Brexit vs. BC-STV: Help with my principles!

As I noted earlier, I happened to be in British Columbia while the British were voting to leave the EU.

[Note: If you want to make general comments on Brexit and what happens next, please comment at the earlier thread. I’d like to keep this one on the narrower topic raised here.]

I never liked the BC-STV vote having been “defeated” in 2005 despite a clear majority (57%), due to a threshold of 60% having been set. But I do not like the UK “mandate” to leave the EU by a vote of 51.9%.

Is there a principle that reconciles my two positions? Or do I just have no principles regarding referendums*, and assess the rules for passage by whether I like what is being proposed? Help, please!

(I have written about referendum approval thresholds before.)


* Other than that, in general, I’d rather not have them. I rather like representative democracy and deliberative institutions.

32 thoughts on “Brexit vs. BC-STV: Help with my principles!

  1. Well, one way to square the circle is to think of the Brexit vote as a constitutional one, for which a higher threshold is natural. Certainly, the Brits on both sides were patting themselves on the back for asking the people to decide a constitutional question. Of course, with no formal constitution in the UK, they make up the rules as they go along.

  2. 60% is arbitrarily high, but a majority is too low. Majorities are what it takes to control a government, all else being equal. If you can’t win control with whatever number of electoral majorities are needed, you shouldn’t be able to change those same rules with a single majority. Because changing the rules is always about changing control of the government.

    No, that’s not good for people who want reform, but it is good for people who want reform to stick.

    • At the last election, the Conservative Party ran on a platform of deciding the issue of EU membership by a referendum. They won 36.8% of the vote. UKIP ran on opposition to the EU, and their manifesto explicitly stated that there would be a referendum. They won 12.8% Adding the DUP, which opposes EU membership, brings the total figure to just above 50%. As far as this issue was discussed in 2015, there was a majority mandate both in terms of seats and votes for deciding this issue by referendum.

      • If the UK had proportional representation, would Brexit been less likely to happen? Could the Tories had relied on other parties to stop the EU referendum from happening, as not all Tories are oppose to the EU? I guess Pro-EU Tories will vote Liberal Democrat.

      • Rob, I cannot say whether PR would have made Brexit less likely. On the one hand, it is true that southern pro-Remain Conservative-Lib Dem undecideds would have felt less compelled to tactically vote Conservative. On the other hand, there would be UKIP sympathisers who tactically voted Conservative as well, and UKIP was substantially more popular than the Lib Dems. So it is somewhat hard to tell, as the 2015 government formed could have been a Conservative-Lib Dem one (probably no Brexit) or a Conservative-UKIP one.

    • State like California have let voters vote in referendum to set and entrench higher vote thresholds that weren’t passed by that same majority like Prop 13 passing with 65% but entrenching that parcel taxes can only pass by a two-thirds majority, if I am right about that. That is a good question about referendum thresholds, but I think that at least an absolute majority with an absolute majority of registered voters is a good threshold.

      But for countries that use referendums to amend their consitutions, a referendum shoud not be unlinked with a general parliamentary election. Australia and Ireland are good examples. I think that if a parliament passes a constitutional amendment that needs to be ratified by the voters, then the referendum should only take place at the same time as a general parliamentary election; this means if the government deems it proper to amend the constitution, then an election held concurrently with a constitutional referendum, the main reason is that voter turnout is higher, and that the government has to be careful what amendments it is proposing as the amendments could be defeated along with the government.

      The UK has no written constitution, so pretty much everythng is by convention. Is the law on early elections entrenched or can that be repealed if there is an early election? Is the UK moving towards a Swedish style fundamental laws Constitution?

  3. Decisions should require a “clear majority” is the Canadian cliche. Some people ask “if 50% + 1 is a clear majority, what is an unclear majority?” To which a chorus would shout “39.6%” (the vote that let Stephen Harper exercise one-man rule.)

    The problem is not the threshold. The problem is making that kind of decision by a referendum in which the “Leave” campaign was given a free pass to have no plan. As Janice Stein said on CBC Monday night about referenda “They divide. They take complex problems and say yes and no. They inflame passions. They are actually a very dangerous tool. I’m glad we don’t do more of them.”

    • Seeing as Cameron was pro-remain, and the terms of the treaty require notification of leaving before any negotiations can take place (as the Italian, French and German governments have made abundantly clear), I think the lack of a plan was almost unavoidable. Even if there was a plan it would not have been very meaningful because a)other EU countries could make it unworkable as soon as negotiations start and b)as Cameron seemed to have planned to resign in case of a leave vote, we still wouldn’t have known who was going to implement the ‘plan’ until September.

