Sunday, 26 June 2016

Asking for a second referendum isn't about being a "bad loser" or undemocratic - quite the opposite

So, the unthinkable happened and Brexit won. This has triggered many people to sign a petition calling for a second referendum. This is not a daft as it seems, as the referendum itself is not legally binding and had no firm actions attached to either result. Indeed, back in May Farage suggested that the Leave camp might do the same if Remain won by a small margin.

However, this request has triggered a flood of outcries from Leave voters, with accusations of Remain supporters being “bad losers” or failing to embrace democracy because the people had spoken. I saw this one on Facebook from a second-degree contact, for example:

Why is this even a thing?!

The people voted democratically and Leave got over 1.2million more votes. If you don’t like that, tough, you lost. That’s how democracy works. If you think that should be overturned, well maybe the voting system of North Korea will be more to your taste? I’m sure they’ll be happy to have you.

Apologies for the rant, I just wanted to say something about these childish people who can’t take “no” for an answer.

It is a valid question and, whilst I think it was meant rhetorically, here is my answer of why this is “a thing”…

The North Korea analogy is interesting. Imagine a vote in which leaders lie to the population, supported by propaganda machines of a biased and controlled media. Imagine this succeeds in getting the population to vote against their best interests. That is not democracy at work. That is a powerful elite, manipulating the political landscape to their own ends. That is major sections of the Leave campaign. (Not all: there were some genuine reasons for voting Leave. This is not about that - it’s about whether the people voting Leave were voting for those genuine reasons.)

This is not about being bad losers. This is about being passionate about the terrible decision that we are on the brink of. This about genuine fear of economic collapse, fragmentation of the UK and Europe, the rise of right-wing nationalism and xenophobic/divisive agendas, the collapse of the Northern Ireland peace process, the loss of workers rights as we “deregulate” and hand more power to the powerful. Look at America with its lack of decent holidays, parental leave or free healthcare. Not for Britain, thank you.

Imagine a bus and the occupants had voted to jump a ravine as a “shortcut” - despite mechanics, physicists and engineers warning that it probably won’t make the jump, and geographers pointing out that the probable landing point is further away from the destination. If you were in that bus and convinced it was about to plunge you all to destruction, you would scream pretty loud to reconsider.

Nor is this about elitist arrogance of the middle classes. Being confident in the overwhelming consensus opinion of experts who have studied certain fields for years - including all the uncertainty of outcomes - is not arrogance. Some rich privileged bloke in a suit, who studied Classics without any formal training in economics or law, believing that he knows better than those experts - that’s elitist arrogance.

Regular laws in the UK go through several readings and often get sent back to the Commons for a second vote. This has much more far-reaching consequences and unlike those laws cannot be undone, so the idea of some reflection and an “are you sure?” vote is not remotely undemocratic.

Democracy is about the will of the people, it is not about blindly seeing through the results of every single vote no matter what the consequences. If, as I and many others feel, a vote does not truly reflect the will of the people then damn straight it is our democratic right and responsibility to fight the result. (Politically, not physically, of course.)

The request is not to keep voting until Remain wins - it is to keep voting until there is a big majority. It is asking for people to be certain of their choice. If the Leave campaign are so confident that the people have spoken, they should have no problem with letting them speak again.

We, the people, all want what’s best for our country, not for our “leaders”. I suspect the majority on both sides actually want the same things - the disagreement lies in how to achieve them. When the leaders of the “winning” side have demonstrably lied about the consequences of their victory (and are now rapidly back-tracking, having not expected that victory), the anger, frustration and ire at the reaction of the “losers” would be better directed at those leaders, who now need to be held to account.

Should we give those who now realise they were mislead the chance to change their mind? Should we give those fools who feel that they should have voted and now regret not doing so the chance to undo their mistake? Normally, no. They would get their chance come the next election, and maybe they will have learnt their lesson. But here, there is no next election, no chance to make amends for a mistake - hence we are asking for one.

You may feel that people do not deserve a second chance. You may feel that we should be stuck with the decision even if it transpires that a majority actually oppose it, once they are in a position to make an informed decision. After all, them’s the rules, right? Well, that would be a victory for bureaucracy, but it hardly seems in the spirit of democracy.

Perhaps we Remainers are wrong. Perhaps the Leave supporters really do understand the implications of their choice and would do the same again, now that the reality is beginning to bite. Perhaps the EU and immigrants are not just scapegoats for problems with different solutions. So be it. But let’s not be so gung-ho as to sell our nation’s future down the river because it would be too painful to take a long, hard look at the manner in which we have just conducted the most important political decision of our generation.

To get Britain out of its current mess is going to take both sides working together. That means talking to each other, not shouting at each other. To have a chance of success, that solution needs more that 52% of the nation on board. So, do the democratic thing: keep the conversation going until we reach national consensus. Sign the petition.

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