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? []
Referendum Thoughts

The night after, and shame

Well how the hell did that happen?

There are two questions there:

  1. How could the opinion polls be so wrong? and
  2. Why did all those people make such bad choices?

On the radio they were talking about “shy Tories” as an answer to 1. That’s a term that was coined after the 1992 election, apparently, to describe all those people who voted Tory but who had never let anyone know that that was what they were planning. I remember the aftermath of that one, and the thing that struck me was all those people I worked with who read the Telegraph “for the sport”; and how smug they looked that morning.

I became wise to that. But nowadays no-one comes into work with a paper any more, so it’s harder to tell such things. And how would it help, even if they did and you could?

The thing is, the pre-election polls must have been deceived.

Of course, no-one is obliged to tell the truth to a pollster. No-one is obliged to even answer their questions. But if you do agree to answer their questions: why would you lie?

I can think of only two possible reasons. Maybe you want to deliberately skew the poll results. But that seems unlikely. Sure, some people will feel like that; a few. But not lots. Not enough to actually have a deceptive effect.

And the other reason why, if you answered, you might lie; the only other reason I can think that might make people lie to a pollster.

Because you’re embarrassed about your answer. Or stronger: because you’re ashamed of it.

Shame can be a powerful influencer.

And it makes sense that people would be ashamed of voting Tory. Most of us were brought up to know that we shouldn’t be selfish; that sharing is best, and just being out for yourself is bad. We learn that at our mother’s knee, generally.

This tweet from Irvine Welsh sums up what I think is a good approach;

If you’re reasonably comfortably off, and you’re voting for the party that you think is going to make you better off — no matter how wrong you might be;1 and if you’re doing it mainly because you think that — then you are selfish and ought to be ashamed of yourself.

And in that attempt to answer the first question, I appear to have answered the second one as well. Why did all those Tory voters make such bad choices?

Selfishness.

It’ll hurt us all.


  1. And that’s a whole nother discussion. []
The night after, and shame