      As to the arguments against referenda (inflaming passions, simplifying complex issues, being “dangerous tools” etc.)… What about Switzerland? I myself am more or less on the fence on the topic as a whole (though more sympathetic to certain types of referenda and more uncertain on others). But in any case I think the overall case against referenda really needs a convincing answer as to how Switzerland has managed quite well on the whole despite being a country which holds at least a dozen referenda each year on the federal level and many more on cantonal and local levels. I’m not arguing, I’m asking – if it works reasonably well in Switzerland, why not elsewhere?

      • Referenda appear to work reasonably well in Switzerland, but as I understand it the country is highly de-centralized, with a comparatively weak federal government (all the more so because its decisions can be circumvented by referendum). That said, the referendum mechanism has at times been used as a tool to prevent changes well past the point they should have been enacted into law, as was the case with female suffrage at the federal level, delayed until 1971.

        (I was once told that the absence of female suffrage was not as bad as it appeared, as married Swiss men would only vote as precisely instructed by their disenfranchised wives, but I found this explanation quite unsatisfactory: hen-pecked husbands have rights too…)

        More recently, the 1992 rejection of the European Economic Area referendum, in many ways similar to the recent Brexit vote in the U.K. – the overall outcome was quite narrow, but French-speaking cantons in western Switzerland voted overwhelmingly in favor, while most of German- and Italian-speaking Switzerland soundly rejected the proposal – had long-term, unexpected consequences, among them being a factor in the 2001 demise of SwissAir, the country’s once-prestigious national airline (its successor Swiss International is German-owned, much to the chagrin of the Swiss people). And then there’s the immigration referendum of 2014, which proved to be a virtual replay of the 1992 EEA poll, down to its equally narrow outcome and the stark differences between the French-speaking cantons and the rest of the country.

      • Johnson, Gove, May and Farrage knew, at minimum, that they were deceiving the electorate.

        They admit that the weekly $350 million for the NHS is not there. They knew that Norway and Switzerland pay contributions to the EU for participation in the single market. They knew there would no access to the single market without contributions. They knew there would be no acess without free movement. They knew London’s standing as a financial centre requires free movement. They knew the US and the Commonwealth would not be in any hurry to sign free trade agreements with a post-Brexit Britain. They knew the EU regional subsidies would end. They knew that Brexit would almost certainly lead to a second Scottish independence referendum. They knew that the Irish peace accords depend on an open border.

        If they did not know that merely makes them fools instead of knaves. I think it likely that Farrage fits into the first category.

        The only possible conclusion is that they intended to lose narrowly and make themselves heroes of plucky little England (I do not mean Britain) reviving the glory days of 1940. Cameron would be destroyed. Boris Johnson would be prime minister (unless his closest ally and campaign manager stabbed him in the back at the lat minute). UKIP would surge in the polls. It would be party time all round.

        They did not announce a plan because they expected to lose and because lifting the veil on the ghastly prospect they actually offered would have led to a shattering defeat.

        ‘Vote Brexit and reduce the UK economy from fifth to sixth in the world in one easy 24 hours’ is just not all that persuasive as an electoral slogan.

      • I stand corrected, although she has surrendered to the red meat Tories completely since the referendum.

      • I do not think anyone was demanding a ministry-level plan for Brexit. However, both official Leave campaigns made promises and statements that they knew were simply untrue and which they disavowed the day after the vote. Cornwall was promised that EU subsidies would continue. An end to free movement and the continuance of free trade with the EU were both promised. The NHS 350 million a week was promised. The Norwegian model was promised without mentioning that free tree trade with the EU costs Norway a considerable amount of money.

        These egregious deceits were not promulgated by random nutters at the margin of the campaigns but by offical statements from the two organised campaigns.

      • Most (though certainly not all) of those leading the Leave campaigns were not in government, not in a position to enter (let alone lead) the new government, nor in government by now. I’m not sure how those politicians to which this applies can be expected to ‘deliver’ on their campaign ‘promises’.

      • The Leave campaigners themselves disavowed the 350 million a week for the NHS as a ‘mistake’ the day after the vote. It had however been a drumbeat of both campaigns for weeks before the vote. The concept of post-EU Cornwall receiving EU regional subsidies makes most of the NO2AV claims look positively intellectually respectable. In what possible universe would the EU concede access to the free market on terms more favourable than those which Norway has?

