More Referendum Thoughts

A few more thoughts to follow on from last night’s post:

Turnout

Turnout is crucial. If the majority is narrow, and especially if the turnout is low, the losing side will have a very hard time accepting the result.

For example, imagine if the vote goes 55% for Leave, and the turnout is only 60%. That means that only 33% of the electorate has said they want to leave. 27% would have expressly said they don’t want to leave, and 40% abstained.

But abstention can — and in my view should — be considered as being happy with the status quo. Yes, you can argue that it means that the abstainers are happy to go with the will of the majority of voters, but for such a major change — effectively a constitutional change — I don’t think that’s a safe assumption

So there ought to have been a requirement for a minimum turnout, and/or a majority of the electorate. In fact, for something this major, I’m inclined to think that a mandate to leave should require something like a two-thirds majority — of the electorate, not just of the turnout.

Something like that was the case in the original Scottish independence referendum — approval had to be by 40% of the electorate, not just a simple majority — though not in he 2014 one. I have criticised that fact in the past, but thinking about it now it seems right.

Parliament

Of course, this referendum will not be binding on parliament. If it goes to Leave, it’s possible that a majority of MPs could vote against the legislation that would have to be enacted to start the actual departure. That would have interesting results.

And if the majority is very slim in either direction, there will be calls for another referendum. Whatever happens on Thursday, we won’t have heard the last of this for a long, long time.

Referendum Thoughts

I have, of course, been meaning to write about the referendum almost since it was called. And let’s go right back to that point: of it being called, and why it was, and whether it should have been.

It was called, as anyone can tell, because David Cameron wanted to finally end the feuding in his party over Europe. The Tory party has been at loggerheads about it for decades. I have never known a time when they weren’t fighting about it.

So Cameron promised a referendum, thinking that if they were elected he could lance the boil, as they say. In fact what has happened in the end is that the boil has grown alarmingly, become infected, and is poisoning its host.

But we shouldn’t gloat. The Tory party in its death throes could take a lot of good things down with it.

I read one piece recently that suggested that he didn’t actually want to do this. That he made the promise fully expecting a hung parliament in 2015, and then he’d be able to say that coalition partners had insisted on no referendum.

Which may well be true, but it doesn’t help us where we are now.

The poison has spread into the body politic of the whole nation, and we are all in danger of becoming infected.

Or am I stretching this metaphor too far?

So much for that. The decision we make on Thursday matters, probably more than any visit to the polls in my lifetime. A decision to leave will be irreversible.1

Not that I think we would be utterly unable to survive and thrive outside the EU. We’d get by. But we wouldn’t be the best we could be, nor in the best position we could be in.

The EU is far from perfect, but so is the Westminster parliament, the Scottish one, and every other democracy.2 But above all, if we’re inside it, we are able to influence it — specifically, our democratically-elected representatives can — but if we’re outside, all we can do is look in.

While having to abide by its oh-so-terribly-onerous regulations if we want to trade with it.3

The Guardian’s editorial today advises us to “keep connected and inclusive, not angry and isolated,” and I think we can all get behind that, surely?

Oh, and don’t let me hear any of that “both sides as bad as each other” nonsense. The Remain4 campaign has been lucklustre, certainly, and I’d have liked to see more dynamism from Jeremy Corbyn and the rest of the Labour leadership — if only to reduce the impression that it was all about Tory infighting, or that anyone should vote Leave because Cameron wants the opposite. But lacklustre does not equate to vicious, poisonous, and lying.

“Project Fear,” they called it. I even heard one of my colleagues accuse the Remain campaign of fearmongering. But fear is not being “mongered” when we have a genuinely scary situation.

To end on a more cheerful note, if you only watch one video about the matter, make it this one from John Oliver:


  1. Well, Conceivably we could, at some time in the future, petition to rejoin; but if we did do that, it would be on quite different terms from those that we’re on at present. For one thing, we’d have to join the Euro, as all accession states do. For another, we wouldn’t get the rebate that we currently get. Loath her or despise her, Thatcher did renegotiate our country’s position into a more advantageous one. We won’t need that if we’re out, of course, but we won’t get it back if we ever have to crawl back. []
  2. And the EU is democratic, despite all the lies of the Leave campaign. []
  3. Not that onerous, and if they are they’re mostly for good reasons. []
  4. And shouldn’t the opposite of “Leave” be “Stay,” anyway? []