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.

More Referendum Thoughts

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 morning after

I wake to disappointment. I had vacillated away from a “Yes” position to some extent in the days since I wrote that I favoured it, but I can’t help but be saddened by the result. Mainly I feel let down that my countryfolk didn’t grab hold of an opportunity when they were offered it.

On the other hand, I can’t help being a little bit pleased that we’re all going to stay part of one country.

The Westminster politicians this morning are promising more devolution for Scotland, and for all the countries of the UK. Now we have to get hold of some of the energy, the political engagement that Scotland showed, and hold them to it.

To use a favourite quote form a great Scot1, it’s time for all of us to “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.”


  1. Though according to that article, he attributes it to a Canadian author called Dennis Lee []
The morning after

Andy’s unpunctuated ambiguity

Andy Murray finally reveals views on Scottish independence“, says the headline in the Telegraph. It goes on to say he “appeared to declare his support for Scottish independence”. That “appeared” is key, because the lack of punctuation and capitalisation in Andy’s tweet actually allows at least a couple of interpretations:

Huge day for Scotland today! no campaign negativity last few days totally swayed my view on it. excited to see the outcome. lets do this!

The Telegraph is clearly reading that as “‘No’-Campaign negativity…” The negativity from the “No” campaign, in other words.

But you could read it simply as “[there has been] no campaign negativity…” In other words, the absence of negativity in the campaigning (by either side or both) has left him with a positive view of the referendum.

I’d guess that the Telegraph‘s opinion is correct. But it just goes to show… if he could place a quote character like he can place a tennis ball, it would all be perfectly clear.

Andy’s unpunctuated ambiguity

Waving

Despite my positive-seeming thoughts and comments over the last few days, I can’t help but feeling today that — to paraphrase, if not exactly quote, Hunter S Thompson — the wave has begun to break, if not roll back.

And it’s all going to be so close that, whatever way the people of Scotland finally vote, they clearly are not of one mind on the matter. You begin to see why some votes require things like a two-thirds majority; or even why the 1979 referendum included the “40% rule“.

(Though again, that was not vote on independence, but on Scotland having an assembly. Who could vote against that, you’d have to wonder?1)

What has brought on this change, you’re almost certainly asking? More polls, more fearmongering headlines, and just a sense that the impetus has been lost. The yes campaign peaked too soon, you could say.

But, there’s still another week to go. Anything could happen.


  1. Perhaps the kind of person who would vote against having an elected mayor in their city, though it’s not exactly comparable. I voted in favour of having a London Mayor, but then against having an elected mayor in Hackney; it just seemed like a layer to far — though in the end it’s just a slightly-higher-profile Leader of the Council. But I can see how some people might not want what could be seen as an extra layer of administration. []
Waving

Panic in Westminster

A guy could get an over-inflated sense of his own importance, you know.

For months the polls have been suggesting that the Scottish referendum was going to go to the “No” side. Then I post [a broadly-in-favour piece](http://devilgate.org/blog/2014/09/05/oncoming-independence/), and [everything changes](http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/sep/07/scottish-independence-referendum-yes-lead).

I mean, it’s obvious, isn’t it? There _must_ be a connection.

And then [this panicky stunt by the Westminster party leaders](http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/sep/09/cameron-clegg-miliband-emergency-visit-scotland). You can’t just abandon Prime Minister’s Questions! That’s ridiculous!

Exciting days ahead.

Panic in Westminster

Oncoming independence?

A Scot abroad

For at least a couple of years people have been asking me what I think about the Scottish independence question. At least since the Edinburgh Agreement, I suppose. People down here in London, that is.

I, of course, don’t have a vote, as I don’t live in Scotland — indeed, I’ve lived in London for more than half my life. But we don’t stop being from the place we come from, and we don’t stop caring about it; so it’s reasonable to suppose I’d have an opinion.

And I do. In fact, I have a whole range of them, at different times. Sometimes I have more than one at the same time. Which is partly why I haven’t written about the independence referendum here before now.

I have been scathing in the past about people who give their political opinion as “don’t know” or “undecided”.1

But that’s exactly what I am, what I have been for the last several years: “undecided”.

Back in the 70s, when there was the original referendum, I would have voted “Yes” at the drop of a thistle, had I been old enough — indeed, I did, in the mock version we had at school. My reasoning in those days was purely based on emotion, and tied in to football and being the underdog.

In the years, the decades since then, if you had asked me whether I thought Scotland should be independent, I would probably have said yes. Most likely, most of the time. And though I stopped caring about football (and let’s face it, Scotland stopped being anything like a force in football), it was still an emotional reaction, still about national identity, about the fact that we as a country felt overwhelmed, repressed by the relative behemoth to the south.

At some point, of course, I moved there. London called and I answered yes. It didn’t change who I was, how I felt about Scotland. But it did, perhaps, give me a new way to think about how I felt about England.

