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.
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