Euan McColm: Romance of Remain matches bluster of Brexiteers

Fans visit Serge Gainsbourg's former house in Paris. Picture: Mattheiu Alexandre/Getty
Fans visit Serge Gainsbourg's former house in Paris. Picture: Mattheiu Alexandre/Getty
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The most powerful reasons for staying in the EU are not easy to rationalise, but they are as deeply felt as anger at Brussels bureaucracy

It can be exhausting having to justify one’s views, don’t you find? You settle on an opinion with which you’re comfortable and the next thing you know someone wants you to explain yourself, using logic and the like.

Because we’re civilised sorts, you and I, we go along with this. We refer to statistics, talk of history, mutter about complexity. “And that”, we say, “is why I think this.”

But are we always honest? Do we really make decisions based on careful consideration of the arguments or do we seek out arguments that support whatever position we hold?

Take the EU referendum. If you’ve made up your mind, already, is it because you’ve examined the arguments of both Leave and Remain campaigners and come to a conclusion or is it your decision driven by emotion, rather than logic?

I’ll be voting to Remain. And, if you like, I can give you all sorts of plausible reasons. I can tell you that I like the idea of co-operation across a continent which in the last century was ravaged by war. I can tell you I like the reciprocity that exists between EU member states, which means that not only am I free to live wherever I choose within Europe but that I am entitled to the same benefits and services that locals enjoy. And I can tell you that I believe there are economic benefits to a close relationship with our neighbours.

The thing is, I don’t care enough about these arguments to have to make them (though I believe in the merit of all three). My enthusiasm for Europe is emotional and that’s good enough for me.

The singer Gruff Rhys last week made an unexpected and hugely entertaining intervention in the referendum debate, with the release of a song called I Love EU. Rhys, frontman of Super Furry Animals, claimed the song came to him in a daydream as he thought about the possibility the UK might “kick itself out of this sophisticated European nightclub”.

Rhys’ song addresses post-war peace and human rights legislation but where it really touches my heart is when he sings “When I met you, I’d never tasted pasta or baguettes, I’d never heard the golden call of castanets.”

It might seem like a throwaway line to some, but others, I’m sure, will recognise that there’s romance in those words.

Like Rhys, I choose to believe that anything European must, by its very nature, be sophisticated, must have panache. Who wouldn’t want to hang out with those European guys?

Allied to my inclination towards remaining in the Union is a lack of interest in much of what it does. Life is stressful enough without having to think about the European project, day-in day-out.

Opposition to the EU looks positively exhausting; there’s so much anger to maintain.

Last week, Brexiteers moved from being furious about the government issuing booklets outlining why it wanted victory for the Remain campaign to being positively iridescent with rage when Barack Obama spoke up in favour of the UK remaining in the EU.

Obama said that Britain would go to “the back of the queue” for trade deals with the US in the case of a vote to leave the EU.

On social media, a great many Brexiteers focused on the president’s use of the word “queue”. Wouldn’t an American say “back of the line”? Wasn’t this proof that Downing Street was providing lines for the president to deliver?

Well, I suppose that could be the case. I’m not sure, however, that if this turned out so, I’d care. And, anyway, it’s a nonsense to suggest that the president should not have intervened in the debate. He had every right to do so. Of course, had Obama endorsed a Leave vote, those now complaining would have been proclaiming those rights loudly.

Brexiteers argue that a UK outside the EU will build stronger relationships with other European countries. They say that a UK liberated from European rule will flourish. (This is, of course, precisely the same argument made by Yes supporters in the 2014 Scottish independence campaign), but there is no evidence whatsoever that this would be the case.

And alongside that lack of evidence, there’s a lack of detail of what benefits might come. To date, there exists no credible study showing how the UK’s departure from the EU would be the catalyst for an economic boom.

It’s interesting that Leave campaigners give the same response to criticism as that used so often by Yes supporters in 2014. Anyone who dares suggest there’s a downside to their favoured course is guilty of scaremongering. It’s “Project Fear” all over again.

I suspect it’s the case – it certainly is where I’m concerned – that those who wish to stay in the EU care about this matter a great deal less than those who want to Leave. I don’t mean to suggest that Remainers won’t stand up and be counted (and I hope they will in good numbers) but that many might find this referendum to be a pointless diversion to be tolerated rather than an opportunity to express some previously repressed passion for the European Union.

But this is where we are. The Brexiteers come at us with their arguments about a truly independent UK, and their fears about immigration, and their claims that the EU is corrupt and self-serving, and those of us who want to stay come back at them with arguments about peace and co-operation and shared endeavour.

But, privately, some of us are going to vote to Remain because of the music of Serge Gainsbourg, because of the exotic range of chocolate available in Spanish service stations, because of the hazy memory of an afternoon lost to Retsina.

Some of us will vote to Remain for the most trivial of reasons. But these trivial reasons are just as valid as a frothing Brexiteer’s belief that Brussels is ruling his life.