Brexit (open planting hole)

I was in British Columbia during the Brexit vote (for both a vacation, and a public forum on Canadian federal electoral-system reform). So no time for a full post. But by popular demand**, here’s a discussion opportunity for F&V readers. Clearly, the outcome raises a whole host of F&V-relevant issues…


* About which, more later
** I might note that Brexit reminds one that following the popular demand can be risky sometimes.

29 thoughts on “Brexit (open planting hole)

  1. Perhaps a second referendum asking if England and Wales wish to leave the United Kingdom in order to leave the European Union?

      • The whole problem is because England is the Prussia of the UK. A majority of regions is a silly idea when there are only 4 (5 if you count London). Perhaps a constitutional referendum (as this one was) needs a majority of the 5 regions as well as a national majority.

        Better yet, it needs something like the Irish referendum council to inform the debate. When the Leave campaign uses a series of arguments that are simply factually and testably untrue, like the immigration claims, the famous 350 million a week, or the viability of post-Brexit free trade with the EU there really needs to be some way to test those claims.

        Like jd I am on the fence on this issue. I suspect Switzerland is different because their electorate is used to referendums and takes them seriously. Perhaps you should either have no referendums at all, or lots of them. A once in a blue moon referendum devolves into a kind of super-by-election. I may have to run screaming from the room if I read another Leave voter saying they wanted to punish the government, not leave the EU.

        The EU also needs to think very, very seriously about the Technocrats Rule OK style of decision-making and move fairly quickly towards a more democratic structure.

      • For greater clarity, in Ireland a commission must be appointed for each referendum. The commission is required to be impartial and is subject to judicial review. Its functions are: ‘to explain the subject matter of referendum proposals, to promote public awareness of the referendum and to encourage the electorate to vote at the poll’.

        Anyone can ask the commission about the impact of a referendum proposal and here is one example of some answers from the same-sex marriage referendum.

    • Actually England (and Wales) leaving the UK solves a number of problems at once.

      They immediately leave the EU, while the UK, consisting of Scotland and Northern Ireland, ignore the referendum result and stay in the EU. This seems to be in line with the wishes of the population in all four realms, and saves the Scots the trouble of having to leave the UK, then apply to join the EU, while it spares the English from having to go through the whole Article 50 process.

      As a bonus, it solves the West Lothain question immediately, and the English no longer have to deal with Northern Ireland.

      • Scotland and NI cannot ‘ignore’ the result and remain in the EU. They are not sovereign independent states. Whether they could leave the UK before it leaves the EU is a different question, but a number of EU countries (esp. Spain and France) seem determined to veto negotiations with Scotland about EU membership, insisting that they must leave the EU together with the UK.

        The West Lothian question really applies to all devolved administrations. Last time I checked, Wales had such an administration, and Wales voted to leave the EU.

      • It isn’t going to happen. Apart from anything else the United Kingdom (Celtic Fringe) would inherit the UN security council seat, NATO membership, EU membership and a number of other perks. Equally the Kingdom of Rumpland would find itself starting de novo in international relations.

        Moving to a more realistic scenario, if Scotland does become an independent sovereign state, the prospect of it being refused EU membership is zero, zip, nada.

  2. Pingback: Brexit vs. BC-STV: Help with my principles! | Fruits and Votes

  3. The British political parties switched fairly recently from having the parliamentary parties select their leaders, to a more American style system where the party membership in a ballot has the final say.

    How is that working out?

    • Seems to be working fairly well for the Conservatives. Though the 2016 leadership vote may have problems.

      Not so much for Labour. There is a sentiment that the process choose the wrong Milliband and a much clearer sentiment that it chose a very wrong Jeremy Corbyn. Now that Labour has a leader who does not have the confidence of his party room (to use the Australian term) but who may be reelected anyway by the membership.

      Full Disclosure: I personally find the election of party leaders by party members to be undemocractic except in systems where political parties are explicitly elected to parliament. MPs have explicit mandates has people, allowing an outside, private corporation to dictate who those MPs have to take orders from does not sit well with me. I also can see major problems when the Queen is obligated to call on someone who may not have the confidence of the House when he only holds party leadership because of the votes of people who are not in Commons.

      That’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.

      • The only situation where the queen would have to call on someone in those circumstances would be if the prime minister had lost the confidence of the house or tendered advice for an unlawful course of action.

        The practice in that situation has always been for the sovereign to call for the opposition leader. It is completely unchanged by who elected the opposition leader. The party members are not a private corporation any more than the party caucus is imbued by the law of nature with a monopoly of wisdom.

        Yes, the wrong candidate will be elected now and then. That happens with general elections and it happens with referendums. Before talking too much about Corbyn, we may care to recall the exciting Iemma/Rees/Keneally period in NSW when the premiership of the state was largely decided by a person convicted this week of misconduct in public office. Or the almost equally exciting Rudd/Gillard/Rudd period when caucus managed to destroy a Labor Government.

