So the referendum on whether we stay or leave the European Union has been set, and giving us four months of unremitting commentary from both sides as to why we should vote their way.
Most people will, frankly, vote according to personal biases, regardless of the arguments put forward. Decision have been made and no matter what people say today, the opinions wont change.
That the Prime Minister comes back to the UK talking of securing a deal for a special relationship and changes to terms and conditions, only highlights though the view in some circles that the European Union was a BAD THING that needed fixing.
No side seemed to be arguing for building a GOOD THING and then getting enthusiastic about it.
We Brits have always generally been reluctant Europeans, and the tone of the debate has reflected that.
The only area where Brits are enthusiastically European is in living on the mainland, with around 2 million Brits living in the rest of Europe — which coincidentally, is roughly how many Europeans live in the UK.
The net immigration effect has been zero.
And this is where the debate will probably swing — on them foreigners coming over here, taking our jobs, claiming our benefits, etc.
Ignoring that it goes the other way as well, and in terms of net cost, the Brits living abroad tend to be older, and hence cost their host nation more in healthcare, than the generally younger immigrants in the UK.
If it is solely a debate about cost, the UK probably does rather well out of the EU by exporting its expensive wrinklies, and importing cheap workers.
Of course, the debate about immigration is rarely about costs — it’s the social impact that often colours the debate. It might be frowned upon to want the Jamaican’s to go back home, but people feel freer to make the same demand of eastern Europeans.
A large body of people moving to the UK, and as would be expected, tending to cluster in areas has caused a significant change in the local streetscape, with Polish shops popping up in all sorts of unexpected places.
And they do seem to pop up in the smaller to mid-sized towns, as that is where the lower paid work exists, so the visible impact on the street, and the strange sounds heard in the pub will stand out.
There is also some evidence that immigrants do take jobs that might be performed by the lowest paid rung of British society, and may have driven down costs. It’s not entirely conclusive though, and the various reports may reflect researcher biases, hence the confusion about the results.
But certainly, it seems that the people with the least to benefit from migration have also been the worst hurt by it. Which understandably doesn’t go down well with people so affected.
People feel uncomfortable expressing views that Gordon Brown would have described as bigoted, but they feel them anyway, and so politicians and pundits come up with safe proxies to use.
Immigrants take jobs. Immigrants take benefits. Immigrants take without contributing.
It’s a soft xenophobia about strange other people with their strange ways, packaged into a Tesco Value political argument about the cost of migration on the UK Government’s rather overdrawn bank account.
We know you mean “I don’t like foreigners”, but we’ll repackage it as “I am worried about the cost”.
So, the big focus on benefits, the something for nothing culture, coming over here without contributing.
Sounds sensible, they come over here, start claiming in-work benefits on day one, and what have they done to earn it?
The UK had demanded that people coming to the UK “must live here and contribute for four years before they qualify for in-work benefits or social housing”.
But, what has an 18-year old Brit in the same situation done to “earn it” either? Have they spent a decade contributing to the tax collector to earn the right to benefits?
This is the one area where the debate is upside down.
Very, very roughly, the cost to the taxpayer of turning a moment of conception into an 18-year old contributor to the tax system is at a minimum, around £80,000.
The cost to the British taxpayer of a polish 18-year old arriving in the UK is… Zero.
Setting aside all the other issues — the economic benefit of a person being born and educated overseas and then moving to the UK is vast. Staggeringly so.
It would take a low-paid Brit several decades to repay the taxpayer their initial investment, but an EU migrant is making a profit for the taxpayer from day one.
Immigration has other effects, mostly social, and where large waves of migrants cluster in small areas, that can put a strain on local services.
Just ask the Spanish, who have put in lots of English services to cope with the influx of Brits.
However, the argument that migrants are over here just to claim benefits they “haven’t earned”, when compared to the native born person who is in a huge tax-debt to the UK, is utterly misleading.
When the referendum comes, vote according to your beliefs, and your biases. It’s not wrong to dislike people — I dislike plenty of people — but be aware of your bias and don’t cloak it is fake allegations about benefits claims.
When the referendum comes, try to vote with the head, not the heart — but we’re all human, and hearts often rule the head.
However, whatever your views, go and vote, as nothing will settle the debate (for a while) than a strong turn out.
And nothing will have us going through the whole tedious rigmarole again in a few years, than if most of us stay at home and give each side ammo in the argument that the referendum result didn’t reflect the true opinion of the electorate.
Enjoy the next few months, and lets hope we can settle the issue on the 23rd June, with a strong turn out. Regardless of what the result is.