Sick and Tired of this Referendum. Belated Urgencies.
I have been sickened by the British EU referendum.
This is not just a figurative statement. For day after day now, I’ve felt a tightening in my chest – a kind of permanent ache just above the ribcage. I’ve been on Zantac.
And I don’t live in Britain. Well, I spend a lot of time in Britain, but I’m domiciled elsewhere and I have been for a while. I travel a lot. I love the nation where I (mostly) live and I need to give my relationship some kind of legal status.
Why should my sense of investment in Britain’s relationship with Europe be so strong? There are practical and emotional answers to that – the practical ones to do with facility of movement can be easily imagined. The emotional ones are the ones that have put me on Zantac.
I didn’t want to leave Britain all those years ago. It was just that jobs in my absurdly specialised line of work are so rare and wonderful that you grab them wherever you find them. It turns out that I’ve found happiness in a wonderful place. But moving away from Britain doesn’t make me feel less British. As an expat/migrant/exile – whatever you want to call it, I have to think about my Britishness more than when I lived in Britain. If you live in Britain having grown up in Britain – you don’t think of yourself as “that British guy”. You’re just “that guy”. And I’m not, temperamentally, some breezy metropole who shrugs identities on and off like costumes. Being British is something that has a claim on me, for good or ill. Ovewhelmingly in recent years – for ill. But somehow, I’ve always needed to feel part of something bigger than myself. I like belonging.
I won’t be able to watch election coverage tonight. I will overwork myself during the day and drug myself at night. Or maybe contrive to get beaten into a state of unconsciousness. Whatever works.
It turns out that the country where I live is generous and intelligent and able to make discriminations between different kinds of Brit. As I travel elsewhere, I feel increasingly self conscious about that ugly and cruel sounding voice of mine – that signifier of origin that encourages makes people to make assumptions.
If the UK makes a horrible decision to leave the EU, I will feel even more tongue tied.
The UK, if it votes “Leave” will have proclaimed a victory for Hatred and Lying. It won’t have been a vote about governance and accountability, because such questions have played very little part in the campaign. Hatred and Fear based on downright falsehoods have been the central aspect of the Leave campaign and if Leave wins, then we must expect Hatred and Lying to become entrenched as standard features of British political life.
Not that “British political life” will last very long. Scotland will go (and will be right to go) and Britain will disappear. Any nation in which Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage set the tone will be a disgusting and wrong nation. And as a British expat I will feel suitably contaminated. I will feel myself to be a disgusting and wrong thing. As an expat, with a heightened burden of representation, I will feel less confident about what I ought to call myself. I will feel less human.
The truncated, bitter and fearful polity (I call it the TKK – Truncated Kingdom of Kickdown) that would follow the break up of the UK would not offer anything that resembles an acceptable variant of being human in the world. And if I am to aspire to humanity, I will have to learn to become something else.
For this reason I started to draft an EU petition, looking to see if citizens of any nation that votes to leave the EU could not reapply on an individual basis to become individual elective subscriptions for an EU passport that secures rights to live and work anywhere in the EU. Having solicited feedback on this idea, It’s been suggested to me that the idea of paying for entitlements is fundamentally undemocratic and inequitable. I need to think hard about this idea and its implications. Am I just trying to buy an unseemly short cut to persuading the rest of the world that I am, though British by birth and upbringing, still part of something fundamentally good?
The wounded, diminished and chastened sense of self that I’d be left with if Britain votes “Leave” tomorrow will force me to work harder to demonstrate my own human worth. There will be a very long effort of restitution involved. Sorry World. I was, I have been, I am, a Brit.