The deadline to add people to the electoral register has passed. The campaign is entering its final straight. Those of us caught up with the debate about the referendum see an end in sight after months of spending dozens of hours thinking and writing about nothing else. But up to a third of voters are yet to make up their minds.
What then, is the best use of someone’s time between now and the referendum itself?
While it might feel good to keep on taking apart the incoherent arguments of the Vote Leave crowd on Twitter, ultimately it probably helps rather little on Twitter by now. Anyone commenting there largely has their mind made up. Journalists still rather struggle to know what to do when the Leave folks say things that are just plain wrong (see this, about BBC Daily Politics today for example), but the damage is done the moment the bile comes out of the Leave campaigners’ mouths. Rather reassuringly however Nigel Farage remains deeply untrusted, especially among undecided voters. So while he might make people’s blood boil, he’s probably convincing rather few.
Those in the UK can of course volunteer to run streets stalls, events, and phone banks. But that’s not an option for those of us outside the UK. I too am also very put off by the predominant Stronger In rhetoric, so would not want to go anywhere near anything they do (and I am too much of a radical for them anyway). But by all means do that if you wish.
So what am I doing instead?
I am turning to Facebook.
Yes, Facebook. Because that is the best way I can reach people at the edges of my regular circle of friends. I am looking for what friends of mine who are already at the edge of my friendship groups are saying about the referendum – people who are former colleagues, or old friends from university or from sports clubs. People I seldom meet but sporadically communicate with on Facebook. And then when they post about the referendum I look at what they and their friends are saying. “We don’t trust either side”, or words to that effect, appear very regularly. Or “we don’t like Farage, but we do not know why we ought to vote Remain”. Or “we don’t know how the European Union works, and we would like to know.” There are also numerous concerns about Cameron, that a vote for Remain is about him – this then needs to be dismantled.
I then, as calmly and respectfully as I possibly can, take up these points one by one, entering into sometimes long debates, either with people I vaguely know, or with friends of theirs. But this personal approach, dealing with each point I hope fairly and systematically and individually, does indeed seem to work. I have firmed up two undecided voters into voting for Remain, and I have had a good bunch of responses from a lot of other people.
It’s also noticeable that all of this takes time – you cannot deal with a heart felt, deeply held concern with just a few soundbites or a leaflet. It takes clear, careful, decent, person-to-person communication, to listen to a person’s concerns and to address them.
So if you have read this post, go now straight to Facebook. Find a debate among friends and enter it, dealing with each person’s individual concerns. If you need assistance making the case, by all means pose questions here as a comment, or tweet or e-mail me. And in all cases keep it calm and civilised. But if every person reading this post can turn just one undecided voter into a Remain voter that’ll have a more major impact on this vote that no-end of Twitter argument with the antis will.