Written by Brian Morris
This article was first published in Briefings for Brexit and we republish with their kind permission.
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Should Humpty Dumpty from Alice in Wonderland take a look at today’s UK politics, he might well conclude that the word democracy means just whatever Remain politicians choose it to mean. The most depressing thing about our Brexit turmoil is that so many politicians, commentators and Europhiles claim their proposals are democratic while misrepresenting – perhaps wilfully – what that means.
Where to start? Nicola Sturgeon claims a democratic mandate for a second Scottish independence referendum since a majority of Scots voted to Remain. But the Scots are part of the UK, a union of nations within which democracy rules. Scottish MPs vote as part of a UK parliament. Scots cannot both vote in a UK wide election, which has given them a powerful voice in the British legislature and then claim a distinct democratic mandate as part of the UK. London could make a similar case.
It’s true that there is a Scotland-only democracy for devolved matters. But SNP MPs voted in the UK Parliamentary debates on Brexit. They voted on a UK constitutional issue (regardless how English voters voted), so they must accept that MPs from the rest of the UK can democratically play a part on potential changes to Scotland’s constitutional arrangements. The SNP cannot, as the notorious phrase goes, ‘have their cake and eat it’.
Scotland’s first minister also claims the EU referendum vote in Scotland gives her party a moral mandate. But a majority for remaining in the EU is not necessarily a majority vote for leaving the UK. There are Scots who think that independence should mean breaking away from both the UK and the EU. And there are Scots who voted Remain who, looking at their biggest trading partner, an open border and a common language, to mention just three of the many links between Scotland and England, may still prefer to remain in the UK after Brexit.
They might also worry that the chaos and uncertainty that the first minister sees in Brexit might be replicated in the case of a SCEXIT from the UK.
Nicola Sturgeon has, as politicians so often do, come to conclusions that suit her case with an interpretation of democracy that involves contradictions and unprovable assumptions.
Fast forward to the Liberal Democrats, and their promise to simply ignore the 17.4 million who voted Leave and revoke Article 50 if elected to government. Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat Leader, assumed that Remainers would flock to that banner even though the chances of her party winning power were remote.
Alas, she was skewered by a woman in the audience for the BBC’s Question Time, who said she wanted to vote for the Liberal Democrats since she was a Remainer but could not do so because their policy to revoke was undemocratic. Swinson could only reply that the Lib Dems’ policy on Brexit was ‘clear’ – hardly a great virtue when it was clearly undemocratic.
As I write, there’s growing evidence that Lib Dem clarity has not gone down well with voters.
Of course, under the fanciful scenario of the Liberal Democrats becoming the next government, they claim that this vote would give them a mandate to revoke. But this implies that the party does not think their other policies have any bearing on the votes they gather, which doesn’t say a lot for those policies. A Lib Dem spokeswoman admitted that a second referendum as a mandate was superior to a general election result, since a referendum was a ‘purer’ form of democracy.
But more depressing than the SNP or the Liberal Democrats, are the hundreds of thousands of people who marched in London demanding (their words) of our MPs that they should: ‘Put it to the people’. ‘It’ presumably being whatever withdrawal agreement Parliament finally accepts.
But the conditions for a vote to be truly democratic are hardly subtle. First, we must be prepared to accept the result, however much we may dislike it. Tony Blair and Michael Heseltine seem to believe that their certainty that Brexit would inflict major damage on our economy should trump (if you’ll forgive the word) democracy. That forecast might be, like so many Brexit forecasts have been, wrong.
I think that the election of Jeremy Corbyn as our next prime minister would profoundly damage our economy. But I shall not be marching down Whitehall demanding a second general election, however much I feel my children’s futures are at risk, if the veteran Marxist limps into Number 10.
[… to be continued tomorrow in Part 2]