Like many commentators, John Scott (15 February 2023
) makes a misleading comparison between elections and referendums, in an attempt to stifle further debate about the Brexit result. The failure to acknowledge the crucial differences between the two processes has bedevilled both the independence and the Brexit campaigns since either referendum was first announced.
Let me therefore make a few propositions:
Elections, not referendums, deliver mandates. They do so precisely because the result – and the policies – can be overturned at the next election.
Referendums, normally – internationally, and in the UK in the past – are intended to be informative, and to contribute to further debate, not shut it down.
In those countries where referendums are used definitively, it is usually as a final endorsement of a proposed action which has already undergone full parliamentary process. In the case of Brexit, that could have been to approve the nature of the UK's withdrawal – or renegotiation.
Where the outcome of a referendum is likely to lead to generational, and irreversible, change, a straight majority vote is usually considered to be too low a bar. In other countries and, again, in the UK in the past, the bar has been set at a 60:40 majority, or a majority of the total electorate. While it may be common for a government to be elected by a minority of the electorate, as noted above, that government can then be voted out at a later date.
Referendums are clumsy and unreliable tools because, as in the case of both independence and Brexit, they are too often binary. Reality is rarely that black and white. In the case of the independence referendum, it's believed that the two opposing camps agreed to leave out the Devo Max option, which might well have got the majority vote, as it was an outcome neither desired. A more open question for the Brexit referendum could have been: 'Should the UK renegotiate its relationship with the EU?' Then there would have been scope for a further referendum on the outcome of those negotiations, if they had gone ahead.
John Scott also claims that 'neither side [in the Brexit campaign] can claim to have clean hands'. Setting aside the view that almost everything that the Remain camp predicted has come to pass, while none of the benefits promised by the Leave camp have been realised, it may be worth considering the 2019 election which, it could be argued, genuinely did deliver a mandate for Brexit. Independent research by First Draft found the following:
88% of the Conservative's Facebook campaigning pushed figures challenged by Full Fact, the UK's leading fact-checking organisation. By comparison, First Draft said that it could not find any misleading claims in ads run by Labour on Facebook over the same period.
, 10 December 2019)
I'd also take issue with John Scott's reference to the 'very real increased prosperity for most people from the mid-1980s on', but that's a different topic for debate, and I'd only recommend that he listen to recent BBC Radio 4 More or Less
programmes on the very real reduction in prosperity for most people since the 2008 crash.
It was on the bus, Saturday night, that I heard the voice coming from a few rows behind. Normally I sit downstairs on the bus, however, at the behest of my friend, I was travelling this evening in the foreign territory of the upper deck.
It was the tone of a confident person – a supremely assured man. I have written about overheard conversations before and don't go around looking for them, they just seem to follow me. I was unable not
to hear the one-way conversation. I expect the person on the other end was probably nodding at most in response, having no chance to contribute to the conversation, such was the intensity of this individual's imposed monologue. The timbre of the voice was of exceptional confidence, coupled with incredulity that others did not recognise this, despite the obvious factual evidence.
Have you ever seen Archie Pepper, the IT guy on Scot Squad
? That was the template from which this one was cut, though I don't know what he did for a living. The summary of conversation appeared to be that his employer and work colleagues did not appreciate his abilities. He had become bored and frustrated of their obvious lack of gratitude in simply having him around. He had further come to the end of his tether and handed in his notice. However, they had accepted it with no questions asked. Instead of reading the room and coming to an understanding that he might not be as good as he thought, he appeared to take this as a rebuff and embarked on a diatribe, questioning his employer's ability to judge the value of his services. I have never been happier to reach my stop.
My main preferred mode of transport is to walk. It was only because I was in the company of a friend and we were returning from a long day of spectating at the football that I even took the bus. Talking of the football, I regularly come into contact with many, as yet 'undiscovered', world-class coaches when in attendance at my favourite stadium. Wise words and salutary statements are offered at regular intervals during the match as these titans of football knowledge educate the crowd with their undoubted expertise.
At the time of writing, Aberdeen and Motherwell are both on the lookout for new blood in the managerial department and they could probably do worse than turn their attention to this untapped source of master tacticians. Like the man in the bus, the football geniuses who sit near to me appear absolutely assured in their knowledge of the beautiful game and the tactics which would turn a mediocre team into world beaters. Exuding such confidence, it is ignominious that they are, till now anyway, deprived of their chance.
Then again, as my wife says, maybe I just don't feel comfortable around confident people.
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