pseudomonas: Ostrakon against Themistocles. (ostrakon)
[personal profile] pseudomonas
We don't have referendums* in the UK very much. Maybe we'd be more adept at dealing with them if we did. Who knows? So I'm talking on the basis of the representative sample of one referendum in recent times that actually passed.

There seems to be a view that a referendum passing on a matter makes it… real. One gets the idea that if we voted in a referendum to repeal the laws of gravity, the government would even now be reassuring people that weightlessness means weightlessness and of course it'll happen, it'd be undemocratic to suggest otherwise. We voted to leave the EU without losing jobs, so that's what we'll do! We voted to leave the EU without a brain drain, so that is what must happen!

The other view I see around is that this is a solemn overriding pressure; an irresistible force against which no objection is immovable. Brexit means Brexit! If it costs 5% of GDP, so be it! If it costs 15% of GDP, so be it! If it leads to a breakdown in foreign relations and influence, so be it! If it necessitates declaring war on France, so be it! If it calls up the Great Old Ones to devour the residents of all coastal local authorities, then, well, you get the idea.

The question "what price is worth paying or not paying" for Brexit is one that is never answered because the Government is still trying to kid us that there's not even a possibility that things might just not go the way they want.

I readily admit that I'm one of those Remoaner types who thinks that a bad outcome is very likely. But I think that even an ardent Brexiter with their head screwed on right ought to be taking the position:

a) It is bad to go against a democratic referendum.
b) Even so, there are some things which are worse than going against a referendum result.
c) There are various outcomes to the process. Some are bad. (You might well think the bad ones are less likely than I do — but I think any honest observer admits they're not impossible)
d) However much you think that a referendum result is a good thing and ought to be honoured, there are some outcomes that make it on balance not worthwhile.

My position on (d) is "we need to have a grown up discussion on what price is worth paying for what kind of Brexit".

The government's position on (d) seems to be "it's literally impossible for this situation to arise because that would mean going against a referendum". And we're back, circuitously, to the reality-bending powers of referendums. Weightlessness means weightlessness.

But don't worry. Everything will be OK because we voted for it to be OK.




* Or referenda. I don't mind.
Negotiations. Markets. Diplomacy. Whatever.
Who knows? Maybe it will all be OK.
Thought experiment that is deliberately extreme: there is a consultative referendum to sacrifice every firstborn child to placate the gods. A democratic one. It passes. You are the PM. Is your first act on hearing the result to whip out your cleaver?


Comments policy: This is not the place to debate the merits of Brexit per se, there are approximately eleventy million other places to do that. It's to discuss how one should *respond* to a referendum in various circumstances. Also, be nice. Also also, do not be Steven Kitson.

Date: 2016-10-27 06:59 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
But presumably an 'ardent Brexiteer' by definition will have already weighed up what they think are the likely outcomes and decided that on balance leaving the EU is worthwhile, and that's why they voted to Leave in the referendum. That is, an 'ardent Brexiteer' doesn't want to leave the EU because 'it would be bad to go against a referendum vote', they wanted to leave the EU on the merits of the question, and would still want to leave it even if the vote had gone the other way.

The person you want to address your question to is not an 'ardent Brexiteer' but rather someone who was either neutral on the question or who voted Remain, but who now thinks we should leave because it is more important to follow a referendum vote, even one they don't personally disagree with.

Date: 2016-10-27 06:59 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Sorry, meant to add: someone like our current Prime Minister, in other words.

Date: 2016-10-28 01:37 am (UTC)
gerald_duck: (by Redderz)
From: [personal profile] gerald_duck
There is also an argument that uncertainty is worse than almost anything else. By that thinking, stating what will happen as soon and as definitively as possible may be as important as what it is decided will happen.

Date: 2016-10-28 10:45 am (UTC)
po8crg: A cartoon of me, wearing a panama hat (Default)
From: [personal profile] po8crg
I think you've hit the nail on the head.

People talk as if democracy was a superpower. As if we could vote to go to Mars and then we wouldn't actually need a space program; the vote would be all that would be required.

Date: 2016-10-28 01:06 pm (UTC)
ptc24: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ptc24
I'm thinking back to ancient Athens, what was the vote... ah yes, Mytilene.

The Athenians had captured Mytilene - a city-state that had tried to escape from their hegemony. They wondered what to do about it, and there was a vote on the matter, and they voted to exterminate all the men and sell the rest into slavery. A ship was sent out with the orders to carry this out.

The next day some Athenians had a change of heart, and narrowly voted not to do that. A second ship was sent out, with a double crew for extra speed and through-the-night rowing, and reached Mytilene in the nick of time.

With Parliament, or Athenian-style direct democracy, or other setups where decisions can be swiftly made and remade, there's always a chance of changing your mind, when the consequences of a policy become clearer. The trouble with referenda is they take a lot of time and money to redo... and the winning side is often very reluctant to allow a re-run. It's like they want a broken decision-making system.

I'll give the ardent Brexiteers one thing - if you wanted to play Chicken with the EU, then having a referendum and then being ardent about not having another one is a way of trying to implement the "throw the steering wheel out of the car" gambit. Whether or not this is a good thing to be doing is left as an exercise for the reader.

Date: 2016-11-04 08:20 am (UTC)
ggreig: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ggreig
The only sensible way out for parliamentarians is to offer a second referendum after negotiations, to allow the people to have second thoughts. While going against the result of a consultative referendum would be constitutionally possible, it's not good politics - and it's disastrous politics after months of politicians saying "We must do this!". The opportunity, such as it was, has passed.

In Scotland, where sovereignty is considered to lie with the people, not parliament, it'll be interesting to see what the effect of a 62% Remain vote is. Can't get a much clearer indication of the will of the people than a referendum result.

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