Someone asked a question on Facebook the other day: what would we gain by voting remain? It had a nice rhyming vibe to it, and it highlighted a key problem for people (like me) who want to persuade the floating voter to choose to vote for the United Kingdom to Remain in the European Union.
In fact it highlighted several problems. Let me explain.
It's hard to make the choice to continue as we are sound very exciting. Although Brexit campaigners are trying to scare us about what staying might do, Remain is, by its nature, the 'stay as you are' option. Choosing to leave sounds like action, remain can sound complacent. Flouncing out of a room is much more memorable and eye-catching than staying put. Remaining, for me, is the right option, but it just doesn't sound very, well, active.
It also doesn't sound like we gain anything; we simply retain what we have. It's a problem with the way the question has been formulated. "Recommit to active participation in Europe" sounds much more exciting, but it won't be on the ballot paper.
Try this as an analogy. Shall I choose to remain a member of the AA, or shall I choose to exit? If I remain, I don't gain anything. I continue to pay my subs and I carry on getting roadside assistance, a few discount offers, and some marketing email just like I did before. In the brave new world of AAexit, I am a membership fee better off each year, and I have the added excitement of whether I will actually get home (which could prove more expensive, but I don't know for sure). Remaining won't gain me anything in an obvious way, but it would get me started or home, and protects me from worse fates and bigger bills.
I'm not suggesting the EU membership is simply an insurance scheme for the UK. It's simply the problem of selling 'remain' that I'm trying to illustrate.
There's a second problem, and that's the word "we". Who are "we"? Does it actually mean "I", or does it mean close family, friends, locality, community, town, region or nation? In the context I came across the question, it seemed to mean either just the person or them and their household. I'm not especially interested in the impact on me - I am concerned about a choice that might slow down the economy, which always hits the poor most. Fear of brexit made the pound and stock market lose ground. The real thing is very likely to see a bigger reaction. That will mean even more austerity for longer to deal with the widening deficit. I am certainly seeing plenty of the effects of current austerity here in Morecambe, and I fear what further cuts could do.
What do we gain from remain? Wrong question. It's better to reflect on the benefits the EU has already given us, from cleaner beaches and concerted action on the environment, to better workers rights and an open and collaborative relationship with nations we had been in conflict with for centuries previously. You might not gain much by voting to keep that, but it's a lot to lose for our communities and our nation if you vote the other way.