        Labour in Britain has adopted a mildly eccentric and opaque set of election rules. Those will be fixed in time. The prospect of returning to election of the Labour leader by a private club meeting in the faux Gothic splendour of the world’s best clubhouse is nil.

      • I think the reason the Conservative rules work so well is that they ensure the elected leader has significant backing in the parliamentary party, by having it do all but the final round of voting. I think this could serve as a model not just for Labour but for parties around the world.

      • Mark, you could be wrong, but I doubt it.

        On the other hand, Alan makes a good point about the hazards of full caucus control over the party leader.

        Like the referendum rules thread, this is one of those cases where they may be no perfect solution. Nonetheless, I find the “separate origin” of the UK Labour rules quite troubling in a parliamentary context. I realize other parties have used similar selections without such a bad outcome, but Corbyn is an inherent risk. This brings some of the worst features of presidentialization with few or none of its advantages, given the wider systemic context.

  4. The Irish election commissioner ideas sounds good idea. Another is to have fixed amount of time the campaign can run from. It seems to me that the campaign lengths for the Scottish and EU referenda were chosen to give the government’s favour option to work. So in the former, the Scottish government choose a long campaign and the latter the UK government choose a short campaign. Now, both lost, but still, probably having a fixed campaign time is better.

  5. British electoral law is in a fairly chaotic state. There is no uniform franchise and the right to vote in referendums tends to be redefined on a case by case basis. The franchise for the Scottish independence referendum (or more correctly, the first Scottish independence referendum) was slightly different from the EU referendum. The legislation for this referendum was the European Union Referendum Act 2015.

    If we lived in the UK, Henry, Tom, Wilf and I could all vote as ‘qualifying Commonwealth citizens’. JD could not.

    Irish citizens can also vote under a savings provision that treats them as if they were qualifying Commonwealth citizens.

    UK citizens living in Cyprus, Ireland, and Malta who were dual nationals could still vote as qualifying Commonwealth citizens. UK citizens living in non-Commonwealth EU countries could not vote if they had lived overseas longer than 15 years. Peers cannot normally vote but were allowed to vote in this election if they were qualifying Commonwealth citizens or UK citizens. Gibraltar citizens were also allowed to vote, if they were Commonwealth (including UK) citizens or Irish citizens.

    At least one member of the house of commons was unable to vote in the referendum.

    The expatriate population of the UK who live in non-Commonwealth EU countries is estimated at 2 million. T he resident population of the UK who come from Commonwealth non-EU countries is estimated at 1 million. The resident population of the UK who come from non-Commonwealth EU countries is estimated at 3 million.

    I have absolutely no doubt there is an underlying rhyme or reason to these franchise rules but unfortunately my head exploded after I attempted to understand the act.

  6. I think the ramifications could be as serious as the break up of the UK. Scotland voted to remain by 62%. In 2014, Scotland voted by 55.3% to stay in the UK. If leaving the EU will get 5.3% of the voters in Scotland to flip their vote then we could be looking at an independent Scotland. (Of course turnout and franchise rules will play a big part.)

    For the first time I think a United Ireland is a real possibility. Although the Ulster counties weren’t as enthusiastic as the Scots for remaining at 55.8% the ramification seem more concrete. Great Britain doesn’t need to erect a wall as it is an island. But if the UK wants to secure its borders I don’t see any other alternative other than to erect a wall between Northern Ireland and Ireland, or else Ireland becomes a conduit for all EU citizens to enter the UK. I’m not sure if the Northern Irish would stand for that. Erecting a wall to divide Ireland seems akin to the Berlin Wall. Also, perhaps it is easier to join a country together, like a united Ireland, than to create an independent country, such as Scotland. (I admit I have no evidence to support that claim.)

    • I find the prospect of a United Ireland very unlikely, although admittedly more likely than before 23 June. There is still a Protestant majority in the North, which would probably continue to resist becoming part of the Republic unless Brexit is extraordinarily economically damaging. As for a wall, even if Britain does not accept free movement of people (which looks likely), security can be achieved on borders without a wall in many cases. While it would be theoretically rather easy to merge Northern Ireland with the Republic, I am unsure a somewhat cash-strapped Republic would be too thrilled about accepting Northern Ireland, which has a regional government deficit of US$6900 per person.

      • The British Army was unable to seal that border with a massive commitment to electronic surveillance, fortified watchtowers, mobile forces and air patrols during the Troubles. I don’t remember the Brexit forces mentioning abandoning the Irish peace process or militarising the Irish border as one of the many benefits of their proposal, but I guess it fits with their Boy’s Own Annual and Biggles forever view of the world.

        The Irish, meanwhile, on both sides of the border, are used to quite a lot of precedents for English politics wrecking their lives so at least the experience will not be entirely unfamiliar.

  7. It seems that the main immediate effect of the vote will be to make Theresa May the Prime Minister. The second most important immediate effect has been to trigger civil war within the Labour Party.

