Democracy is in a state of fundamental change in our country and I do not just mean the recent election. As a nation we have been navel-gazing on the EU since 1973 and on devolution for about as long. The seemingly insoluble questions of whether the UK should be in or out of the EU and whether the UK should even continue in its current form has prompted our politicians to abdicate their responsibilities via referenda.
I have never been a fan of referenda and the more I see of an electorate obsessed with the daily routine of the Kardashians and other such trivia, the less inclined I feel to trust any form of direct democracy.
The rhetoric of referenda hinges on the premise nothing is more democratic than one man, one vote. The problem of course is that where momentous and irreversible constitutional change is concerned, a referendum means one man, one vote, once only. Having obtained their majority the proponents of change never offer the electorate a chance to think again. That assumes of course the change is reversible.
If the UK were to leave the EU our exit would be permanent. French and Germans would never re-admit our troublesome little country no matter how much we might beg. No such decision, therefore, should be made by a thin majority on a poor turnout, and no monumental change of any kind should be influenced by short-term sentiment.
The old adage is that a lie can be halfway around the world before the truth has its boots on. In the internet age a lie can go around the world several times before the truth has even got its socks out of the drawer. Demagogues cannot con all the people all the time but they can con them for the duration of an election. The Zinoviev letter of 1924 and the Post Office Savings Scare of 1931 provide the template.
Our country’s future should not be made hostage to a new Gulf of Tonkin or Gleiwitz Radio Station incident. Republican though I am I do not believe a 1000 year old institution should be swept away on the kind of emotional spasm we saw when a popular princess died tragically at the hands of a drunk driver. Nor should we accept the destruction of the Union just because our fellow Britons north of the border have momentarily overdosed on Braveheart haggis and Johnny Walker.
The referendum has its place but the people need a cooling off period. Any future referendum should require three ballots over a three-year period, each 18 months apart. Each ballot should require a minimum 75 per cent turnout and a two-thirds majority for the change proposed.
A failure in the first or second vote should be an immediate end to the matter and once a proposition has fallen it should not be voted on again for at least 25 years. Those who seek to change our country and its place in the world irreversibly and forever should have the people with them.
If they cannot keep the people with them for even three years, who do they think they are kidding?