Referenda are interesting anomalies.
While Constitutional Monarchies with democratic Parliamentary Systems, like the UK (though this combination is not as democratic as it might seem), generally rely on elected politicians to vote on important issues and pass laws, occasionally MPs decide to turn over the “fate of the country” to the electorate.
There are arguments for and against direct democracy, and the idea that politicians should always be making the decisions will no doubt be scoffed at by people who believe this mentality implies that everyday people, removed from the political sphere, are incapable of making important decisions.
This, of course, is complete nonsense – after all, the electorate are the people who elect the politicians – but we must consider why certain political issues are given referenda, while a variety of minutiae laws which might more directly influence the lives of people (the upgrade of marijuana from a Class C to Class B drug, same-sex marriage laws) are decided in that elitist removed sphere, the House of Commons.
If the Brexit referendum demonstrated one thing, besides from deep ideological differences (sometimes racially and nationalistically driven) within and between separate parts of the ‘United’ Kingdom, it had been politicians’ abilities to manipulate public opinion through dystopia-esque levels of propaganda and truth-twisting. At the minute, Boris Johnson is being taken to court over lies about British EU membership expenditure, while the Vote Leave campaign was found to have overspent by £449,079. Numerous reports have exposed the lies inherent in this campaign, which could be said to have cheated its way into victory – and yet the (advisory and non-binding) referendum’s result is being upheld as immutable, and democratically-writ.
One of the greatest ironies of those who oppose a second EU referendum is that they say such a thing will be ‘undemocratic’, ignoring the will of the electorate (including Bregretters) when, as stated above, Britain has a long way to go before becoming entirely democratic. And can the supposed ‘will of the people’ really be the ‘will of the people’ when the people have been massively misinformed?
Referenda exist, partially, to give the electorate the illusion that they are being listened to by the Upper Classes, without necessarily giving them a proper platform. Yes or no questions can neither reflect the complexities of human desire nor accurately navigate the complexities of what membership in the most successful trade bloc in history entails, and while many Brexiteers felt they were ticking the box, politicians were, once again, pulling their strings. Referenda give politicians the ability to wreak havoc on a country, while absolving themselves of any blame. “Look, this is what you wanted,” they can say, when food prices shoot up and ordinary people who propped up the Leave campaign start to suffer, noticing these promises were false.
Take, for example, the 2011 referendum on changing the voting system from First Past the Post (which enables the existence of a Two-Party state) to a more representative Alternative Vote. No self-serving politician would ever vote for such a drastic change, full aware that they might lose their seat and their party might lose power. Politicians know, too, that the electorate were unlikely to endorse such a change; the Alternative Vote may have been perceived as complicated, in a country whose existing formal political education is already severely lacklustre. If people start to become aware of the dangers inherent in a Two-Party System (and the creation of the Independent Group might be seen as a desire to move away from the extremes the left and right have polarised towards, had they not expressed their desire to uphold the Conservative government – the problem of compromise will always be inherent in Centrism), politicians can turn around and say: “But we gave you the opportunity to choose to have a more representative government, and you chose not to accept. You’ve changed your mind now, but to change the law would be undemocratic – and betray the trust of people who voted almost a decade ago!”
This is what’s happening with Brexit at the minute. With a No Deal crash looming (unless if MPs take Theresa May’s bait), the dangers of leaving the trade bloc are becoming apparent. The country is finally realising what it voted for. A referendum, based on lies, half-truths, and which was won by the side which broke electoral law, is not a democratic referendum; yet its result has become seen as legally-binding, untouchable. The very idea that the electorate might be given a second referendum is seen as undemocratic. But what about the Bregretters? What about all the people who are realising that they’d been lied to?
Even if Theresa May somehow manages to get a good deal (which is very unlikely), a referendum should be held. If MPs decide to accept Theresa May’s deal after she threatened them that there is no other way, the electorate should get a referendum. People, given the decision the first time around, deserve a final say on the state and future of our country. Voting on an abstract concept is one thing, voting on reality – now that the reality of what Brexit actually means (clue: it’s not just ‘Brexit’) is becoming clear – is another. To ignore the voices of the people would be autocratic.
There is nothing undemocratic about holding a second referendum. If the electorate chose again to leave, knowing full well the facts around Brexit, the United Kingdom will leave the EU, and questions about deception will start to lose their validity. But there is everything undemocratic about choosing to ignore what people want now. The electorate has changed, shifted generation since 2016. The country has changed, and people are afforded a peak into what a post-Leave Britain might look like.
Michael Gove said, in 2016, that “people in this country have had enough of experts”, encouraging the electorate and the media to listen to rhetoric rather than facts. Now, the experts’ predictions about the dangers of Brexit are coming to light. If Brexiteers are so sure that Brexit still is the will of the people, they will have nothing to lose by offering a second referendum. And, knowing that the country will suffer post-Brexit, it would be not just undemocratic, but amoral, to not give people the final say, whatever deal or no deal MPs accept.
Note: this article originally appeared on https://thenomad97.wordpress.com.