I lived in Poland for 10 months in 2013-14. It was one of the happiest and most rewarding periods of my life. I’d like to say it was also one of the most challenging – it’s always good to push yourself, after all – but the reality is that my time in Warsaw actually felt very straightforward.
I didn’t need a visa to work there, nor were there any restrictions on my movements. I could rent a flat, pay taxes, and access healthcare, without any barriers beyond language and the occasionally daunting Polish bureaucracy. My friends were English-speaking Poles, the odd expat Brit, and a whole bunch of fellow Europeans, drawn to Warsaw by its openness, its optimism, and its thriving economy.
Almost everyone I met in Poland had friends or relatives living in the UK. They spoke with warmth and pride of the way their compatriots had integrated; of the bond between our countries, the shared history, and the cultural ties. At no point during my time there did I ever feel anything less than welcome.
A month after I came back to London, my sister and her (then) boyfriend moved to Berlin. Again, she’s found herself in a city that welcomes outsiders and speaks with enthusiasm of the role Britain can play in Europe’s future. She’s helped by her grasp of the language and our mother’s German heritage, but fundamentally she lives and works in a country where the value of a wider European community is not seriously questioned.
This is not a plea for votes. Most people reading this have already made up their minds, and a bit of EA-family nostalgia is not going to convince anyone either way. Nor is it really why I’m voting Remain – there are more serious, pragmatic reasons behind that choice, though they’re perhaps given a greater sense of urgency by my emotional attachment to the EU.
What I am saying is this. I didn’t realise quite how lucky I was to be a part of this union till I left the UK and lived abroad. I imagine that’s true of a lot of us – British and ‘European’ – because that’s how opportunity works…you don’t know it’s there till it smacks you in the face. Or passes you by. If we leave the EU, we’ll be smaller and poorer – at this point that’s not even up for debate – but we’ll also miss out on something that I’d have struggled to define before I experienced it for myself.
By a pretty overwhelming margin, my generation – and the one below it – will vote Remain tomorrow, as will the city I live in. Of that, I’m certain. When I look at my Twitter TL, my Facebook feed, my friends and family, I see people who are progressive and tolerant; who neither hate nor fear immigrants, and who reject en masse the UKIPisation of our national political discourse. The only problem? We don’t bloody vote.
And that’s the crux of it, both tomorrow and in elections to come. Look at this YouGov poll from earlier in June:
There are huge, gashing faultlines on this issue, covering geography, class, and political affiliation, but perhaps the biggest of the lot is age. If you’re under 40, you probably want to stay in the EU. If you’re over 40, you probably don’t. I said this on Twitter earlier, and I’ll repeat it again now: if that translates into a decisive ‘Leave’ victory with uniform turnout across the age groups, then we kinda have to shrug our shoulders and move on. But if it’s close – really close – and Leave ekes out a narrow win because those of us born after the last EU referendum didn’t bother to vote…well, then we only have ourselves to blame.
Get the fuck out there and vote. Basically.