The campaign for a “final say” referendum has now really begun to catch fire. We can call it a “People’s Vote” or a “Third referendum” – the first one was in 1975 – but whatever we call it, it makes real democratic sense.
Many of us dislike referendums on principle because they undermine our basic constitutional principles of the sovereignty of Parliament and of representative democracy. Indeed the Independent Commission on Referendums at the Constitution Unit of University College London has just published its report and recommendations on referendums and the ways in they should and should not be used – the 2016 referendum fails on almost all the latter.
In particular the Commission’s report says that referendums “cannot replace the institutions of representative democracy. Citizens do not have the time or the resources to participate in all the policy decisions necessary for the functioning of a complex modern democracy. Representatives can dedicate time to consider such issues in great detail, engage in deliberation with other representatives and make informed decisions on a wide range of topics. Representative institutions are also needed to provide for ‘joined up’ thinking across policy areas.”
Many would say that a final decision on the package to be brought back from Brussels in the autumn should be made by Parliament. But sadly, MPs have shown that they pay far more attention to the party whip than to their own assessment about what will be best for the country and their constituents. Furthermore, the government has done all in its power to prevent Parliament having a ‘meaningful’ discussion and vote with the possibility for MPs to propose amendments to the government’s bill. In any event it looks increasingly likely that there is no Parliamentary majority for any of the main three options: Remain, No deal or the negotiated EU package. It seems that MPs may well feel that the only way forward for them is to return the issue to their constituents through referendum
And to be clear: a referendum ordered by Parliament is democratic. Democracy does not stand still. No decision is final and no Parliament can be bound by its predecessors. David Davis’ famous remark (before the referendum) that “If a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy” makes the point succinctly. We now have a vast amount of additional information on the consequences of Brexit from a host of sources, including the government’s own Department for exiting the EU (see more below on this).
We also now have a mass of very uncomfortable information from the Electoral Commission and others, about the many ways in which the Leave campaigns acted illegally by exceeding spending limits – and which are now the subject of police action against a number of individuals. We also have still unexplained questions about the huge donation received by the DUP; the clear evidence of criminal actions by Cambridge Analytica and the shadowy involvement of a range of organisations at home and abroad.
As to how a referendum would work, Justine Greening, former Conservative Minister of Education, has set out three clear questions: Remain, No deal/WTO and the EU package. She has also suggested a first preference system for voting as used in many electoral systems
We now need to bend all our efforts towards a People’s Vote. Many MPs and some ministers from all parties now support one; the Independent Newspaper calls for one and the Times seems open to it; many local Councils have voted for a referendum: Hammersmith, Liverpool, Oxford and others. Most importantly, the opinion polls show that there is now a majority for a further vote.
What to do:
– add your vote to the petition – now approaching 250,000 signatures
– if you are a Labour Party member, put up a draft resolution for the Party Conference – see below
– Support a resolution in Wiltshire Council for a People’s Vote
– Encourage family, friends and neighbours to support a People’s Vote
– Add a People’s Vote url to your email signature (https://www.peoples-vote.uk/ )