Going back to the football/underdog business, it was always an us-and-them thing: we Scots always saw ourselves as different from, in opposition to, the English. And yet, when I met English people, they were perfectly fine — or a mixture of fine and not, of good and bad, of interesting and boring: the same as people in Scotland, or anywhere.

Plus, we were all British, linked by citizenship, by the NHS, by the BBC; by our shared history of literature, music, art.

(Though it was and remains (and always will be) annoying when people say “England” or “English” when they mean “Britain” or “British”. It’s not hard; the difference is quite clear.)

Constitutional matters

There’s something I left out of that list of linkages above, of course. Scotland and England were joined by two unions. The Acts of Union, in which both parliaments legislated to become one parliament, is the more important one, and the one that may be overturned on the 18th of September. But before that there was the Union of the Crowns, in which Scotland very kindly agreed that England could share its monarch.

Now, if they were going to dissolve that one (and I had a vote) I’d vote yes in a heartbeat — as long, of course, that separating the crowns meant Scotland moving to a democratically-elected head of state (or none; they’re not strictly necessary).

Yes, I would happily be a citizen of the Republic of Scotland.

But that was never on the table, of course. I don’t know whether Alex Salmond or any of the other SNP luminaries are republicans — some of them must be — but they had to keep the bluenoses on side. That’s Rangers fans, in case you don’t know; protestants; loyalists, unionists.

It must be one of the strangest states, actually: to be a Scottish person who believes in independence (and so is against the Union); but who also looks to the Scottish protestant/Rangers-supporting tradition, and is in favour of the Union of Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Do such people exist? They must, really. Indeed, I saw a video a few months back of a Rangers fan who was so pro-Union, so anti-independence that he was wearing an England football shirt (yet he was undeniably Scottish), and saying that if the vote went yes, he’d move to England.

That’s an unusual reaction, that. Here we go. “You can stick your independence up your arse,” apparently.

But on constitutional changes: I frequently find myself frustratedly wondering, how can we be asking people to vote on such matters without this kind of thing being decided first? Shouldn’t a new constitution have been drafted, the discussions on currency and European unions held, decisions made in advance? So that people would go to the polls knowing exactly what they were voting for or against.

Wouldn’t that make more sense?

I did hear someone on the radio saying essentially that my thinking was foolish, because there are some things that can only be decided after a yes vote. But I don’t think he really made the point.

The original referendum, Labour, and Thatcher

In reading up on various things Scottish for this piece,2 I discovered that part of the fallout from the seventies referendum that I linked to above was the Thatcher government. The “40% Rule”, which caused the referendum to fail (the majority had to comprise 40% of the electorate) was brought in by a Labour MP’s amendment; and when it fell, according to the Wikipedia article:

the government’s decision to abandon devolution for Scotland led the Scottish National Party to withdraw its support for the government. A subsequent vote of no confidence led to the resignation of the Callaghan government, and an election was called.

That election was the one that got Thatcher elected.

Maybe she’d have been elected at the next election whenever it happened; but maybe not. And I can’t help but think that the Labour party has a disturbing sideline in betraying the people it should be serving, and this — and the current Labour party’s staunchly pro-union stance — is an example of it. Labour should support democratic freedom and the right of small countries to govern themselves. Trouble is, so many Labour MPs are Scottish, and they can see power at Westminster slipping further and further from their grasp if they don’t have the effect of all those Scottish seats.

I can understand that, though. that aspect of potential independence worries me, too: selfishly, I want to keep Scotland as part of the UK because I fear the effect of it leaving and us losing the balancing power of its more left-wing nature. Without Scotland, the rest of the UK could be doomed to near-permanent Tory governments. Or worse; UKIP along with the extremely anti-EU rump of the Tories when they split (it will happen, the only questions are when, and how many MPs will go).

Being stuck in an RoUK that votes to leave the EU? That is distinctly unappealing

Just as a minor aside, something I had totally forgotten was that the 1979 referendum wasn’t for independence: it was only to have an assembly, which sounds a lot like the Scottish Parliament of today.

The Rest?

I used the term “RoUK” above. That’s the way people have been referring to the “rest of the UK”, meaning what’s left of the UK after Scotland leaves. But I’m not so sure that there should really be any such thing.

See, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland came into existence when the Republic of Ireland got its independence from Britain, leaving Northern Ireland still connected. But the “Great Britain” part (as a political entity, as opposed to the island): that came into existence with the Acts of Union.

Repeal those Acts and arguably Great Britain ceases to exist as a political entity; so how can the UK exist after that happens?

So rather than debating whether an independent Scotland will be able to remain in the EU will have to rejoin it from outside, we should be discussing what, exactly, will be left if Scotland leaves the union.