        And at what stage did any Leave campaigner say ‘Of course we are not in government so we cannot possibly be expected to deliver any of these promises we are making’?

    • That’s an absurd rationalization: there’s no way a Leave campaign could have had a plan, because it was not a single, cohesive entity capable of creating one. Basically you’re saying that referendums on changing the status quo should only be held if the governing party is in favour of that change and has a plan for it. That’s almost exactly the kind of attitude that lends itself to creating the very anti-elitism that gave rise to the demand for the EU referendum.

      I would say the problem was the threshold. Less than 3 in 8 voters voted to leave – so not even half the electorate supported leaving. The issue could have been effectively dealt with by placing either a super-majority of votes cast (e.g. 60%, or 3:2, so Leave would need 50% more votes than Remain) or an absolute majority of the electorate – 50%+1 of eligible voters, regardless of turnout. On the latter, with the 72% realized turnout, Leave would have needed about 69% of votes cast rather than the 52% they did get.

      • To a big extent that is true (and it’s an important point against the exaggerated accusations of deceit on the side of the Leave campaigners, whose rhetoric, aims and ‘promises’ were in fact quite diverse, meaning that not every leading Leave campaigner called for reduced immigration, for instance), but I think more importantly there couldn’t be a real plan because
        1. the Article 50 procedure, which the EU can use to delay any negotiations until *after* the irreversible decision is formally made to leave, could make any scheme completely unworkable (plus, how do you negotiate effectively when your whole negotiation strategy is out in the open from beforehand?). There was actually a list of goals published by the Vote Leave campaign, which they did call their ‘plan’, though it is indeed very limited as a workable path forward for these very reasons.
        2. the government was against – so any resources from the ministries that could have been devoted to drawing up a plan (still constrained by point 1, but nonetheless closer to something usable for different scenarios). Allowing for (even a weakly plausible) leave strategy to be put forward is the very last thing the government wanted to do, as it would have undermined their case. Their aim was the very opposite – to make leaving the EU seem as bad an option as possible. Deceit was a big part of their strategy – exaggerating the benefits of the EU for Britain, the influence Britain has within the EU and the meaningfulness of the deal Cameron negotiated with EU leaders, the consequences of leaving and even threatening more austerity measures and an emergency budget. A completely understandable strategy, but ultimately a risky and irresponsible one with severe ramifications, exacerbating uncertainty and expectations of doom on the market when the Leave vote did come.

  4. As to unusually high referendum thresholds, Micronesia probably tops the list. Amendments to the Micronesian Constitution require 75% of votes to be cast in favour in 3 out of its 4 states – that’s not 75% of the total vote, but 75% IN EACH of the states voting in favour. Out of 58 proposed constitutional amendments since the constitution was ratified in 1978, only 4 have been adopted. Not that this has stopped them from trying. A number of proposed amendments having been put to voters multiple times, such as the proposal to increase the congressional term to 4 years, which has been up for a vote a total of four times since 1978.

  5. Generally speaking, I’m of the view that thresholds create more problems than the ones they’re supposed to solve. I’ve already stated this on Twitter but I think it’s worth repeating: without the 40% electorate threshold, Scotland would have attained devolution in 1979, on the basis of a 51.6%-to-48.4% majority – an outcome almost identical to last week’s Brexit vote. Granted, the devolution deal Scotland would have gotten back then would have been inferior to what came to pass two decades later – for one, the devolved assembly would have been elected by FPTP – and it might not have survived the Thatcher years in one piece; nonetheless, the 40% electorate requirement left a legacy of bitterness which I believe has never been fully overcome, the subsequent achievement of devolution in 1997-99 notwithstanding.

    (And for the sake of simplicity, I’m assuming Margaret Thatcher would have come to power sooner or later: I’m well aware that with devolution victorious SNP would not have voted against then-Prime Minister Callaghan in the subsequent parliamentary vote of confidence, thus saving him from defeat in the House of Commons and in turn delaying the ensuing general election won by Thatcher.)

    Likewise, a 40% electorate threshold would have killed Welsh devolution in 1997 (in 1979 it was a non-issue as Welsh voters overwhelmingly rejected the idea in the first place), as well as the proposed Scottish Parliament tax-varying powers (but not the proposal to re-establish the Scottish Parliament, which would have cleared the threshold).

