Often described as emotive and even labelled divisive, the continuing campaign for Scottish Independence in the context of the Westminster government’s push for Brexit, throws up questions on what is democratic choice and rightful decision making based upon it?
The Indicative vote for Brexit was as we are reminded, 17 million voted to leave. Experts in the economy Herr Gove will have us believe. However of course 16 million voted Remain and in fact only 37% of the total electorate voted Leave.¨
Now let us put this back into context of 2014 , the “indyref”, where a solid No was 55%, on a relatively high turn out of the electorate. What if this indyref, or a future one, achieved a 52% Yes, as Leave had? There would be no end to the bickering then about what weight for politicians to decide this national divorce, could be placed on such a slim majority.?
Referendums (referendii to be latinly correct) need an overhaul to have the punching weight to be more decisive tools for governments across Europe. Otherwise we risk the tyranny of the minority which we have with Brexit today. That a minority government, as in fact the UK has been for many decades with the first-past-the-post electoral system and three main party system. Furthermore we now have a minority parliamentary government due to May’s disastrously misjudged snap election which is being propped up by a strange, “special interest” minority from the region which is Ulster!
PR ( proportional representation ) isn’t much better than first past the post in many ways, it can lead to indecisiveness, and over representation of minority interests, which we otherwise rarely encounter in the UK, but such of course as the DUP ‘s lever they exert on public spending in Northern Ireland now.
Referendums are good things, we haven’t had that many in the UK or Scotland, but they are useful as indicators of public opinion on very important issues, or on such issues that are cross party and of course as with Cameron’s choice, divide parties internally and need to be opened for a more direct level of democracy which is then indicative to our elected democracy via law making in Westminster. In fact it has to be asked why Tony Blair didn’t give the country a referendum on the second Gulf war? After all it exposed more British citizens to danger and death than the EU ever has or will.
Back then to indyref, and what if that momentum had carried on from 37% start, up and beyond to 52% on a turn out of well over half the Scottish electorate, but not 80% say? If this had been the 2014 context then there would have been no end of bitter fighting over it, and the SNP being a liberal party would have not only this to cope with and sooth say and deliver concession and reasurement to the large 48% minority, they would have had the Oil Price Crash of later that year to contend with too. It would have been a hell time with attempts to appease the baying crowd of mixed English white settlers, war veterans, Orange Lodgers and general project fear believers. Doubt can be raised with retrospect, if there was any chance of an indicative Yes in 2014 ever coming to fruition.
Far wiser the SNP would have been if they had for seen the Leave vote of 2016. However that kind of crystal balling was impossible given the opinion polls, and even Nigel Farage was “resigned” to losing half way through the night, with a wry smile, and when they won he looked positively nervous. No more being the over-paid, filibustering cynic and clown in the EU parliament. The SNP failed to make a good enough economic case for security and self sustainability, which is now being made over time and with the better input of industry who no longer think they need to worry about a second IndyRef, or at least a successful one, and for some in industry, confronted with Brexit, the option of Independence in Europe with a slight uncertainty of gaining entry to the club for a while, is preferable to being locked out the club by the ruling conservatives for several parliaments.
Really what we need in referendums ( referendii to be correct ?) can be found in the constitution of many sports clubs, local trade unions, community organisations and probably the scout movement. We need to have first and foremost a quorum of the electorate to validate the vote as something binding and not just indicative for parliament to take to debate and law. This should probably then be around 75% turn out. Less than that we start to get into questions about how valid not the overall vote for or against that wins is, but how valid the margin is. So in the Brexit vote, 72 % turned out and of those, just over half voted Leave.
We then have that methodology so wanted by the Tories to be imposed on the trade union movement, but something they themselves would never accept for their own party, parliament, the house of lords or any other organ of power or capital. Qualified majority voting, where by only a majority large enough is binding to leadership to act upon. This is sometimes taken as 66% or two thirds, and this is the Tories’ vision of imposing a leash on Trade Union power to strike. This seems to take us away from the principle of democracy that yes, there are losers as well as winners, and they should accept two key aspects of British democracy. First past the post in the constituencies, and 51% of the votes either in parliament or via the referendum mechanism we are all a bit tired of.
