In just over a week, the UK is either going to make the monumental decision to leave the European Union, or the rather less dramatic choice to stay. The long term implications of leaving are, to be honest, largely unknown and I don't personally believe anyone who makes any grand predictions about what might happen either way - the variables and unforseen 'black swans' are simply too complex to calculate with any certainty. But, on balance, as much as I hate the prospect of TTIP, I think we have to stay for economic (in the short term we will probably be worse off if we don't), ideological (I am not inherently suspicious of foreigners) and personal (my Dad is a Dutch passport holder) reasons. However it's dressed up, the campaign for leaving is fundamentally grounded in prejudice and insularity, and no good can come from that.
But this is not what this post is about. This post is about all the other things you wish the government would hold a referendum on. All the things of critical national significance that say "Britain!", about which we don't really get any choice. Here are mine, in reverse order of frivolity:
Age of starting school. This is a personal bugbear of mine having a nursery-nurse mother who worked in a reception class and observed the behaviour of her charges for many, many years. Please could we stop pushing our children into formal literacy and numeracy education at 4 years old? Some kids thrive, but many, particularly boys, and summer-born kids, really don't. Britain has one of the youngest formal school starting ages in the world, despite overwhelming evidence that at best, it confers no advantages, and at worst, it's actively damaging. We are doing our kids no favours whatsoever by trying to get them to sit still and learn their ABCs when they should be running about and digging holes and making mud pies. Let's vote to raise the age to six - or even better, seven.
The voting system. Oh wait, we already had a referendum on that, it didn't actually give a viable alternative and nothing changed. Is it naïve to hope that we might get to move to proportional representation in my lifetime?
The Monarchy. Should we keep our lovely old queen and her faux pas prone hubby, or should we pack them off to a nice retirement village somewhere in Buckinghamshire and elect a shiny new President instead? Prince Charles and his meddling homeopathy-promoting ways aside, I personally have no real issue with the monarchy and I'm oddly fond of Her Maj because she looks a bit like my dear departed Nanna. They do cost a bit though (between £40m and £334m according to this article) so I would be intrigued to hear their "remain" campaign. "One offers excellent value for money by single handedly sustaining the luminescent British hat and handbag industry. Also, someone has to wear all the crowns around here."
The Name. I live in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the 'United Kingdom' or 'the UK'). However, it is also known as Great Britain, Britain or 'GB' for short, even though these terms technically exclude Northern Ireland. Furthermore, I live in the British Isles, which includes Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. And in England, which doesn't include any country except, well, England. So I am British. But also English. But not a UKer. Or British Isleian. Oh no no. Our official name is cumbersome, the abbreviations are nondescript and the way we describe our countr(ies) is deeply confusing for UK nationals and foreigners alike. I say we should hold a referendum on whether to simplify things. Yes = Keep all of the above. No = change our name to the Queensdom of Britain, or QB for short. Snappy, feminist, and patriotic. Though it might be rather short lived if the referendum above votes to kick out the royals. Republic of Britain (ROB) anyone?
The House of Commons debating style. Simple question: should MPs continue to debate like puerile public schoolboys? Yes / No?
National Dress. As many people like to point out, the UK does not really have a national costume. Sorry, let me revise that: England does not have a national costume (the Scots having kilts, the Northern Irish twiddly Celtic attire and the Welsh those odd black hats). My former (English) boss used to get a lot of invites to foreign embassy receptions instructing her to wear "Formal Wear or National Dress". We always puzzled over this. Would she go Beefeater or Grenadier Guard? Morris Dancer or Inebriated "Slapper" Inappropriately Attired for January? She was in her 50s, so we sadly always played it safe and went for formal evening wear. A small part of me is very sad I never got to see her in a bearskin hat or jingly bell-bedecked pantaloons, though I am very glad we avoided any form of boob tube. In the wryly observed "International Day" episode of Peppa Pig ("America, Russia, Spain and Greece won't share the sandpit!"), Freddy Fox dresses as a blue helmeted policeman to represent Great Britain (the UK, England etc, etc.). Which is fine, but like Beefeater and Grenadier Guard, that's a uniform, not national dress. SO, I think a bunch of British designers should be set the challenge of designing England a national costume (unisex for true
comedy value equality), and then we hold a referendum to vote for the best one. I'd be campaigning for Vivian Westwood.
The winner of the Great British Bake Off final. OK, I think I have almost certainly strayed from my "issues of critical national significance" remit. Or maybe this is actually the most important one on the list? Either way, let's stop.
Any other suggestions?