    In Spain the UCD government of Adolfo Suárez imposed a 50% electorate majority threshold in Andalusia’s 1980 devolution referendum, in a clear attempt to derail the proposal, purely for political reasons: Andalusia leaned left at the time, and the government feared a devolved administration there would become a PSOE power base. In the end it became a self-fulfilling prophecy: the supermajority requirement was attained in seven out of eight provinces, UCD had no choice but to come to terms with Andalusian devolution (which became a reality after a bit of creative law-making to deal with the “holdout” province), and the party finished in a humiliating third place in the first Andalusian Parliament election held in 1982, a development which in turn accelerated its disintegration already in progress, and led to an even more disastrous showing in the nationwide general election a few months later.

    That said, a few countries have threshold requirements I find quite reasonable. In Italy, a winning referendum proposal will not be deemed legally binding unless an absolute majority of registered voters has taken part in the event. Note that such a requirement would not have had any effect on the 1979 and 1997 U.K. devolution referenda, or last week’s Brexit poll. All the same, any threshold based upon the number of registered voters is only as good as the quality of the electoral registry.

    To be certain, either a 40% percent electorate requirement or a majority requirement in all four of the U.K.’s constituent countries would have sufficed to stop Brexit, and in turn avert Cameron’s resignation; the extremely adverse reaction from the financial market; and the turmoil within Labour. But I doubt it would have been a cost-free outcome from a political perspective, and there might have been an adverse market reaction all the same on account of the majority Brexit vote per se, but probably nowhere nearly as dramatic.

    The bottom line is that having referenda means having to live with their potential for delivering undesirable outcomes (as with gay marriage in the U.S. prior to 2012, or female suffrage in Switzerland before 1971); and if supermajority thresholds are to be put in place, the rules should be kept simple, reasonable and clear from the very beginning.

    Finally, while the Brexit vote was non-binding, and while many British voters were clearly ignorant and/or misinformed about the huge ramifications of their decision, it reflects nonetheless the democratically exercised, majority will of the people. From that perspective, it seems to me that the only way to get around its outcome short of having another referendum at some point in the future (as has been the case in Denmark and Ireland) would be holding a general election to settle the matter.

    • I agree with you for the most part; the only clear and non-arbitrary majority is just that 50% + 1. Anything else encourages bitterness on the “losers”. I’m not unsympathetic to the idea that close results for non-binding referenda can be ignored on the basis of non-consensus, but it probably creates more political problems than it solves.

      My problem with the “voters were clearly ignorant and/or misinformed” or they “regretted their vote afterwards” as a basis for ignoring or redoing the vote is that such arguments apply to ordinary elections as well. Universal suffrage means that everybody, including the the misinformed and/or misinformed, has an equal say in the decision, so long as they vote. And, in the case of close results, they can swing the results on way or another. From a neutral ‘democratic’ point of view, a referenda or election (in its ‘raw’ form) can’t deliver “undesirable outcomes” so long as it free and fair (of course, in case of legislative elections, way that votes translate into seats can be less than optimal). It is only from a particular political point of view that they can produce such “undesirable outcomes”. So for example, the Scottish referendum produced its result 55% NO 45% YES; whether the Scots made the “right” or “wrong” choice depends on your political viewpoint.

      • Christopher, just to clarify I’m not making the case that apparent ignorance and/or misinformation on the part of many British voters ought to be the basis for ignoring or repeating the referendum: while one would like to think that voters cast their ballots on the basis of an informed, rational choice, the truth is that many voters base their decisions on other considerations, such as family ties (“everybody in my family votes the same way”). Rather, the fact that the referendum was non-binding gives the British government and Parliament considerable legal (but not political) flexibility in finding a way around its outcome; that said, I firmly believe such a course of action must be pursued in a way which reaffirms rather than subverts the democratically expressed will of the people. Other than holding a repeat vote, the only possible way to fulfill that requisite would be to hold a general election, which out of necessity would have to be held under the existing FPTP system, with all its well-known shortcomings; at the expense of stating the obvious, the unfortunate fact is that the chances of a general election in Britain being held by PR are virtually non-existent at this juncture.

        I certainly agree that universal suffrage means that everybody, including the ignorant and/or misinformed, has an equal say in the decision, so long as they vote, but an important distinction must be made between referenda in the U.K., which are called infrequently and at the government’s pleasure (as there are no legal mechanisms for voters to trigger referenda, unlike in other countries like Switzerland), and general elections, which by law have to be held on a regular basis, and which allow voters the opportunity to reassess the choices made in previous events, informed or otherwise. In fact, folks in Switzerland must have either rolled their eyes in disbelief or laughed out loud (or both) upon learning about David Cameron’s views on “neverendums” and the utter finality of the Brexit vote, all the more so given that Swiss referenda have often revisited previously settled matters, such as the country’s UN membership (rejected in 1986 but accepted upon reconsideration in 2002) or female suffrage in federal elections (approved in 1971 after prior failed attempts).

