October 23, 2016

Wish you were … in or out?


This is a tale, not of two cities, but of two towns, and of the people who live in them.

Aberystwyth and Blackpool are seaside resorts that — like many others in Britain — have seen better, more prosperous days. Once thriving holiday spots packed with families bearing buckets and spades, they are now somewhat faded and worn around the edges.
Both towns are far from the corridors of power, on the periphery of Britain, facing west, away from Europe; but while one is content to have its back to Brussels, the other enjoys a more positive relationship with the European Union.
The conversations going on in their bars, bus stops and barber shops reflect the political debate raging in the country as a whole: Should the UK remain a part of the EU, or go it alone?
On June 23, British people will vote in a referendum on the country’s membership of the EU. CNN visited some of the most EU-loving and hating towns to show what’s at stake. Here’s what we found…
Wales’ ‘Wild West’
Aberystwyth sits at the tightly-nipped in waist of Wales; surrounded by lush, green fields full of spring lambs and static caravans. It’s a beautiful spot, but an isolated one: “Hinterland,” a dark police drama shot in the often bleak countryside nearby, paints Ceredigion as Wales’s grimly handsome “Wild West.”
Tim Strang farms sheep and highland cattle on the county’s gorse-dotted hills. Strang moved here in the 1970s to follow his dream of getting back to the land, but says it can be a hardscrabble existence, ducking and diving to make ends meet.
“It’s a very agricultural community, heavily reliant on subsidies” from the European Union, he says, adding that many farmers like him fear that in a post-Brexit world, they’d “have to go cap in hand to Westminster for [help] … We wouldn’t be certain of getting support.”
Sitting in the boot and raincoat-packed sun room of his cozy farmhouse, he says the referendum has the potential to be “a game changer. A life changer.” A pro-EU campaigner, he says he’ll be “really surprised” if his adopted home doesn’t vote to stay.
The route down to the coast takes me through tiny villages, little more than a handful of homes clustered around a pub or chapel, the radio signal dipping in and out as I follow winding lanes, their verges crowded with bluebells and dandelions, into Aberystwyth.
It’s a bustling little town where locals stop to chat outside the stores on the main street, their conversations just as likely to be in Welsh as English.
Local councilor Ceredig Davies runs the “Mona Lisa” gift shop. Standing among the Welsh flags, jars of peppermint humbugs and daffodil-themed accessories, he says he’ll be voting to stay on June 23.
“Wales is on the extremities of Western Europe,” he explains. “We’re a deprived region. Our economy needs all the assistance it can get, and the EU provides us with a lot of help.”

He’s at pains to point out that, “even though we’re a small town on the west coast of Wales, a long way from anywhere,” Aberystwyth is proudly outward-looking and international. The local school, he says, has pupils who speak 29 languages.
There’s evidence of this attitude, too, on the promenade, where the flags of regions like Wales, with their own distinct cultures and languages — the Catalan and Basque countries, Brittany, Lapland — flutter in the breeze, “represent[ing] the richness and diversity of Europe.”

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