be tackled with a united front. We're not doing enough as it is, but if we break from the EU then it will set the progress we have made back by vital years, maybe even decades. A united Europe working together sets an example and raises the game for the rest of the world.
Speaking of which, there has been a lot of fear-mongering about Turkey joining the EU. The fact is, it will be many years before they are able to join, the reason being that they must first fulfil a large number of tests set by the EU. This is because the EU has a moral and technical standard that must be met - the EU makes countries aspire to be better. We don't want Turkey to join as it is now, but a Turkey that eventually passes the EU test will be an asset.
Turkey is just one of the un-facts touted by the Leave campaign, but it is not the only one. Perhaps the most blatant is that the UK "sends £350 million a week to the EU". This figure is false, as we get a substantial rebate (taken off before any money is sent) and we get a lot of money back in various forms of important funding, not to mention the incalculable extra value we get from goods, services and protections by being a paid-up member of the Union. The UK's contribution is only 1.2% of our total government spending.
Boris and his cohorts have said, if we leave the EU, we can use that "£350 million" to use as we wish, and they give the example of "a new hospital every week". The problem is, most, if not all, of the spare cash will be wiped out due to the massive economic downturn we'll experience on Brexit, which may even go as far as a pretty bad recession. And then what will we use to re-make those vanished laws and systems that we'll be 'free' of? The NHS will not get anything - especially from the likes of Boris, Gove and Farage, all of whom are on record as saying they would like the NHS privatised.
Okay ... I'm getting a bit verbose! The economic argument is the one that worries me most on a personal level. Almost every major financial institution predicts a monetary loss for regular families if we leave the EU, and quite likely a return to recession. Even many in the Leave camp agree with this assessment - though they think we can ride it out. Well, I probably won't be able to ride it out. My wife and I are both self-employed and we are just starting to get our heads above water after the hit of the last recession.
I lost clients in the last recession and it's been a struggle to climb back up. As the UK's economy started to improve, so did my own finances - but I am very close to the breadline on a monthly basis, sometimes under, sometimes a little over (illustration is not generally well-paid). Unlike the last recession, I now have two young children, so I'd be punched a lot harder this time. Even on the least-worse predictions I dread to think what our family situation could be if the UK economy shrinks again and businesses stop hiring freelancers like Ellie and me.
The UK is one of the strongest voices in the European Union, along with our allies France and Germany. Together, the 28 countries present a powerful force in the area of trade (giving us international bargaining power), diplomacy (preventing other powerful states from flexing their muscles too readily) and security (with shared intelligence and joined-up reaction to events). Scientific research, resulting in better treatments for disease, the solving of technological problems, and even space exploration, all benefit from EU funding.
The EU is often mischaracterised as undemocratic, yet a close look at the way it actually works shows that it is just as democratic as the UK (despite our unelected House of Lords!). We vote for our MEPs and they have real power to accept, reject or amend European legislation. They can even dismiss the Commissioner, and our Prime Minister and various other UK government ministers hold important positions when it comes to making legislation. The lack of democracy is a myth repeatedly peddled by the leave campaign.
Going back to a more personal level, the EU provides protection for my work and my rights as an author and artist on the international stage. There are a greater number of opportunities for grants and easier access to a wider readership. Membership of the EU has allowed me to easily travel to other countries where my books are published, to get paid more easily, and even to make sure I'll be looked after should I ever fall ill on one of those trips.
On a slightly more negative note, the kind of politicians who I feel most ideologically opposed to are the ones who might come out of a Brexit vote with the greatest amount of power: people such as Boris Johnson (whose main agenda with this referendum is to get himself into No. 10), Michael Gove (who wants to scrap the Human Rights Act) and Nigel Farage (who only turned up to one out of 42 EU Fisheries meetings, despite being an MEP on the Fisheries Commission, showing just how much he cares about British interests). They are on the side of privatisation and less social responsibility, and what they might have in store for us, if given a mandate, worries me greatly.
There may well be some benefits in cutting our ties with the EU, but I have seen none that have convinced me, and none that outweigh the huge number of advantages we get by staying. The vast majority of arguments for leaving have been gut feelings, amorphous patriotic slogans, and - I'm sorry to say - rather a lot of xenophobia.
For me a vote to Remain is a vote for the future, a vote to stay involved and an opportunity to try and make things better. I will be voting to Remain, for me, my children, and for the world. If you're undecided, I urge you to do the same. Please vote.