Why Brexit is going wrong and how it could be fixed (part 2)

This is the second of two posts here looking at Brexit through a democratic, rather than a political lens. In the previous post, I argued that the ‘cliff edge’ exit that is inevitable when leaving the EU is not sustainable for the EU, and that the UK would be doing everyone a favour by challenging it. The word “crisis” is over-used in British politics, but we are undoubtedly in one now. We have a Prime Minister who is trying to … Read more

Is a second referendum feasible? A dispassionate view from academics

The Constitution Unit of University College London headed up by Meg Russell has posed seven questions about a possible second referendum on Brexit in a blog post. Last month the Unit published the report of the Independent Commission on Referendums which can be read here.    The summary… Would it be possible to hold a referendum in the time available? Isextending Article 50 feasible? How could a referendum be triggered? What might the options be? What form should the question … Read more

The Future of Referendums: What Role Should They Play and How Should They Be Conducted?

Referendums are now established as part of the UK’s political landscape.  They are widely seen as necessary before some fundamental constitutional changes are made.  Politicians will continue from time to time to find it useful to manage conflicts by proposing to put certain decisions to the people. Yet, despite their importance, there has been little concerted thinking recently about how referendums should be conducted.  Two inquiries conducted in the 1990s – by the Nairne Commission and the Committee on Standards … Read more

To solve the Catalan crisis, pay homage to Britain

The Catalonian campaign for independence is a phenomenon of our times,  like the Scottish. They both claim they are ancient entities enjoying sufficient cohesion to go it alone and find their own balance between globalisation (the great big world now closer to all of us than ever) and self sufficiency ( provided it comes under the safety blanket of the EU).  They seem to think they deserve as of right, easy acquiescence and the blessing of a good deal from … Read more

Trouble with Referendums: who is accountable for its delivery?

Nick Cohen makes a point I shared privately with several Leave friends during the EU Referendum campaign last year: Vote Leave dissolved as soon as the contest was won. The referendum thus dispensed with the most basic democratic requirements. The winners were not accountable for the promises they made. In their history of the campaign, Jason Farrell and Paul Goldsmith quote the Leave campaigner Gisela Stuart saying that she thought the referendum was an ‘abuse of democracy’ because no one who … Read more

An answer to Rentoul. Referendums like terrorism can shape events, but not always in the ways expected

Alerted by Mick on the thoughts on referendums by the Independent’s political commentator John Rentoul, I took in his part 2 “Should Referendums be banned?” This is a rhetorical question which is really in  support of Rentoul’s  contention  that they make very little difference to the course of political  events. His pieces prompted my following thoughts. Referendums like terrorism typically make considerable differences but not necessarily as intended. It is not true they never settle anything. It depends on the … Read more

David Cameron and the problem of setting real political choices

David Cameron’s referendums were regarded as reflections of ‘the will of the people’.  But is that true?  Here Peter Emerson of the de Borda Insitute questions that assumption then proposes a better methodology. 2011 Referendum on the Electoral System. Cameron’s first problem?   “Those damned Lib-Dems and the voting system!”  Hence the first ‘which’, to silence dissent in the coalition cabinet. Many people wanted proportional representation, pr, either pr-list as in Denmark, the Irish pr-single transferable vote, pr-stv, or whatever.  … Read more

Calm down, dears…

Wilful or otherwise, there’s been a degree of misrepresentation of Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s apparently unscripted, and qualified, comments at the MacGill Summer School yesterday – you can read the official version of his speech here. As the initial reported quote demonstrated, his focus was not on preparing for the prospect of referendums on a united Ireland, but on seeking clarification of what would happen, in the new post-Brexit world, in the event of a ‘Yes’ vote. Because if that possibility were … Read more

So what, says Gregory, “the clock cannot be turned back to last Thursday…”

I have to say Gregory Campbell is right. The clock cannot be turned back to last Thursday. The people have spoken (the b@st@rds). Here’s Stephen Nolan grilling him on Leave’s magnificent bait and switch on the electorate in the poster above… Sorry to keep repeating it over and over, but here’s Paul’s salient ‘Why Referendums Should Be Banned‘.  They are NOT elections, so that conveniently no one on the Leave side can be held accountable for any apparent promises made, … Read more

Taoiseach on Border Poll: “There are much more serious issues to deal with in the immediate terms and that is where our focus is.”

Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, was, rightly, quick to dismiss Sinn Féin’s attempted distraction predictably opportunistic call for a border poll following the EU referendum result.  Here’s what she told Radio Ulster listeners “The Good Friday Agreement sets out the conditions under which I am required to call for a border poll – those are when I believe that there’s a reasonable likelihood that there would be a majority for a united Ireland,” [Theresa Villiers] said. “There’s nothing to … Read more

“‘New language’, my arse!”

