Notes on Democracy

By Neil Nisbet

On the day that the results were announced for the outcome of the UK’s referendum on being a part of the EU I encountered an individual who told me they didn’t vote because they didn’t want the responsibility for the decision on their shoulders, or words to that effect.

If that doesn’t sum up the perfect storm of stupid surrounding this entire nonsensical campaign to drag the UK back to the 1940s then I’m not sure what else could. At no point during the campaign or after it has one single leave voter been able to provide a cogent reason to leave the European Union if they can be bothered to come up with a reason at all. The best that anybody can muster is canned statements about “making Britain great again”, dictators in Brussels, sovereignty, freedom and, I kid you not, a desire to buy British milk and only British milk. The verbal gymnastics practiced by many when talking about immigration while trying very hard not to sound like, at best, a xenophobic flag hugger would be funny, if it weren’t so depressing.

Posing the question “what does the EU stop you from doing given that they are, as you say, a dictatorship?” gets you a blank stare or sudden lack of keyboard activity. Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, and Muammar Gaddafi were dictators. That little fat guy with the bad hair from North Korea is a dictator. Dictator’s shoot you in the head if you say they are funny little fat guys with bad hair. The EU makes regulations about fire extinguishers and crash tests on cars and creates expansive cultural policy and common agricultural policy. It’s a lumbering bureaucracy that needs a good kick up the backside from time to time. Dictatorship? Not so much!

My EU passport gives me the right to travel to and work in 28 different countries and I don’t need to explain to anybody why I want to. I can say what I like (within legal reason of course) and I can pretty much do whatever I want whenever I want to do it. If that’s not the textbook definition of freedom, then I don’t know what is. If you’re a leave voter, go ahead, try and get a work permit for the United States, enjoy!

Another egregious bungle was actually having an “in/out” vote in the first place. Given the complexity of the decision that needed to be made having it decanted into a binary choice of “in or out” was, perhaps, the biggest tactical blunder since the generals on both sides of World War One decided that digging trenches was a really good way to win a war.

The Civics Test

If anybody thought that the end of voting was the end of the chaos, then they will be sorely disappointed. Calls are being made for parliament to reject the referendum result given the carnage that has already come to financial and currency markets, the 2 step downgrading of the UK’s credit rating and the uncertainty that will plague us all for years to come. Some have said that rejecting the result would be denying the democratic will of the people. So let’s take a quick look at that.

The vote for exit was, in total, less than 1/3rd of the population of the country, 17.1Million votes vs 65Million population. Young people aged 16 and 17 years old were denied a right to vote because, well because they just were. Despite having to live with this for a lot longer than people aged over 65, who voted by a majority to leave, they had no say while 30% of those who were allowed to vote apparently couldn’t be bothered. What better way to teach civics than by engaging and allowing people on the cusp of leaving school for university a vote in a referendum?

Prior to the referendum being announced a voting law should have been passed making it a legal requirement to vote alongside same day voting registration and a ballot that was open for 7 days. Don’t want the responsibility on your shoulders? Well tough luck, get yourself educated on the issue and enjoy your vote. Want to win a decision like this? Then you need to get 60% of 100% turnout or you don’t win. For a decision that is going to unleash decades of turmoil, it’s the very least we should have expected. A decision to quit the EU is so demonstrably calamitous it should have been made almost impossible to win.

In addition to the above, a law should also have been passed stating that anybody deliberately lying to obtain a victory in any election is committing a criminal offense in-line with the pains and penalties of perjury. If you want to claim that the entire population of Turkey is going to move to the UK to scare the naïve, then go ahead, but you’re going to jail for 5 years for doing it.

It might also have been a good idea to require voters to pass a basic civics test with a strong EU component so they understood what the EU actually does beforehand instead of looking it up on the internet the day after the damage was done.

The Apology

So what now? If Article 50 is ever triggered then the negotiations will be long, torturous and boring, that much is certain. The best that sane minds can hope for is that the UK becomes part of the European Economic Area (EEA), just like Norway, Lichtenstein and Iceland. What does that mean? Well it basically means the UK continues contributing billions to the EU for access to the single market but we also have to accept freedom of movement and employment for EU nationals and comply with EU regulations. If you’re thinking that sounds a lot like what we have now but without any direct say in the running of the EU itself, then you would be absolutely right.

Ultimately, the UK will have ripped out a perfectly good kitchen only to replace it with a very expensive new kitchen that looks exactly the same as the kitchen we already had but now the place is covered in dust and your wife has divorced you because you’re an idiot who replaced the kitchen for no good reason.

Finally, it occurs to me that nobody has said sorry on behalf of this, at the time of writing, broken little country. Of course nobody asked me to speak on behalf of the nation but the EU furnished me with the right to free expression so as it turns out, I don’t need anybody’s permission. So, to all of my friends, colleagues and others who are EU nationals living and working in this country, I’m sorry for the hate, the lies and the fear. I’m sorry we weren’t strong enough or loud enough to stop it. I’m sorry for the feckless politicians, and the opportunistic mendacious cowards who embarrassed us all and shamed a nation as the world looked on. I’m sorry for the racists and the xenophobes and the low-information/no-information voters who put an X on a piece of paper and then retired to Google to find out what the hell they had actually voted for. I’m sorry this country isn’t grown up enough to act like the bastion of democracy it has long claimed to be.

Top Image by Nicolas Raymond