Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

What the hell DO we want?

51.9% (of those who voted) don’t want the status quo. That was meant to be the “EU membership” status quo, but has probably been taken to mean a more general status quo.

So apart from “something different” what do the Brexiteers / Leavers / Quitters want? Having achieved their victory the Leave campaign seems to have faded away. Their chief standard-bearer has looked at the possibilities of picking up the reins of the Tory Leadership and decided “no thanks”. Various previous spokesmen and women have, in disavowing various promises made during the campaign, made it obvious that there never was “one thing” that was on offer to the quitters – other than quitting the EU.

It is probably beyond dispute that this was a deliberate ploy by the master strategist (and now retiring prime minister) David Cameron to enable re-use of the “Project Uncertainty” strategy. This was after all used to (just) persuade the Scots to vote against independence. In the end it is his fault. But he is departing; like his fellow Bullingdon club alumnus, he has “trashed the restaurant” and rather than hanging around to clear up he is disappearing to a private watering hole.

The leave campaign support was drawn from a wide variety of areas including:

  • Those intellectually opposed to transnational institutions
  • Those who feel a visceral “Englishness” that they (justifiably) fear is threatened by the likes of the EU
  • Economic Liberals who believe in Free Trade and see the EU as a regional cartel.
  • Economists who believe they can assess our economic prospects and that they would be better outside the EU
  • Those who felt that the EU needed a kicking to persuade it to reform
  • Those who just wanted to give the system a kicking
  • Rascists – closet or otherwise
  • The misguided – who voted “out” for a variety of mistaken ideas from a desire to get out of Eurovision (and its Song Contest) to wanting to buy bent cucumbers.
  • Fruitcakes – those who do not know why they voted

But there is no consensus (or majority) for what is wanted. We have had a result:

  • 48.1% for the status quo
  • 51.9% against the status quo and in favour of one of
    • complete withdrawal and trading on WTO terms
    • The “Canada” solution
    • The “Norway” solution
    • The “Switzerland” solution
    • A hybrid of one of the above
    • A fantasy of all the benefits of EU membership but none of the costs or obligations
    • giving a good kicking to the EU so that it comes up with a better “reformed relationship” – sort of Cameron+
    • giving a good kicking to the EU so that it comes up with an overall reform package, which puts the brakes permanently on further union, closes Strasbourg, cuts red tape, returns powers etc. etc.

Only one alternative to the status quo is possible, but we don’t know whether any would attract majority support – or (in some cases) would get the required acceptance of our negotiating partners in the EU of 27.

(Likewise it is quite possible that if a particular exit solution was on the table, some of those who voted to remain due to “uncertainty” would have voted to leave.)

We actually need a “New Zealand national flag” solution.

In New Zealand they were looking to possibly change their national flag. They held a competition to create a short-list of alternatives which were then put to a first referendum – as a sort of primary to decide which new design should challenge the status quo.  The first referendum whittled down the short-list (by preferential voting) to one challenger. There was then a second referendum between the status quo and the challenger. In the second referendum the people of New Zealand, having looked at the options for change, and selected a challenger, decided (57%to 43%) they preferred the status quo.

In the UK we are in the ludicrous situation of deciding we want change but not knowing what we want!

Cameron’s referendum act and Article 50 of the Lisburn Treaty does not allow for a “New Zealand” process – except in one circumstance.

The referendum act says that the referendum is advisory. So it is open to the House of Commons to “defy” the result. I use the word “defy” deliberately because if they do so they have to be aware that that is how many will view it. A lot of people (on both sides of the argument) believe that the referendum is “democracy” and the result must therefore be binding. To “defy” the result may increase public disaffection with politics, but may also be the only way out of a messy situation and avoid a complete break leading to trade on WTO terms (which I suspect most people would unite against).

In addition, we may have burnt our bridges with the remaining members of the EU who are fed up with the uncertainty and beginning to look forward positively to an EU without “the English” constantly sniping. I think they see losing Farage as a definite benefit of Brexit.

It is therefore unlikely that the EU will allow us to “negotiate a preferred alternative” prior to triggering Article 50. Article 50 gets us “out” – then separate negotiations define a new relationship.

However, we might take this as a warning that, if there is a second Scottish Independence Referendum, it may be worth fully working up an “Independence Option” to stand against the status quo. “Project Uncertainty” may not work again and we do not want a solution where the Scots vote for independence but we then find that no one knows what that really means. It is far better for both sides to work to create two genuine and certain options to put before the people of Scotland.

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3 thoughts on “What the hell DO we want?

  1. Peter Lanky on said:

    I think the content of this needs balancing by having a breakdown of those who chose to remain. This blog suggests that ‘Remain’ is a united front (by not mentioning it) and that the leave campaign is fragmented, but then the leave side not getting the same publicity, probably because it believes the democratic process has been addressed and the result has been declared, so it is now time to move on and let the politicians work out the nitty gritty, and do what the majority has asked them to do, namely leave.

    Back to the ‘Remain’ side, I suggest it is made up of those that:

    1. Think that the EU is doing a fantastic job and doesn’t need changing.
    2. Do not like the EU but feel some comfort in membership of a large organisation (as happened with many in the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact).
    3. Those that don’t like how the EU operates, but still believe that there is hope for reform despite being repeatedly told by the EU that there isn’t.
    4. Have an economic personal interest in the current trading arrangements.
    5. Are politicians looking forward to a personal role within the EU when their UK political career is over.
    6. Reside in an area that has received more EU money that other parts of the UK.
    7. Are unable to differentiate between Europe as a collection of people and the organisation that is the EU.
    8. That aligning themselves with other EU supporters, it has increased their personal non-racist credentials.
    9. Always vote along labour party lines, and the Labour party was officially opposing leaving.
    10. Don’t really know what the EU is, but are going along the the remain ‘party’ because their ‘friends’ that they have never met on social media think the same way.
    11. Are so out of touch that they believe the EU is responsible for the NHS and Nandos restaurants.

    While being the first to admit that there are also many on the leave side that don’t have a single clue about anything that is going on, I simply like to see a balanced argument.

    As an aside, the behaviour of many of the young, especially those living in London where most of the income to the economy never leaves their immediate area, has emphasised to me that there is no justification for lowering the voting age, and even that the ability of the 18-24 age group (as a whole, I know that there are knowledgeable individuals) to make rational choices needs to be questioned, with their belief that the older generation, with it’s years of wisdom and experience has a lesser right to an opinion because they are in imminent danger of dying out.

    • Fair enough to dissect the Remain side – but they voted for a single agreed position. The dissection is not required.

      Leave never said exactly what they were campaigning for – the fault of Cameron. So in the post-referendum hiatus it is legitimate to try and understand the different flavours of leave and how those may appeal to the various supporters of leave.

      Of course if we had a definite “Leave” proposal, say for example the “Norway” model, some of Remain who voted remain because of the uncertainty might have voted for the “Norway” model – a sort of associate membership (pay but no say) where you don’t have to be “part of” the hated EU.

  2. Pingback: Can a General Election Trump a Referendum? | Outside the marginals

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