        Now, I would say that from a neutral legal point of view, referenda or elections can’t deliver undesirable outcomes so long as they’re free and fair, a neutral ‘democratic’ point of view is not fixed but changes as time goes by. For example, from a legal perspective elections in South Africa prior to 1994, or in U.S. Southern states before 1965 may have been free and fair (more or less) but by no means truly or completely democratic (at least by present-day standards), given the mass disenfranchisement of non-white citizens.

    • An early election will lead to a fragmented parliament even with FPTP. It would be better to tough it out. Another referendum could lead to another No vote.

  6. The problem with referendums is that some people don’t like the outcome. You wanted STV-PR to pass, but no Brexit. The rules are set before the game is started and cannot be thrown out if you do not like the result or outcome.

    It is a binary choice. Are there referendums that are multiple choice, maybe we can use Australia style preferential voing to vote for the least worst outcome?

    • Australia has held preferential plebiscites although not very often. The last was a choice of national anthem. I voted unsuccessfully for Waltzing Matilda but my second preference, an appalling dirge that actually uses the word ‘girt’ was successful.

      There is a long-running suggestion for a preferential plebiscite on different forms of republic followed by a binary referendum. New Zealand held preferential plebiscite for a flag followed by a binary referendum.

  7. No, MSS, you’re not being contradictory here by holding here both positions simultaneously. Both extremes are indeed wrong.

    There is a stable middle ground in between, on the one hand,

    (1) permitting some irreversible change to be enacted immediately if and as soon as it’s approved by 50% plus 1 of the votes cast on however low a turnout: versus, on the other hand,

    (2) ruling that some proposed change has been killed off forever, even if it gets more than half the votes cast, because it did not satisfy some other supermajority hurdle (whether a greater-than-50%-plus-1 percentage of votes cast, a turnout quorum [whether active or passive], and/or widely-dispersed geographical support).

    In other words, the solution is to have a second referendum on to three years later, if the first is inconclusive (ie simple majority but no special majority in favour). The percentage of votes required at the “runoff” referendum should not exceed 50%, but there’s still a case for an active support quorum (not, note, a passive turnout quorum, ever, because those are non-monotonic – 27% yes, 20% no, 53% abstain means a referendum proposal in (eg) Italy and Sweden would be defeated, but if an extra 5% of the abstainers had turned out to vote “No”, their opposition would, perversely, have helped the referendum proposal to pass).

    My own suggestion (have at it, Alan and JD, I know you will find flaws) I call the “40-60-80 model”, as follows.

    1. The proposal passes on the first ballot if supported by both:

    (a) Nationwide, 60% of all voters who cast valid ballots for or against, and

    (b) In each of at least 80% of the member States/Provinces, at least 40% of all adults entitled to vote have turned out and cast votes in favour. (In a unitary nation, this would simply translate to a 40% support quorum nationwide: in other words, a unitary nation has one single “member state” that is coterminous with the nation.)

    (For present purposes, I stipulatively decree that what Argentina, Austria, Canada, and South Africa call “provinces” are counted as functionally being “states”. They are not “provinces” in the French/ Irish/ Italian / Spanish sense.)

    3. If the proposal is supported by more than 50% of ballots cast, but falls short of one or both of the above criteria, then it shall be put to a second referendum if, and only if, 12 to 36 months after the first referendum, at least 5% of all legislators so demand.

    4. At the second referendum, the quorum required is the same (“40% in 80%”) but the percentage of votes required nationwide is reduced to 50%.


    * This formula combines an active turnout quorum with a requirement of geographical dispersion.

    * Requiring active turnout support from 40% of all adults qualified to vote in 80% of the States is a better protection for federal minorities than the Swiss/ Australian requirement of 50% of votes actually cast in 50% of States. A smaller proportion of States can veto a proposed amendment if they oppose it.

    * On the other hand, a State would only be counted as “opposing” an amendment if fewer than two out of every five of its residents can be bothered to turn out to vote in its favour. If, as often happens in Australia, (say) 47% of the adult citizens residing in a particular State turn out to vote “No” while 45% vote “yes”, this may be more political disagreement than defence of the fundamental interests of that State.