At his Broken Elbow blog Ed Moloney has some fun with the same Detail report that Brian noted in his recent post – “another important waypoint in SF’s bewildering, extraordinary journey“. I have read this piece several times. It is based on a speech given by SF MEP Matt Carthy and no matter how I hold it – up to the light, sideways, upside down or at various angles – it seems to be saying the same thing: the Good Friday Agreement is … Read more

Martin McGuinness: “We now wait to see if SDLP will stand by the principles of the Good Friday Agreement or follow the UUP into opposition…”

The response of Sinn Féin’s new MLA for Foyle, Martin McGuinness, to being upstaged – at the moment of his re-appointment as Northern Ireland deputy First Minister – by the UUP leader Mike Nesbitt’s announcement that his party had unanimously agreed to go into official opposition in the NI Assembly, betrayed a confused, or forgetful, party lashing out at sceptics, and potential sceptics, alike.  [Nobody puts Baby in the corner… – Ed] From the Sinn Féin press release [added emphasis throughout] Speaking after … Read more

Sinn Féin’s partitionist approach to united Ireland referendum(s)…

… or an attempt to avoid ‘stupid’ questions about the party’s stated commitment to campaign against the fundamental principle of consent – that it is for the people of Northern Ireland to exercise their right of self-determination.  Those are the options from a comparison between the commitments on Irish unity Sinn Féin presented to the people of Ireland in their manifesto for February’s General Election, and the ones presented in the slim-lined version to the people of Northern Ireland ahead of … Read more

#uniref: what are mechanics of a border poll?

In today’s Belfast Telegraph, Liam Clarke is reporting on an opinion poll that says that a majority of people want a referendum on a border called. David has already sketched out some ideas of what a Yes campaign might look like, but what are the actual mechanics of holding such a referendum? The calling of a referendum is described in Annex A of the Belfast Agreement text (usually called the Good Friday Agreement). In reality, the Belfast Agreement is two … Read more

#IndyRef, #Out and the blind faith of Referendum campaigns…

Ian Parsley as part of the Stratagem series of guest blogs, lays out why the No campaign arrived at currency as its king card in the #IndyRef debate… Why is the focus on the currency? Throughout the campaign, polls have shown around 45-50% of people certain to vote No, and 35-40% certain to vote Yes. The “undecideds” are therefore crucial to the outcome and, if they are telling the truth to pollsters, they will decide which way to vote based … Read more

After devolution, referendums and possible succession[s], what’s happening to our politics?

Janan Ganesh is an outstanding new talent in the UK political press. His columns for the FT are fresh and sit outside the niggly media bubble of Westminster. A few days back he outlined an apparent effect within the political political system currently more pronounced on the Tory side of things, but which may also have echoes elsewhere. He argues… As the biggest parties weaken as corporate entities, individual politicians and factions within them become more powerful. So even personal patronage, the one lever … Read more

And next year whilst Ireland may be awash with Referendums, there will be little substantial reform

In Scotland there’s been talk of little else but the big referendum on whether Scotland should got it alone for two years. In Ireland the cycle of questions pushed out to the people seems to be speeding up… Olivia Kelly in the Irish Times notes they concern “reducing the voting age to 16, reducing the age barrier for presidential candidates from the current 35, and allowing same-sex marriage”, with “a fourth referendum could be held on the establishment of a … Read more

Call for an Amnesty referendum faces parties and governments with the big decisions

Sir Des Rea the first chair of the Policing Board and Robin Masefield the former head of the Prison Service are people of conscience and great experience. They are no ivory tower observers.  Prompted it seems by the risks to stability threatened by the Adams interrogation, in very flat language they make public their fundamental proposal that cuts the Gordian knot of humbug and misplaced principle over the availability of justice . It is what much if not most of the professional establishment … Read more

Why a #BorderPoll ill-serves the cause of a united island

“I live in terror of not being misunderstood.” From The Critic as Artist, by Oscar Wilde So, what is a reasonable, even a Nationalist, objection to the calling of a Border Poll in the next parliamentary term north and south? The most obvious is that from what we know of the current public will in Northern Ireland, it will be lost. And why? Because what we know of the polling in this area already tells us that there is not … Read more

How to win a Scottish Referendum – ten iron laws…

Leaving aside the politics of the upcoming referendum, for a moment, however hard that is, let me explore the ten iron laws of referendum campaigning: Referendums are not elections – they encapsulate issues and ideas in theory, rather than people and personalities; that is why political parties find them so hard – because parties are irrevocably wedded by endless experience of promoting candidates to viewing them through that prism. It also explains why opponents are usually keen to pin a … Read more