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Neil Liversidge: The trouble with the EU referendum


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?



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There are 8 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Matthew Whiting 15th May 2015 at 3:42 pm

    Is this article on the same level as the new changes to this website – terrible!

    Democracy is NOT in a fundamental state of change – we have a first past the post system and no WINNING party is ever going to change that. The only parties who want this are those that have lost.

    To make referendum truly democratic they should be impartial, unfortunately neither side is impartial and he who has most cash will win – simples. Even on your analogy Neil, you may win the first vote, you may win the second vote but someone comes along with even more cash you may lose the third vote, but at least it was SEEN to be democratic!

  2. Julian Stevens 15th May 2015 at 4:44 pm

    Many people are of the opinion that Britain should never have joined the EU in the first place so, should we exit, on what basis might we ever want to rejoin? The costs and impositions of membership far outweigh the benefits (IMHO). It might better be called the European Economic Disaster Zone. Then again, if I’m wrong, the vote will be to stay in.

    And who says there could never be a second referendum? It’s not a rule engraved in a tablet of stone or enshrined in the Magna Carta is it? Another referendum is exactly what Scotland’s planning on the issue of independence.

  3. Neil Liversidge 15th May 2015 at 8:24 pm

    For the record I support an EU exit. I also, however, oppose short term knee-jerk thinking and I absolutely oppose the dissolution of the Union.

  4. Well I actually agee with Neil. I am unashamedly pro EU and as I have said on numerous previous occasions it is as well to remember that democracy panders to the lowest common denominator – Neil has so eloquently ponted out.
    Sent from my mobile

  5. PS I also think we should not give the Scots a referendum. Not needed. Lets just chuck them out.
    We can then stop all benefits ( including pensions) -the Scots take more in benfits pro rata than anywhere else in the U K.
    This will to a degee compensate for the oil. As they will by default no longer be in the E U we can then double the duty on any oil coming from North of the border. We can buy cheaper oil elsewhere and this will put downward pressure on their selling price.
    We can then send in Oxfam.

  6. Julian Stevens 17th May 2015 at 5:59 pm

    If the UK withdraws from the EU, I don’t understand why we should care what happens to it thereafter. Sure, there’ll be chaos for a while amongst the banking systems of various countries, I guess they’ll all have to revive their former national currencies and countries such as Greece, Portugal and Italy will be forced finally to row their own boats with no further hand-outs from the ECB, but at least Britain will be on the side lines rather than dragged into it all. Once the dust settles, I think Europe will be a healthier place.

  7. It saddens me that in any debate about Europe the two main topics are confined to economics (which is undoubtedly important) and sovereignty (Which in my view is rather an irrelevance).

    But the EU is much more than this. It is also about learning from the past and ensuring that never again will be have the conflicts that bedevilled us from 55 BC up to 1945 (the subsequent Yugoslavian conflict was another tragic reminder).

    If others wish to admit it or not – Europe is the centre of the Universe. There is hardly anything in this modern world that hasn’t emanated from Europe. Europeans have largely populated and influenced much of the world. North and South America, the Antipodes and the Russian continent.

    Not only science, but culture, and sociology (for good and for evil) have largely been of European origin. (Democracy, Communism, Fascism, Music, fashion, sport, language, TV, computing, cars, trains, planes, art – you name it.)

    In our own country we are steeped in European heritage. From Rome through to the modern day. We have currently a German Royal Family. Previously they have been Dutch and French and of course we have been ruled by what are now Italians.

    The EU is also about our culture and heritage – let us be proud of that, rejoice in it and take our rightful place within it .

  8. Julian Stevens 19th May 2015 at 8:37 pm

    We can still enjoy all the great things that Europe has to offer. I just don’t like Europe imposing its laws on us, telling us how to run our own country and taking billions of pounds a year off us for the privilege.

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