Britain seems to be a country confused about its identity, an identity crisis that runs deeper than whether to leave or remain.
We are told we are the fifth largest economy in the world but with economic cuts and pressure on public services we feel anything but prosperous. We are proud that the city of London is the financial capital of the world but remain suspicious of those who work in finance and the banks. Is London’s success something to be proud of?
We are told that our armed forces are some of the best in the world but the recent forays into Iraq and Afghanistan leave us feeling bruised. And is the cost of trident too high a price to play for a seat at the top table? Two aircraft carriers but currently without any planes seems the perfect symbol of our uncertainty on the global stage.
We like to see ourselves as a relaxed, welcoming, generous, liberal society who dig deep for Children in Need and Comic Relief but we are wary of migrants and refugees. Fear easily comes to the fore and hints of racism are not always completely hidden. We are proud of our welfare system but anxious lest “others” exploit it, suspicious of an “undeserving” poor. We are proud of the NHS but passive as it is increasingly privatised.
We surprised ourselves by our success in both organising and taking part in the London Olympics but so often on the global sporting stage we seem hesitant and inconsistent and never more so in the game we invented, football. We boast big team names, but little success in Europe and we cannot forever keeping talking of 1966.
We claim to be proud to be British but the Union has never felt so fragile. We promote the devolution of power but our anxious about our different nations gaining independence. We say we want to be together but often act separately, focusing on our differences, struggling to affirm the common good preferring to affirm individual rights.
And the Church, perhaps because it is the Church of England, seems equally confused. Does it want to be the focus of the nations diffused and unfocused spirituality or does it want to focus on mission and evangelism, banging the drum of faith and “being different”?
Leave or Remain we lack a clear vision of the kind of nation we want to be and come 24th June that will not have changed except that our divisions will be more obvious. We will always be part of Europe and yet feeling slightly set apart. We will cast around for a global role but still need partners and be uncertain who they should be and dream of more than we can achieve. We will remain a proud people but unsure who we want to share these lands with. We will strut our stuff on the global stage, uncertain of the part we will play and worried that others will take the leading roles.
In or out will not answer the deeper more important question. Until we can unite around the kind of nation we want to be, until we can understand our own national identity, we will not truly know if we need to leave or remain. The only thing that is becoming ever clearer is our confusion.