How then do we qualify a majority from a referendum? Should it not maybe be a majority which represents all the electorate, ie you must get 50% of the entire potential vote? So in this case Leave would need 23 million votes , or a 69% Leave? Or do we take the mean general election turn out to be quorum for a simple 1 % point majority to be accepted for example ?
Or do we factor in some kind of variance in turn out and availabiluity to vote? For example bad weather, or natural variances in turn outs, and stipulate a percent point majority via some statistical model for eliminating variance? Or should we in fact have a referendum on whether say 55% ie a ten percent point difference, becomes a mandatory threshold below which enough of the voters are so disgruntled that they wont need to accept the vote anyway?
Here we come back to the solid, brick wall safe NO vote of 2014. This to many was done and dusted, until Brexit came to mind. In the NO stats, there was a majority of 600, 000, which is more than 10% of the population as a whole. However there were a significant number of EU citizens in that vote, somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 who were afraid of losing their rights in new nation excluded from the EU. Also those who are UK nationals but had major reservations on this issue? Plus then now, those who see the potential loss of money due to Brexit and an unsure trade deal future?
The author’s preferred option then is to have a qualified majority which is set arbitrarily at 55% but reduced by a percent point at a time for every x % points nearer the total votes cast gets to 100% from a base of 75% turn out. We take a presumption that we will never get 100% and probably never over 90% turn out, so we then elect to take three thresholds up to 85% – five divided by three for each 5% above 75% who turn out, reducing the winning vote from 55% to 53.34% then 51,7% and for an 85% turn out, 50,1 %. The logic in this is clear. We reflect the will of the majority of the people who bothered to vote, tempered a little by the proportion of those who could vote who then bothered to vote. A low turn out means a higher winning margin is needed, in case there were many Don’t Knower’s out there or there were other factors such as bad weather, a football match, an unfair , or indeed illegal argument going viral.
There are more complex statistical methodologies and some clever clogs will no doubt wow some of the politicians some of the time with something they have to sell along these lines. But a kind of common sense appeal, that as you reach a presumed maximum turn out, your majority over 50% can decrease thus making the absolute margin a sizeable number of people rather than the 1 million who made up the majority for Leave the EU.
It’s been an emotive time as was the Indyref. Brexit has uncovered many things. Perhaps just how insecure England feels about her place in the world and the homeland economic opportunities. It does seem that Poles and Latvians come over with their trade and do well, while British youth don’t get apprenticeships in building or mechanics. On the other hand, does UK youth turn their back on trades, and would they work for the pay and conditions the eastern Europeans do anyway? Trades in the UK has long been peed on in a push to technocise the population of the future and turn us into a knowledge economy, Only the UK’s economy is more and more dependent on rentier economics, turning round not on production and export, but purely on our needs for a roof over out heads and to consumer foods and wares to keep ourselves feeling human.
To me Brexit is a symptom that 30 years of Neo Liberal economic policy has failed. The welfare state now pays for people to be in underemployment, thus subsidizing marginal cappuccino café business models in the service sector, and seasonal labour in production. As in Soviet Russia, ordinary people in the street are so taken in by the allure of the politicians pouting the so called free market economy, that they believe in market solutions to most ills, and they see that too big a market, the EU, with too federal a governance and especially, too much emigration from abroad to the UK, is a bad thing.
Neo Liberalism has failed larges sections of the communities in the UK and USA, the countries where governments practice the ideology most loyally of all major economies. However it rewards the upper third very well, and keeps much of the main majority in good credit with lowish interest rates, in such a way that it can win and win again.
However post finance crash, a lingering tumour resulting from too much free market, free for all anarchy , bullshitting and corruption, the right needed a new posture and that was back to Nationalism. Rally the troops behind fear of the foreign. People feel dispossessed, wages stagnant or even falling, while they see be it Mexicans or Poles making what looks like a good living in construction and services. Here you have brexit and an 8 billion dollar wall or is it a fence ?