Salmond and the anti-personality cult

It disturbs me how many Scots seem to be basing their decision around personality. “Salmond’s a wanker”, and all that kind of thing. If the vote goes yes, Salmond can retire (arguably the SNP will no longer have a reason to exist, in fact). But anyway, governments change, they can be voted out; people die. It’s not like you’re voting to make Salmond president for life. Rather, you’re voting for the type of country that your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren will inherit.

Other voices

Before I end, some other pieces that I’ve been reading on the matter. As Irvine Welsh has said, this is a great time for political engagement in Scotland3. And Billy Bragg adds that it might be good politically for England too.

And here’s a blog by an English guy who favours Scottish independence. He also favours English and Welsh independence, it seems: the complete breakup of the UK; just look at his masthead. His blog has the slightly disturbing title of “Upholding English Honour”, but he doesn’t seem to be the little Englander that name might imply.

Mark Millar is undecided, but calls for better behaviour all round in the debate. And Jack Deighton considers the effect that the referendum might have on Scottish literature.

In conclusion

In the end, of course, my opinion means nothing. But here it is anyway. If I were living in Scotland, I’m now fairly sure that I’d be voting yes. And speaking as an attached outsider, I’m coming round to hoping that the vote goes that way; if only to see what happens next.

After all, it could be the beginning of a great adventure.


  1. That post is actually about floating voters; not quite the same thing, but not unrelated. []
  2. Weirdly, when I searched Amazon for Hugh MacDiarmid’s A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle, the second hit was My Scotland, Our Britain: A Future Worth Sharing, by Gordon Brown []
  3. That link is showing “Service unavailable” at the time of writing. But then, it’s the Evening Standard: I wish it was permanently unavailable. []
Oncoming independence?

Let’s All Say “Yes”

This morning I heard John Humphrys haul the Prime Minister over the coals regarding the behaviour of the “No to AV” campaign. Cameron tried to separate the “Conservative No” campaign from the rest of the No campaign, while failing to condemn the outright lies told by the broader campaign. It was a remarkable piece of squirming, and decidedly unconvincing.

He then went on to use the “one person one vote” argument. This asserts that under AV, some people’s votes are counted more than once. It ignores the fact that _every_ voter can specify a list of preferences, of course, but it also seems to take an over-literal interpretation of the word “count”. True, if my first preference is eliminated (under AV), my second preference is counted, which means that in some sense my ballot paper (or the entries on it) must be counted again; but ultimately the preferences I state are only applied towards one candidate. My paper only “counts” towards one person.

Alternatively, consider it a minor redefinition of what a “vote” is. Instead of meaning a single “X” placed in a single box, it means a set of one or more preferences specified on a ballot paper. “One person, one paper,” you could say.

And last night I heard a “Referendum Broadcast” by the No campaign. It was incredibly stupid, too; and again by being over-literal. It analogised an AV-based election as a horse race, in which horse A came first, but the victory was awarded to third-placed horse C. Everyone was very confused. Because AV is so complex that nobody can understand it.

[Here’s a picture](http://i.imgur.com/kk2lZ.jpg) that shows the complexities of the two systems.

Come on, say “Yes” on Thursday.

Let’s All Say “Yes”

42 referendums and and a resignation

I can’t decide on this David Davis thing. Is it just a stunt? Is he genuinely concerned enough about civil liberties to take the chance (small though it is) of losing his seat? Certainly he sounds sincere when he talks about his concerns about the growth of state power; and Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty counts him as a friend, it seems.

But as others have pointed out he has a bad reputation on some other rights votes.

Still, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’d be better than “Kelvin Mc-bloody-Kenzie”:… (as backed by Rupert Murdoch, of course).

The most concerning thing, though, is the talk to the effect that the public is in favour of 42-day detention without trial. This member of the public most certainly is not, and I’m sure I’m by no means alone. And honestly: would people who’ve really thought it through be in favour of this kind of thing? I find it hard to believe. What happened, if it’s true, to the great British sense of fair play, of support for the underdog, even of disrespect for authority? Is this another facet of the grumbling about human rights that I wrote about before?

Maybe we need to re-educate people about what is good and right. But how?

And then Ireland have voted ‘No’ to the EU treaty. I can’t help but think that this is a bad thing. The EU itself has been a net good for Europe and the world, as I’ve probably said here before. Whether these reforms will really make it better and more democratic, or not, I can’t say: I haven’t studied it.

Thing is, though, I would probably have been in favour of the EU constitution; if only because we could do with one in the UK. Admittedly, I’d want one that got rid of the monarchy and introduced an elected upper chamber in parliament, but one that further enshrined the European Convention on Human Rights would be a good start.

It would be quite difficult to amend it, mind you, since you’d need a Europe-wide referendum.

But I’m havering fancifully here: it was never meant to be that kind of constitution.

What now, then? Who knows, really. I expect they’ll either re-work it slightly and try again, or just apply various components of it without the treaty.

42 referendums and and a resignation