I have no stake in the Brexit referendum, and I have no idea how it will turn out. But I do know what to think about it.
Leaving the European Union would be a disaster for everyone, especially Britain. So why take the risk? Greater integration is the way of the future. Besides, whose side would you rather be on?
The Remain side is outward-looking, confident and progressive. The Leave side is full of xenophobes and Little Englanders – backward-looking older white people who long for a Britain that is gone for good.
I know this because the mainstream media have told me so. A recent report on CBC Radio was typical. The reporter visited a little fishing town and talked to fishermen who blamed the European Union for all their problems. She interviewed a local UKIP member – an older woman – who complained about all the Poles, and sounded vaguely racist. A progressive Anglican clergyman described the typical Leave voter as "an older person with little, if anything, in the way of educational qualifications." The typical Remain voter, by contrast, is "a young person who has been to university." Then came an interview with a likeable young Polish man who is bringing a new vitality to the moribund town.
It's not just the media. The entire global elite has come out for the Remain side – the IMF and the OECD, the Bank of England, the leading corporations, Barack Obama, Justin Trudeau. The populist masses, they warn, are justifiably anxious but dangerously wrong.
Last week, I ran into a British man I know and asked him about Brexit. He is sophisticated and cosmopolitan and has lived around the world, so I thought I knew what he would say. To my surprise, he said he planned to vote Leave. The issue is simple, he explained. It's about sovereignty and independence. It's about who makes the laws and who controls the borders. The Leavers aren't anti-immigration (although no doubt some are). They just want their sovereignty back.
Leavers look at the EU and see a bloated, unaccountable bureaucracy that has run amok. The problem goes far beyond silly rules about the curvature of cucumbers. The real problem is a drive to centralize everything, from fishing rules to defence, under a regime of unelected technocrats who essentially answer to no one.
Immigration is just one part of the problem. Under current EU regulations, anyone from an EU member country can come to Britain. When Polish citizens got the right to come, experts forecast that up to 13,000 might arrive. Instead, more than 600,000 showed up.
There's nothing wrong with Poles. They're smart and enterprising. But many British people still cling to the quaint notion that it's okay to privilege their own citizens over foreigners – even nice ones. They do not believe this makes them racist. They believe that their own elected leaders, and not some supranational institution, should have the right to say who comes to their country and how many. This doesn't seem unreasonable to me. In Canada, we believe that too.
Leavers also worry that Angela Merkel's deal with the Turks over refugees will open the door to EU membership for Turkey, which would mean any Turkish citizen could settle in Britain. Prime Minister David Cameron says this is reckless fear-mongering. But people who have watched the EU utterly bungle its immigration crisis are not so sure.
Mr. Cameron, along with many others, is warning that a vote to leave will be catastrophic. Britain will face massive job losses. Pensions will be at risk. Donald Tusk, the European Council president, warned that voting Leave could be "the beginning of the destruction of not only the EU but also of Western political civilization in its entirety."
But roughly half the voters don't care. They're tired of hearing the elites lecture them about their own self-interest. Is it any wonder why? The elites promised that international institutions like the EU would make the world a better place. They would make us all prosperous and protect us from nasty financial shocks. As nation-states ceded their sovereignty and nationalism faded away, the world would become more rational, more tidy and more peaceful.
So far, it hasn't worked out quite as they had hoped. And the nation state is still alive and well.