Thriving local economies are a guarantee of democracy. When there is enough money in circulation to enable people to participate in the economy, they can fully participate in politics. Gimmicks that mimic democratic participation but limit the terms of debate are becoming more popular. Governments may seem to be taking decisive action but gimmicks mask political accidie, spiritual and practical sloth.
The three referendums held in the UK since 2010 is evidence of our democratic deficit. None more so than the current European referendum.
The purpose of business is not solely personal wealth but common good. A few months ago I reviewed Christian Felber’s book, Change Everything that describes a new international movement to build an economy for the common good. Another Europe is Possible is a campaign for a united Europe around a radical alternative economic model. These two resources to show there are radical narratives, real alternatives to the European Referendum debate. What follows is solely my view and not endorsed by these or any other campaigns.
The Alternative Vote
The first referendum of our brave new democratic era was the Alternative Vote referendum in 2011. Unlike its predecessor, the 1975 European Referendum, this committed the government to a course of action, should the vote have gone in favour of change. The earlier referendum was consultative. This change applies to all three recent referendums.
I’ve never been impressed by referendums. If it is consultative, why hold it? If not, why do we elect Members of Parliament, if not to debate the detail of these issues? I prefer to vote for politicians with a programme. I may not agree with every detail of the programme but it is important to have politicians who can be trusted to promote a programme I support.
The vote went against AV. Observe what happened. Whenever anyone raises proportional representation, they tell us we’ve already had our referendum on that topic. This neatly glosses over the fact that AV is not a form of proportional representation.
There was no consensus about the options on offer in this referendum and just like all referendums, the results are interpreted by the government.
The Scottish Referendum
This referendum did not offer an option favoured by most Scots. They voted for the status quo and then at the General Election overwhelmingly voted for the pro-devolution SNP.
It seems the majority wanted to stay in the union but on some different basis. What basis? We don’t know because no-one has tried to find out. This is the attitude of politicians who are not prepared to put in the spadework, to find out what people want before calling a referendum.
Felber’s model of three pillar democracy, suggests that it would have been better to hold a constitutional convention and then a referendum on the results. Such a convention could cover the whole UK, considering not only Scotland’s governance but the other countries’ too. Somehow England has been fobbed off with the Northern Powerhouse and is still not going to get its own national assembly. (I’ve no idea whether this is what people want but they haven’t been asked and so how am I or anyone else supposed to know?)
Such a convention could look at all aspects of governance including proportional representation. It would also have the big advantage of uniting the Union. It always seemed odd they allowed Scotland a vote to introduce more democratic governance and the rest of us have never had the opportunity.
The European Referendum 2016
The same observation could be made of the European Referendum. Why not a Europe-wide convention followed by a Europe-wide referendum? Look at what we have now:
The Brexit campaign seems to feature no two supporters who have the same model for what happens after a vote in their favour. They have been so fixated on getting out, they have no plans for what happens when they do. This is the Wile E Coyote approach to politics. This character never looks where he’s going and periodically runs over the edge of a cliff, hangs in the air with his legs running, looks down and then falls.
If these so-called politicians are successful, the poverty of their vision will become apparent after the referendum.
Meanwhile we have the Remain campaign. Is it any better? The Prime Minister visited the leaders of European Governments and extracted a few concessions from them. This was hardly a people’s convention! Whether we like it or not, if we vote to remain, we will tell us we voted for the Prime Minister’s fix. For those who vote remain because it is a marginally better option than the other, this is galling.
The fact is this referendum does not have any bearing on the role of giant corporations, drawing finance out of national economies. The idea that voting leave will make the corporations go away is ludicrous. Neither will voting to remain.
If this debate is about national sovereignty, why most politicians ignore the last thirty years have seen an ongoing campaign to hand over sovereignty to unelected corporate elites? This is not going to stop if we leave the EU or indeed if we stay.
I do not see how a decision between two options neither of which will make any difference to anything that matters, can be described in any way, shape or form as democratic. Voting to remain perhaps keeps the door ajar for real change but Another Europe is going to face a long hard road, with the prevailing political consensus across Europe. The same consensus will prevail if we leave although it is even harder to see how the UK alone will tackle loss of sovereignty to corporate power, more effectively than united European people.
This unnecessary, divisive and reckless referendum was called to resolve party political issues by a party not prepared to do the spadework to find out what the people want. They don’t want to do it, the opposition don’t want to do it and it seems other European leaders don’t want to do it.
Accidie is spiritual and mental sloth. It means our politicians simply do not care about our future. They do not trust the people and so three times in the last six years have offered us false choices. The last two times, they batted back the politicians’ proposals as simply unacceptable. Maybe this time the same will happen, which is better than joining Wile E Coyote at the foot of the cliff, I suppose.
The thing that worries me most is: what happens in the event of a victory for the leave campaign? The chances are the politicians leading the Brexit campaign will lead the UK government. They have shown a poverty of vision only comparable to their bombast when they claim to be radical. These are not radicals. They have no plan and no vision beyond an idealised image of Britain. They can see there are problems in Europe and have leapt to a solution without understanding the problem. If they want to be taken seriously as politicians, they should lead us – that’s what we elected them to do.
And the opposition? It seems their internal divisions make them terrified to find out what the people want. A broken and divided government requires an opposition with vision. Would that we had one. Since 2010, not one politician has come up with a programme that unites their party and appeals to a majority in the country.
Hypothetically, what would happen if the vote went to leave and then at the next election (which could be sooner than we think) the opposition were to win? Now we have a party in power, overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in Europe and mandated by referendum to leave. What then?
Not possible? It happened after the Scottish referendum. OK if you think that’s far-fetched: what if the vote at the referendum is very close? If that happens, it is possible for most politicians to find their constituents voted the opposite way! A few huge majorities one way and lots of small majorities the other. When the vote goes to parliament, do you vote with your constituents or the overall majority?
I do hope someone somewhere is thinking through these scenarios. It is deeply troubling the government does not appear to have done so.
It is outrageous we are in a place where we have to decide between two sides of a political party who do not have one viable idea between them. The one thing we can depend upon is the corporate élite will take advantage from either outcome. The politicians will continue as they are, helpless in the path of the corporate juggernaut.
I can’t be the only person thinking along these lines. What do you think?