By now you’re probably all aware of a very important event happening near the end of June. Everyone’s been talking about it for weeks, it’s being played out as we speak and it’ll have a massive impact on our lives. No, I’m not talking about the finale of Game of Thrones season six, it’s the EU referendum.
People will go to the polls on June 23rd to decide the UK’s future role in Europe.
The referendum is one of the most important democratic moments in recent history. Britain’s future as a country is at stake, which is why it’s vital everyone gets out there and votes, whichever side your ballot falls on.
But, in or out – what does it all mean?
Before we get to the fun stuff – Game of Thrones – there’s a few important things we need to understand about the referendum.
People who want to stay in the EU say we’re stronger together, that in an increasingly globalised world isolation isn’t the way to go. Their main argument is economic, that we are more secure and enjoy preferential trade agreements with our membership. They say the British job market would suffer as a result of the UK leaving the European Union.
On the other hand, the people who want to leave – which is known as Brexit, as in a British exit from the EU – think we’ll be better off on our own. They say the EU has too much power over UK laws, and they want greater sovereignty to make the big decisions that affect us in in our own country. Their argument is that the EU is undemocratic and unaccountable, and that it costs billions in taxpayers’ money ever year.
Another big issue in the debate centres around immigration. The stay camp say migration to the UK provides our job market with a ready supply of young, skilled workers, which helps offset the ageing population, boosts our economy and helps pay for our public services through taxation.
Meanwhile, the out camp argues that we need to take control of our borders to help save British jobs. They think the EU’s ‘free movement’ principle has led to an influx of cheap labour, which takes jobs away from British people and keeps wages low, as well as putting additional strain on the NHS and schools.
It’s a lot to take in, all this information being thrown at us about a mysterious institution we don’t really know much about.
Don’t worry, the EU isn’t the only place where complex power struggles play out, there’s another example which is probably far more familiar to us – Westeros. Everyone’s favourite fictional continent from Game of Thrones is also home to its fair share of regular people wondering what the fuck those in power are trying to achieve.
To try and understand the complexities of the EU referendum, I’m going to use Game of Thrones analogies to explain why the vote is so important, because 2016.
If Brussels is the capital of European politics, King’s Landing is the heart of Westerosi bureaucracy.
King’s Landing is the centre of power in Westeros, it’s the seat of the king and – in theory – is where all the big decisions regarding the Seven Kingdoms are made. Further up the continent there’s an independently-minded region with an important decision to make about its future, the North, an area that decides it wants to go it alone at the end of season one, rejecting the rule of the capital.
When the Northern lords all declare for the King in the North, Robb Stark, Greatjon Umber says about the Southern kings:
Why should they rule over me and mine, from some flowery seat in Highgarden or Dorne? What do they know of the Wall or the Wolfswood or the barrows of the First Men? Even their gods are wrong. The Others take the Lannisters too, I’ve had a bellyful of them. Why shouldn’t we rule ourselves again? There sits the only king I mean to bow my knee to, m’lords. The King in the North!
Like the Brexit backers, the North wants to leave as they think they’re being ruled over by a distant institution that doesn’t represent their values. They’re paying large amounts of tax but feel they aren’t getting anything in return, and that they’d be better off taking charge and ruling their own kingdom – returning their sovereignty. Plus, they chopped Ned Stark’s head off, the bastards.
On the other hand, the people ruling in King’s Landing feel the Realm is better off together, and that the war which would come from such a break will cost both lives (jobs, in Brexit terms) and money. This way they can help defend each other from invading armies – possibly with dragons, possibly without – by sharing intelligence on potential attacks (terrorism), and in times of need (recession) the capital can send aid.
To put it in other terms, the UK is like the Iron Islands, with Balon Greyjoy as their resident Nigel Farage. He constantly prattles on about the Old Ways, and how they are being eroded by a foreign institution who have removed his power and stopped the Ironborn from honouring their traditions. For him, King’s Landing banning reaving and raiding is the same as the EU regulations limiting British fishing rights.
And then there’s immigration, one of the defining debates of the referendum. In the show, the people of the North became fed up with wildlings raiding their land, and use a massive wall to keep them at bay. Similarly, the leave campaign want to limit the amount of migrants coming to the UK – although they might stop short of building an actual massive wall, Donald Trump-style, they want to create a figurative wall at our borders to protect British jobs.
But in reality, a lot of the wildlings are fleeing to find a better life south of the Wall, away from the constant threat of death at the hands of the White Walkers – or ISIS/Assad/coalition airstrikes. As well as that, the wildlings that Jon Snow lets through the Wall have proved very useful, assisting him massively – I’m looking at you Wun Wun – on his quest for revenge against Ramsey Bolton (helping to boost the economy in real terms).
Also, when there’s a long winter King’s Landing and other cities don’t want overcrowding – like there was during the War of the Five Kings – as there’s only a limited supply of food, shelter and healthcare. But others might argue that it’s their duty to look after people who are less fortunate than themselves, who are fleeing war to find a better life, regardless.
Another argument is for the economic benefits of being in the EU. The remain campaign says there will be a prolonged recession if we leave, with many jobs lost, which is a similar argument for avoiding war in Game of Thrones, although for people in Westeros the reality is a lot more brutal.
Nigel Farage has said that if we leave the EU we can follow Norway’s example, and become like one of the Free Cities of Essos, which enjoy independence but also good trade links with the Realm. Others say these trade links aren’t guaranteed, would take a while to negotiate leaving us in economic limbo, and that if we left, European countries will make things hard for us to deter other states from leaving.
Then there’s the Iron Bank of Braavos, the entity which lends money to the Seven Kingdoms in times of need – or the European Central Bank as it’s known IRL. The War of the Five Kings added to the Realm’s already huge debt to foreign banks, in a similar vein to the recent global recession.
As with Greece’s recent bailout, the ECB is willing to help out with this debt, but only if the country accepts its strict repayment plan and adopts a programme of austerity for its economy – the Iron Bank also has a fearsome reputation for collecting its debts, often funding the enemies of people who owe it money.
At the end of the day, the common folk in both scenarios just want a peaceful life with secure jobs and shelter. With the EU referendum, it seems that both the leave and remain camps think their particular stance will secure these goals – leaving will free up jobs for British workers and staying will create more jobs through trade and partnership with the EU.
In Game of Thrones these two opposing parties would settle their dispute with war, luckily we live in less brutal times and will rely on a public vote to determine our future.
Whichever way you’re planning on voting, just make sure you do. And when you’re placing your ballot in the box, just think yourself lucky that The Mountain isn’t raiding your village looking for EU sympathisers.