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When should people stop pushing back against a democratic vote? May 10, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Reading William Keegan in the Observer recently he was still arguing that the Brexit referendum could be overturned or halted, or rather the vote could be, and that if there were significant falls in public opinion in favour of it that would be a different matter.

I have to admit I don’t agree. I think that matters have moved on. That indeed the vote itself was legitimate and that it should be respected.

That said one of the most puzzling aspects of the Brexit referendum, and indeed the Trump victory, was a sense put about by those who were victorious, that somehow any opposition to the outcome is illegitimate.

There was an hint of it in a discussion on here recently in relation to ‘settled will of the British people’ in relation to Brexit. But I think those of us who are leftists and progressives should be dubious about such concepts.

For a start let’s take elections – which are in and of themselves not the final word politically. It is entirely legitimate to oppose the outcome of an election politically. This is a fundamental tenet of democracy after all.

Referendums are slightly different in that a proposition is put and voted upon by citizens. Ignoring for the moment issues relating to geographic and political units which are thrown up by the Brexit referendum in Northern Ireland and Scotland, it is important, I believe, to accept the legitimacy of such votes and their democratic power.

However a referendum isn’t and cannot be the last word either. Those of us who campaigned and voted for progressive positions on abortion and divorce in the 1980s didn’t fold our tents when referendums went against us. To have done so would have been absurd, not least because voters aren’t static enduring across time. When it was possible politically to bring another referendum it was brought. In the case of abortion it kept being brought – unfortunately to no hugely useful effect. With divorce it was about a decade before that returned to the political agenda.

And here there’s a key point. There was, despite the narrowness of the vote in favour, a broad societal acceptance of that vote. In other words despite those against it being defeated there wasn’t sufficient political and/or other momentum to push it back onto the agenda. That’s not necessarily always going to be the case but I can’t foresee it returning in any meaningful period of time.

Whereas with other issues that acceptance is lacking. And issues remain contested even when votes are won (or lost). I can’t help but think that Brexit might be one such.

I think democratic legitimations should not see a second referendum on the issue for another five to ten years. I sympathise with those who would seek a second referendum but it seems to me that a better way would be by a genuine vote in the British Parliament on the ultimate agreement.

By genuine I mean one which would accept the essential nature of the referendum result – that the vote was for exiting the EU as a member, while also accepting that the shape of matters beyond that simple fact were open to democratic consideration.

That doesn’t mean that an EEA/EFTA style position would be the only option, though given the general disposition of those elected to the British Parliament on these issues that would be the most logical and reasonable one. But it would at least honour the will of the referendum result.

Unfortunately the rhetoric to date has been for anything but those sort of approaches – instead diving headlong towards the hardest of hard Brexits. Perhaps all will be sunshine and light but I’m not betting on it. And again, in a way, in this discussion the core issues of Brexit are beside the point and used only to illustrate the necessity for accepting democratic votes.

But, it is entirely reasonable for people to oppose the Brexit referendum vote. After all that is precisely what those who opposed EEC membership in the 1970s did. They – entirely legitimately – worked to undermine that vote from then on. One can dislike what they did and how they did it but that was their right. It is – admittedly – a bit hard to take the rhetoric of ‘we’ve won, now shut up’ from those who were only very recently on the other side of the fence. But it shouldn’t be accepted as the last word. That is intrinsic to any meaningful concept of democracy.

But that said there are better and worse ways of marshalling ones resources – Those in the Bremain camp might do well to accept that politically a second referendum any time soon is a non-starter and work towards building broader and deeper campaigns that will in time allow for a reconsideration of the vote last year while pressurising for a more rational settlement in the immediate to medium term in regard to the relationships between the UK and the EU and indeed between constituent parts of the UK and the EU.

And ultimately while not accepting a vote – particularly one so close – as the ‘settled will’ there’s the issue of recognising that political and other environments do change – that votes themselves can reshape dynamics in unpredictable ways.

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Comments»

1. GW - May 10, 2017

..a second referendum any time soon is a non-starter…

Sure, it will never happen – given the likely position after the coming British elections.

However British Labour should none the less call for a referendum once the results of the negotiations or the failure of negotiations is known in early 2019.

Why? To ensure the the UKIP Tories own the problem, even if they reject the a demand for a further referndum, as they will.

It should never be allowed to be forgotten that the first Brexit referendum was a Tory party wheeze that went wrong, and UKIP and the billionaires behind them only won it by racism, anti-immigrant hate and voter suppression via social media.

If Labour doesn’t put clear blue water between them and the Tory Brexit then any comeback after 2019 will be all the harder. When the results of Brexit become clear the charge of complicity will be hard to combat.

And if they don’t demand further democrat input in a referendum in which people know what their voting on, the process will be portrayed as some kind of national destiny by the Tories and their press, and Labour will be irrelevant whatever it says.

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2. 6to5against - May 10, 2017

Having read this during the week…
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/07/the-great-british-brexit-robbery-hijacked-democracy

..while remembering this… https://www.theguardian.com/politics/reality-check/2016/may/23/does-the-eu-really-cost-the-uk-350m-a-week

…and recalling that the referendum never had constitutional status, I’m really not convinced that there shouldn’t be another vote.

When negotiations are done and a choice must be faced between
a. a disastrous WTO-controlled exit
b. an exit that retains most of the characteristics of membership, with similar budget contributions and no extra control of immigration, or
c. another vote,

I think the revote could then be an attractive option. But not unless the groundwork is now laid for the concept.

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