One of the biggest challenges facing voters in the EU referendum is the matter of how to pull together all the different aspects that they might consider before making a final vote choice.
In particular, the issue of EU membership is one that covers most areas of public policy – from the economy to foreign policy, immigration to regional development – as well as raising important questions about the type of democracy we have, legitimacy and accountability.
At the same time, it is evident that many people don’t feel they have enough information to make judgments regarding such matters. With both sides in the campaign seeming – at times – to be more interested in criticising each other than having a meaningful debate, that situation hasn’t really improved very much.
It was precisely because of such concerns that the UK in a Changing Europe programme was set up: to provide impartial and independent information, enabling the public and campaigners to have a better sense of what the facts really say, rather than how they might be spun.
Throughout the campaign, the programme has produced lots of materials to help you make an informed decision and now we’ve added another tool to help.
Voter Advice Applications (VAAs) have been used for several years now, mainly in general elections, to help voters understand how their personal policy preferences reflect those of the various political parties: basically showing the most suitable vote choice. Now, working with Kieskompas, one of the world’s leading VAA developers, we have created a VAA for the referendum.
By answering a short series of questions, we can give you a sense of how much you lean one way or the other on the issues at hand. In addition, you can choose which issues you feel are most important to you and use those to weight the outcomes. In short, it gives you a better sense of where you sit in this vote.
This is a really useful tool, for two main reasons:
Firstly, as we’ve already said, trying to put together all the different thoughts you might have about this vote is not a simple matter. How can you balance what one side say about the NHS with what the others say about the price of food? Our VAA helps you get to the heart of these issues.
Secondly, it’s not a recommendation to vote one way or the other. That might sound odd, but in keeping with our mission to help inform debate, we don’t have a view on what the best outcome might be. Instead, precisely because this tool cuts through a lot of the noise in this campaign, it gets you to confront your ultimate choice.
Any referendum is an over-simplification of the world: can we really boil any important political issue down to a yes/no or remain/leave choice? Think of the Scottish independence referendum and the questions that it raised about what either choice ‘meant’. And that’s also true here.
Next Thursday’s vote isn’t an end; it’s a staging post for a bigger debate about where the UK is heading and what sort of society we’re trying to build. Our tool is intended not only to help you get your bearings on the referendum, but to make you think about all that will come as a result of your vote.
By Dr Simon Usherwood, senior fellow UK in a Changing Europe