    This article from the Spectator is worth reading about what is unique about the British Labour Party and why its organization is both unique and has always posed a challenge to British constitutional practices:

    • Breaking news:
      Liam Fox has just dropped out of the UK Tory leadership race after coming fourth out of four candidates on the first ballot.
      Good news, you say. Surely the lowest candidate deserves to lose, you say.
      But wait – that’s not all. Apparently Conservative MPs are going to hold another ballot soon, among the remaining candidates.
      You know what that means, don’t you…?
      Liam Fox’s supporters are going to get to VOTE TWICE.
      In fact, if there had been seven or more candidates, our research shows that their votes could have been counted as many as SIX TIMES!!!!
      And, as you know, each time a ballot gets transferred to a different candidate, it swells in power and potency, growing until at last it towers over Big Ben like Godzilla…

      • I too appreciate the irony of a party rejecting a voting method it uses for its own elections as a means of voting nationally.

        Especially when a candidate gets 50% and more of the vote in the first round and the election ISN’T over.

      • That too, Mark. 43% against Michael Foot and the Two Davids* was enough for Margaret Thatcher to lead Britain, but 84.9% against Sir Anthony Meyer wasn’t enough for her to lead the Conservative Party.
        I debated this issue with some Young Conservative in the Spectator’s comboxes back in 2011. (Remember those years? “David Cameron has sagely called for a vote against AV in the referendum! Let all true Conservatives pay heed to the views of our esteemed Prime Minister…”). He seemed to think that (1) exhaustive runoff ballots were the ideal, but (2) if it wasn’t feasible to hold more than one ballot, then (3) FPTP was better than AV. I have commented in this place before on the odd affinity of anti-AV FPTP supporters for runoff systems. – Of which the UK now has numerous.
        I’d ascribe the AV referendum result to simple conservatism. As far as I can make out, every public office or body established in the UK within the last seven hundred years is elected by some form of runoff (mayors), STV (Scottish local councils, Irish assemblies and councils), MMP/ AMS PR (Scottish, Welsh, London Assemblies), or List-PR (Euro-MPs). You have to go back to the thirteenth century for the origins of the only bodies in the UK that are still elected by FPTP or MNTV (the Commons and local councils).

      • Tom, I’m afraid you misunderstand the Conservative leadership rules. In the next round of the election, the only people allowed to vote will be those who supported Liam Fox. The voters for the other candidates used up their one vote in the first round, while Fox’s supporters are able to use their second votes to make their choice in the second round.

        This update was made in 2011, when Prime Minister Cameron, after reading the No2AV campaign’s material, insisted that the Conservative Party’s leadership rules be changed to reflect a more accurate understanding of the exhaustive ballot system. No doubt, having sixteen MPs deciding the candidates for Conservative leader to be put to the members is unfortunate; it is just lucky the House of Commons is not elected in such a way.

      • The Commons was not always elected by FPTP. Until 1832 most electorates were multimember and the last multimember electorates were not abolished until 1948.

        During the debate on the Great Reform Act 1832 many MPs and peers defended the rotten boroughs on the grounds that the MPs gifted into those seats by the great families were often better qualified than the MPs who were actually elected. Debates on the secret ballot in the 1860s and 70s were dominated by plaintive cries that without the open ballot landlords would not be able to trust their tenants because they would not know if they had voted as directed. Before the secret ballot the real-life equivalents of the Earl of Grantham regularly sent their land agents to note how the tenants voted and turn out anyone seen voting the wrong way.

      • Tom, I think you meant the 54.8% Thatcher won against Heseltine. The 84% she won against Sir Anthony was in fact sufficient to end the voting.

        The irony of the Conservatives opposing AV yet using the exhaustive ballot for leadership election was raised in Parliament when a young Liberal Democrat MP asked Thatcher about it in a 1990 PMQs, referring to the leadership election then under way. Thatcher did not give much of an answer but just reaffirmed her support for FPTP.

    • Yep, Alan, I know about AP Herbert getting into the Commons as an MP for Oxford under STV-PR, and Joseph Chamberlain’s Limited Vote electoral machine in Birmingham. To clarify, what I meant was that the only currently-all-FPTP elections in the UK are for institutions that were already three centuries old when Columbus sailed.
      Incidentally, did Euro-MP elections in the UK seem to be turning into a British equivalent of Australian half-Senate polls or what? (Closed-ticket PR, government not at stake, huge protest votes). Now both will soon be extinct.

      • The Parliament of England was 3 centuries old when Columbus sailed. The Parliament of Great Britain first met in 1707. Single member districts were restricted to Scotland in 1707 (all seats) as a way of restraining Scottish influence and then to Scotland and Ireland (all seats bar the counties, Cork and Dublin) in 1801. On a fairly spectacular malapportionment, Scotand had 46 seats and Ireland had 100. With Catholics excluded from the franchise until the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, I suspect that land agents in Ireland had many fewer tenants to keep track pf.

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