Referendums! What Rules?
Posted on November 12th, 2017
by The Citadel
In the last three years we have seen three referendums. Why are the all so different? Are there no common rules? Does democracy have no value?
Many applaud the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum. It had agreement between the UK government and the Scottish government and minimal ground rules were set down; even the question to be asked was scrutinised. There was a long lead time to allow issues to be discussed. But, and there is always a but, these are all organisational and process; there were no rules on substance. Lies were allowed to be offered as if they were the truth; vote buying promises were allowed to be made with no guarantees.
Then there came Brexit. No organisational process rules – no rules to speak of - a speedy campaign fought on slogans and no verification of facts – even when you could find one. It could be compared to being offered a free camping holiday which, if you agreed to take part, you are not allowed to back out even if unhappy or not satisfied. Then the itinerary arrives two years later informing you that the camping holiday (under canvas), is all booked for two weeks in June on South Georgia in the South Atlantic which time is their mid-winter. Would you not think that justice and fair play would allow you to decline? But, this is Brexit, nobody, or at most only a very few in the secret inner circle, knew what the outcome would be (and we still don’t). Surely, in the interests of justice and fair play, the negotiated result must be subject to an acceptance referendum?
Then, finally, there is the Catalonian Referendum which was brutally suppressed by violence. And now they are talking about allowing Catalonia a second referendum in which the whole of Spain will vote. Don’t they tell you never to play cards with a marked or a stacked deck? The rules, cards and tables must give all players an equal chance. But then this is just another example of the abuse of power; it is the same issue as Westminster, Holyrood and Hollywood are facing over the abuse of women.
If we are the democracies we claim to be this kind of behaviour by the authorities must be regulated and stopped. Each side of the debate needs to present facts that they can irrefutably assert. If it is only an opinion, they should say so. Vote buying toffee promises must not be made, particularly during campaigning when that side looks like losing. Since we seem to be good at laying down the ground rules on the mechanics of running referendums, why are we so inept at rules of debate and engagement? Ah! Yes. The object is not to settle an issue and neither is it to provide justice or fair play; it’s to get your own way – winner takes all – daddy knows best.