My mother and the EU

Published: Feb 29 , 2016
Author: Stephen White

We have a problem with my mother. She is a gregarious 90 year old, has successfully lived on her own since my Dad died 10 years ago, she is full of life and bright as a button, lots of friends, goes out to play cards five times a week. Until three weeks ago. Her arthritic knees gave up, and she became virtually immobile. She can hobble around her small apartment with the aid of a 3-wheeled ‘walker’, but the stairs are impossible, and she lives one floor up in a building without an elevator. She has become housebound.

So she and the family have some decisions to make. Do we try to find a ground floor flat, which would allow her to go out, at least as far as a taxi which could take her to her friends and the shops? Should we aim for a warden assisted flat, where there would be a speedy rescue service if she fell over. Or should we find a residential care home where she could make new friends and spend the rest of her life (and we hope it will be a long one) being looked after.

The answer, to a large part, depends on whether we take a shorter or longer view. Installing her in a more accessible flat works as long as she has some mobility, but if that mobility goes altogether we will then have to move her again, to a care home.  Or maybe we would then employ a carer who would come to live in, in which case we need now to choose the new flat with living accommodation for the carer, if we want to avoid the upheaval of her having to move again.

Last week I asked her what her preference was. ‘I don’t know’ she said. ‘I have no experience of this situation and I don’t know what is going to happen in the future, so how can I know what the best decision will be?’

Last weekend David Cameron brought back a deal from his summit with the leaders of the 27 other EU members, on the basis of which he felt he could recommend to voters that Britain should stay in the EU. As predicted a number of his cabinet colleagues, and many others, came out publicly with the opposite recommendation. The electorate will vote In or Out in a referendum on June 23rd, and until then both sides will batter us with facts and figures about the dangers of taking the opposite position to their own.

They need to start thinking like my mother.

A classic example of woolly thinking about the EU came from Theo Paphitis, a well-known UK  businessman talking on the Question Time programme on BBC TV last Thursday. Answering a question about whether David Cameron has done enough to persuade the public to vote to stay in the EU he said ‘At the moment I just have not got a (clue) which side to go on……….When will we be told the facts? Not scaremongering that the earth is flat and that if we leave the EU we will fall off the edge, or that Brexit is the best thing since sliced bread………There have been no facts.’

Sorry to disappoint you Theo, but there are no facts, because this decision is about a future event, and unless you are a registered clairvoyant the best you can do is form an opinion based on a mixture of historical facts (of which there are too many to assimilate, not too few) and hypothesis. What might be best for Britain, and for the EU depends on so many unknowns. What if the UK economy collapses? What if Russia invades Ukraine proper? What if the Eurozone disintegrates? What if Donald Trump is the next US President?

So those politicians who are categorical about what will happen in terms of sovereignty, our ability to re-renegotiate, the legal status of the deal before treaty changes and so on if we stay In or vote to Leave are talking through their bottom halves. Like my mother they have no experience of a scenario like this, nor of which of their hypotheses will actually play out. Scotwork’s experience of watching thousands of negotiations every year is that however many ‘What Ifs’ you plan for, what actually happens is likely to be something you didn’t see coming! That doesn’t mean that planning is a waste of time, but it does mean that retaining flexibility of approach is all-important.

And one more comparison with my mother’s situation. She knows that the decision she has to make is affected by the time frame. The best decision for the next 2 years, whilst she still has some mobility, might become a poor decision if she then has to go through a second upheaval because she subsequently cannot continue to live on her own. Similarly what is best for Britain has to be measured against a time line – are we talking best for the next 5 years, 15 years or 50 years?

Politicians on both sides need to wise up and take advice from my mother. She has the humility to know that’s she doesn’t know the right answer to everything but that she does know how to go about thinking things through. She won’t pay any special heed to family members who take dogmatic positions, instead she will carefully evaluate the opinions she hears and then quietly make her own mind up.

We should not be surprised. In the words of comedian Peter Kay ‘If it’s not one thing it’s your mother’.

Stephen White



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