I find myself sticking my twopennorth in on the subject of democracy rather a lot lately. Mostly commenting on the post-Brexit and pre-Trumpton rants and rumbles on facebook. So here are some distilled points in no particular order culled from these discussions and expanded on. There’ll be another part (or maybe more) made up of more general musings at a soonly date. Watch this space.
Part I: Thoughts thrown up by Indyref, Brexit and Trump v Clinton
Recent referenda — what a pleasant alliteration — I’ll say it again — recent referenda have unsurprisingly caused the word democracy to be thrown around with gay abandon — or at least abandon of fluid sexuality — of late. What has surprised me a little and discumknockerated me no end, has been the fluid lack of precision and logic with which it is thrown. As I may enlarge on at some point, it is saddening to see that the main mode of discourse these days seems to be sarcasm, rather than reasoned discussion.
It seems that democracy is actually defined as ‘the result I wanted’, undemocratic as ‘the one I didn’t’.
Let’s look at two claims being made as ‘democratic’ which are in fact the opposite:-
1 “You can’t keep rerunning a referendum until you get the result you want”
xxYes you bloody can! In an ideal world you maybe should. People who say this are really saying, ‘I like the result and I don’t want to risk finding that the majority don’t agree with me any more’.
xxOf course referenda cost money and irritate the public, especially in a country where they are rare events, as opposed to, say, Switzerland. Fewer and fewer would bother to vote and thus the result could get more and more distorted (though ‘democrats’ will point out that’s their own fault if they don’t get the result they want). But what we maybe should say is, we should (must?) consider rerunning a referendum if (and only if) there is reason to believe the result might be different. In the current climate it’s hard to say whether Brexit would change. Polls suggest not (possibly influenced in part by heels digging in, under an onslaught of ‘stupid’ and ‘eracist’ insults). Yes, campaigning could change that, especially if it were done better than the last farce, but now one vote has happened, campaigning should be about changing opinion first, reruns later.
2 “The people have spoken; we have to accept the decision.”
xxNo we bloody don’t. Not if there is any evidence they’ve since changed their minds. Not if we can present arguments that might cause them to change their minds. Not if we can prove they voted on the basis of being lied to. See above.
xxIf I’m in a minibus I believe is heading over a cliff because 5/8 of the occupants have voted to go that way, I don’t have to sit there singing The wheels on the bus until we plummet. I have a duty to all concerned to convince my fellow passengers to rethink, just as they should be trying to convince me by arguments other than let’s wait and see, that we are not actually going to die.
other shit at random:
xxDemocracy (if it can exist — and I’m no fan) is about representing the majority will of a people at any given time, as best we can. The referendum was a snapshot (and I would argue based on bollocks rather than reason on both sides), but it may well not be representative of the current opinion (which may well be even more Brexity for all I know); but we can only have so many of the damn things. Even the Swiss limit them a bit!
xxMany would argue that it is far from good democracy to have a major constitutional change on the basis of anything less than a double majority (ie a 67% vote like in Switzerland, Australia, etc — and I speak as a guy who voted for Scottish independence, but who would have been uncomfortable had sense prevailed by a mere percent or two).
xxThe chaos and division resulting from a close result is plain to see, and will affect the ensuing events almost as much as the legislative change itself.
xxNow the onus is on those in the (narrow) minority in the referendum to convince a sizeable number of the rest (or those who failed to vote) to change their mind (by exposing them to facts), and then let the government know that (while the onus on the other side is to convince us we were wrong).
xxWe have a precedent. In 1992, the people of Denmark opted out of the Maastricht Treaty by a 1.4% margin. After some negotiation, they had another vote a year later and chose to ratify by a 14% margin, on an increased turnout.
xxIt doesn’t help one bit to call the Brexiters morons or racists or other names, any more than it does for them (or their offshore billionaire media magnates) to call us unpatriotic whingers because we complain as their — and our — economy flushes down the pan.
xxOne of the many cats which the Donald has hoicked into a dumpster full of pigeons is the suggestion that he might not accpet the result (unless he wins, of course). This has had many commentators aghast, quite understandably, at the undermining effect such an attitude has on the standing of democracy in general. xxThey point out that, despite all the evidence which cast doubt on the Florida vote in 2000, Al Gore accepted the result, rather than rock any boats (I always thought the 1992 UK election was questionable; surprise at the difference between exit polls and the result never concentrated on how this narrow Tory win was centered on a number of key marginals ‘going against the trend’, even when many people came forward to say they had been denied postal or proxy votes, some being told they’d already cast them! It’s amazing how easily the pundits wonder why the polls were ‘wrong’ and how unprepared they are to consider the alternatives).
xxI can see the point but I wonder at what point this need to accept shades into pemission to fiddle?
xxIt reminds me of the late Master of the Rolls, Tom Denning, saying in the 90s that even if there was police corruption in cases like the Birmingham Six, it was more damaging to the public confidence to have this revealed, investigated and prosecuted.
xxI hate to say that I agree with Trump on anything, but elections are routinely ‘rigged’ to a greater or (usually, thank heaven) lesser extent. Gerrymandering, careful timing etc… the claim of all involved to believe in government by the people is undercut by their constant attempts to get that perfect snapshot. As we anarchists are fond of saying, if voting changed anything, they’d ban it.
xxIt’s not so much rigging as the entrenching of a hegemony, which tends to become smug. This point will be returned to later. By which time we’ll know who’s the leader of the ‘free world’. I was hoping to put a tenner on Trump; he was 5/1 a while back, but the bookies have paid out on Hillary already and now the new email nonsnse comes out and he’s dropped to 3/1. I don’t want him to win, but I like to follow the example of la frizada’s father who always bet against Wales in rugby matches: if they lost, he at least had the compensation of some extra beer money.
xxI did wish I’d put a load on Brexit, which was at 3/1 a few days before. Not so much as emotional compensation, but just so that what I got back was worth as much as my bloody stake money was before the bloody vote!
More to come post-US-farrago. For now, I have a novel to write and other stuff and next week there’s a short story from the irrepressibly unpleasant pen of Zelda McLeich.