Referendum

Things have progressed since my earlier post on the subject of the UK EU referendum. Out and about in the pubs and cafés people are discussing this issue, Really there is nothing like actually having a say in an issue to provoke debate. Opinions are flailing around quite madly in such a complex issue, I know people who were decided but are now not so sure.

I was in Scotland during the run up to the recent Scottish independence referendum, aside from the distortions, lies and silliness of the media campaigns, yet normal people were discussing the issue. I met a number of Scots whom whilst aware of the whole Scottish independence thing, had never given the issue any serious consideration as a possibility themselves. What was interesting, is how many people, having thought about it decided on independence. The opinion polls suggested this with the ‘YES’ percentage steadily rising up to polling day. In the end it took a dramatic last minute gesture from the UK establishment, which may have swayed a few doubters enough to give the ‘No’ vote the edge.

So, it seems this is now happening across the UK: In Wales politics is now an everyday issue: there are the Welsh government elections coming up in May, the steel crisis causing major concerns, the UK government determined to enact a range of controversial and unpopular reforms early in the UK parliamentary term, the elephant in the room  of international treaties like TTIP & CETA, not to mention continued concerns about the European migrant crisis and an increasingly unstable world. All of these things could influence the EU vote, which aren’t really about the fundamental question of whether the UK should remain a member of the EU or leave.

What many of the discussions concerning the EU, often get around to is the subject of democracy. I am an advocate of democracy. The idea of the population making collective decisions about the direction and rules of society as a whole, rather than a political elite wielding all the power, makes a lot of sense, it seems a fair system. The ancient Greeks, invented democracy, and started with citizens each having an equal vote on every issue of the day. Essentially this is what referenda are, giving everyone a choice over a single issue. I believe it would be healthy for democracy to have referenda regularly, on every major change in policy. These days, it should be fairly easy and inexpensive to enable this, through public libraries hosting the ballot.

Political establishments don’t like referenda as they involve the establishments giving up a little bit of power to the people. Even this government, in giving this referendum did so for political, rather than democratic reasons, they have refused to have referenda on other important issues. So, why do democratic political parties, when in power not really like democracy? I think the answer is partly that democracy prevents them from enacting from their own ideological agenda, whereas the people, the democratic body as a whole are not ideological and will make decisions based on more pragmatic criteria. The ‘people’ generally distrust the political class and generally view them as doing a rather poor job. Given this lack of true democracy, there is perhaps a tendency to vote for more democracy.

It may be generally true that at referenda people will vote for more democracy. The strong performance of the Scottish independence question was fundamentally about more democratic accountability. The Greek Eurozone bailout referendum was about more democracy for Greece. so, this brings me to what I find really odd about the Brexit campaign.

Often the Brexit campaigners put forward fine words about the merits of democracy. On this they are right, in principle, the UK leaving the EU should increase democratic accountability to the people, if we leave aside economic arguments and just look at democracy. My point in my previous post is that the UK isn’t very democratic either. So surely for the Brexit campaign to win, all it has to do is commit to increasing UK democracy, whether through finally implementing some proportionality into our voting system, or a genuine move to make the UK more federal. If this was promised, I would then be strongly tempted to support Brexit. However, that the Brexit campaigners are not supporting electoral reform, this causes me to doubt their intentions. It seems the question is not about democracy but increasing the power of the UK establishment, rather than the EU establishment. To the rest of us humble subjects, it makes no difference if our ruling regime is UK based or EU based.

Anyway, I still think the result will be close and too clouded by current issues to actually represent a decisive consensus. however whether yes or no ‘wins’ may make quite a lot of difference both for the countries of the UK and the countries of the EU.