    But anyway, my main point is: saying “we’re not prepared to pass such a fundamental change in law or policy just yet” should never be equated to “therefore we have also rejected it for all time”. The latter is also a far-reaching decision – and very debatable if the change has attracted simple majority support. Unfortunately, Australia has a history of using the argument that “we have already voted on this before, and it didn’t pass, so that means you should vote to reject it again now” as if that meant something. Thus, eg, changing to a republic was “resoundingly rejected” on one occasion because “only” 46% voted for it, but it was fine for John Howard to bring in a goods and services tax (something that has impacted on both the ordinary individual and the structure of government far more than a minimalist republic model would have) even though only 49% voted for his party in 1998. It’s like the difference between 32% (massive defeat for AV, 2011) and 36% (resounding endorsement of David Cameron, 2015) in British constitutional law.

    • There are specific problems in both the BC and UK referendums. These flow from ill-thought out attempts and claims about entrenchment. The BC government took a unilateral decision that the electoral system was entrenched against anything less than a 60% majority. The UK government takes the position that the decision of a simple majority of the electorate is entrenched against any and all forms of repeal or amendment. So my first point is probably that the executive, or a legislative majority acting on the executive’s recommendation, should not get to impose one-off entrenchments.

      The ACT Self-Government Act 1988 has an interesting provision, Section 26, which effectively says you can only entrench a law by the same procedure that you are proposing for amending or repealing the entrenched law.

      So let us begin with BC. If you want to entrench the electoral system so that only 60% of the electors can change it, then you should first hold a referendum to that effect and the threshold for that referendum to pass should also be 60%.

      Let us move to the UK where the Brexit referendum should not be regarded as binding future parliaments or governments unless it includes a specific provision saying that the UK constitution is amended in that way. English legal authorities (although not Scottish) invariably claim that the parliament is sovereign and that the decisions of one parliament cannot bind future parliaments. If that is a rule of the UK constitution then it should not be amended except in express terms and the Brexit referendum included no such terms.

      Lastly let us think about Australia where it is indeed claimed that because the electorate rejected a particular republic in 1999 all future republics are precluded. Again the solution is very simple. If you wish to stop any future republican referendum then you should propose a constitutional amendment to that effect and have it passed by a majority of the electors and by a majority of electors in a majority of states.

      I also think it is entirely appropriate for any referendum proposal to be self-funding. A referendum like Proposition 13 should have included detailed provisions for which government activities would be cut to ensure that municipalities could maintain roughly the same fiscal balance after the referendum as before. A referendum to, say, abolish the income tax should also state what programs will be cut to keep the fiscal balance where it was before the referendum. The good people of Cornwall should not be placed in the slightly embarrassing position of simultaneously voting to leave the EU and then watching their pro-Brexit municipal leaders demand to be given the same level of regional subsidies the EU gives them.

  8. Good thread. Thanks. I want to highlight one of Manuel’s points, because I think it is really spot-on:

    “…an important distinction must be made between referenda in the U.K., which are called infrequently and at the government’s pleasure (as there are no legal mechanisms for voters to trigger referenda, unlike in other countries like Switzerland), and general elections, which by law have to be held on a regular basis, and which allow voters the opportunity to reassess the choices made in previous events, informed or otherwise.”

    I do appreciate Tom’s attempt to come up with a rule that makes the referendum more deliberative. Is it too complex? Of course, what I really want to know is, would it have meant BC-STV passed (I think so) and Brexit failed? Because, of course, I have no principles.

  9. Brexit and BC-STV differ greatly in the ease with which the proposed change may be reversed. If Britain leaves the European Union, there will be no “Uninstall Brexit” button for British voters or government to push — powerful external forces will have been activated. In contrast, the BC legislators can change the electoral system (and twice have done so) by simple majority vote, without unleashing forces beyond the control of BC electors and governments.

    This suggests a criterion for setting thresholds: if a proposal is likely to lead to irreversible change, a referendum should be designed with higher intrinsic resistance to change. There is no reason to apply the same formula to Scottish secession as to a change in the State Fossil of Idaho.

    On this view, Brexit should have required a much higher threshold for change, perhaps Tom’s multi-step procedure. BC might have had a much lower threshold for electoral reform (though not one so low as to encourage frequent changes purely for partisan advantage). One example would be a referendum using a multiple-option preferential ballot, à la PEI 2016, with action mandated if a reform option ended up 5% or more ahead of the runner-up or the status quo option ended up more than 5% behind the winner.

    Of course, this raises a question: who decides whether or not a proposed change is irreversible?

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