Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Yes, I want my country back, too

It was a warm summer night in 2012 and I was feeling emotional.

The London Olympics had just started. Danny Boyle's opening ceremony was coming to its conclusion and, to be honest, we were all breathing a collective sigh of relief that it hadn't been terrible. In fact, it had been wonderful. We'd had nothing less than a celebration of Britain's place in the world in the 21st century.

There had been nods to the Industrial Revolution, a loving tribute to the NHS, plentiful recognition of a country that was accepting of its past, aware of the present, and mindful of times ahead. A country that felt comfortable in its skin.

As the 204 individual petals of Thomas Heatherwick's cauldron came together to produce a united Olympic flame, and the final chords of Pink Floyd's 'Eclipse' rang out across London, I felt proud to be a modern Briton.

But in the last few months, as the EU Referendum debate has raged on, I've honestly wondered what has happened to my country. A Britain that has previously thrived on being warm-hearted, open and internationalist. That has demonstrated time and time again the value of talking softly, not just reverting to the big stick. A nation that has faced tough times in the past and hasn't reacted by kicking over the table and stalking out of the room in a hissy fit.

I've heard what passes for debate. I've watched as proven mistruths get peddled, time and time again. I've read the papers continue their drum-beat of innuendo and smear. I've seen the accusations and counter-accusations. In comment sections and on social media it's been played out repeatedly.

And at no time have I recognised the Britain that we all joyfully celebrated in 2012. Civility has been replaced with sloganeering, understanding with conflict, fact with hyperbole.

This isn't my Britain. This sneering, closed-minded artifice isn't the country I love.

So on Thursday I will be voting. And I will be voting for Britain to play its part within Europe, remaining within the EU.

I've read the economic cases, the detailed legal analyses, the arguments that attempt to reduce real human beings to mere numbers. You'll have your own views on all of that, but that's not what's making me put my 'X' in the Remain box on Thursday.

It's this. I'm well aware that the EU isn't perfect. But I hope that when the dust settles, and the choice is made, we can look back on this few months of madness. Roll our sleeves up and work in partnership with our neighbours. Because you don't fix things by turning away.

That's not the British way.

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