There are those that say a win is a win, usually accompanied by; so get over it. However, this is not athletics where, however close the result, a win is indeed a win. Nor is it a general election, run on the “first past the post” basis in individual constituencies, where a win is a win but its effect is local and a national picture only emerges by combining 650 of these individual wins. There will be some very close calls and anomalies but these are in general averaged out due to the number of seats. The system is not perfect and has many critics but it is a relatively robust measure of the mood of the country. A referendum is just a single national poll whose purpose is to ascertain the opinion of the people.
Because it is a single poll there needs to be safeguards to ensure the result is actually measuring something and is not just a result of random errors (aka noise). Many countries, when they hold a referendum require there to be at least a 20% margin for the vote to be deemed decisive. Others, also require a minimum turnout. Clearly if a referendum produced a result of 60% yes 40% no … then the Ayes would have it. But if, as happened in the referendum in 2016, the result is 52% leave 48% remain then there has to be some doubt.
One doesn’t need to be a mathematician to think that this doesn’t look like a decisive win. This begs the question, is this intuitive view correct and can it be quantified? In other words, is the possible error in measuring the “will of the people” measurable and is it larger than the margin of error? A paper written by several eminent professors of statistics (see link below) shows that the error is indeed quantifiable and is considerably larger than the result and that the result cannot possibly be relied upon, other than indicating that the people are undecided. The paper also shows that the 60% win threshold, used in many countries, has a good scientific basis.
The paper cannot be dismissed by the tedious incantation by non-mathematicians that you can prove anything with statistics. This is a closely argued paper that employs a variety of tools, widely used in biometrics, to demonstrate beyond doubt that the referendum did not yield a result that has any practical or material significance and that the assertion that the people voted to leave is at best unproven. It manages to establish this fact very early on by the simply use of Effect Size. It then goes on to consider more technical aspects of Heterogeneity.
It is an important paper, and the Government and others should study it. Ignorance is no defence in law … or politics.
The Act of Parliament that enabled the referendum made no mention of any threshold or minimum turnout. It should have done, especially given the consequence that could flow from it. The reason was probably that few people expected such a tight vote. Whatever was expected, it was a mistake. All organisations and institutions, even Parliament make mistakes. What is required now is for Parliament to do the honorable and democratic thing and rectify this mistake.
Links to more information
Apart from the obvious spray of lies, manipulative hate-mongering and fantasy world domination from the mouths of Farage, BoJo, Rees-Moog and others, there is also the small matter of electoral fraud. Vote Leave, the official campaign group, allegedly channeled funds through BeLeave and a company AIQ to get campaign funds of 625,000 GBP off their books so it looked like they were below the official limit of 7M GBP. If so, they broke electoral law and the Electoral Commission is now investigating. It is difficult to quantify the effect this extra expenditure may have had on the result.
Links to more information
The Precautionary Principle
Given the referendum result’s tiny margin it is not unreasonable to suppose it may well have been entirely different for any one of several reasons:
- The proven lack of any practical or material significance of the margin
- The possibility of electoral fraud
- The evidence of external interference
- The disinformation that characterised the campaign.
Given the momentous and risky decisions that are being built on the foundations of the referendum it is surely essential for the Precautionary Principle to be applied to ensure that these foundations are sufficient.
The Precautionary Principle is often invoked to protect the environment or public health. It is a general principle which clearly has application in this case of political health. There are many definitions of the Precautionary Principle. One is “caution practiced in the context of uncertainty”. That pretty much says it all and spells out why it is necessary to question the referendum of 2016.
Links to more information
The Referendum Act
The 2016 referendum did not impose any legally binding obligation to implement the result. It was advisory. The European Referendum Act of 2015 makes no mention of what must happen based on the result, which it would have needed to do, if it was to be binding. Parliament is Sovereign unless it explicitly agrees, through an Act of Parliament, to proceed in a particular way. No MP or indeed anyone can claim otherwise, but they do. It is a clear unambiguous legal fact which no politician in the UK has any excuse not to know about and to be familiar with the details as to why this is the case. They should perhaps read the Parliamentary Briefing Paper (07212), as well as the High Court judgement – Miller v Secretary of State (see below).
So, given it was advisory, what was the advice from the people that emerged from the referendum? Given the tiny and materially insignificant result, plus the prejudice injected by possible electoral fraud and a poisonous and deceitful Leave campaign, it is verging on the obvious that the only sensible interpretation of the message from the people was (is)… we don’t know!
The simple inescapable truth is that the government has no mandate from the people to take us out of the EU. It must hold a second and properly constituted referendum.
I recently received an email from the office of Jeremy Corbyn which states that “Labour respect the referendum result”. No justification is provided. It is a simple statement that appears to suggest that the referendum is beyond all possible doubt or discussion. The reason is of course, that the result is exactly what Mr Corbyn wanted but has never had the political honesty to clearly articulate.
By simply accepting the referendum result as being the last word on the matter he is flying in the face of reason, common-sense and good scientific evidence and is turning his back on Democracy to achieve his political aims. What is particularly galling is he is doing this while cynically claiming to be a champion of Democracy. I am not one who believes that all politicians are as bad as each other. There are many principled, hard working MPs on the front-benches and the back-benches in all parties. This is why it is a great shame that the Labour Party is not currently being led by one of them.
Unfortunately, to ensure a People’s Vote many Labour MPs need to vote for it. I hope they have the courage to defy Mr Corbyn. As well as ensuring a People’s Vote it may serve to start the process of repairing the Labour Party. I have supported Labour for most of my life but have lost all faith in what it has become under Corbyn. Democracy needs a united and effective opposition. It is, to quote that sage foody Donald Trump, … sad.
Recently (2 Sep 2018), writing in the Telegraph, Mrs May states that a second vote would be a “gross betrayal of our democracy”. It is a lesson in how polarised and irrational the whole debate about Brexit has become. One of her own party has quite rightly responded with a succinct: “balderdash”.
Our politicians have a duty to make themselves informed of the facts
and to make informed decisions. Politics should not be about ignorance
and lies. In a stable democracy, progress and change comes through
rational debate and persuasion. What is happening now is simply an
ideological war between two factions where rational debate is regarded
as small-arms fire and the heavy-weapons are ignorance and lies in equal
It is not democracy of any kind. It is not direct democracy as the people have not been properly consulted, and it is not representative democracy as Parliament is not being consulted or has a final say.
Also, what is being proposed by Mrs May as a means of protecting and supporting democracy is to stay in the EU in all but name but to forfeit all rights to influence it. I’m pretty sure that is not what the people want or indeed what the referendum was about.
The baleful Mr Farage has said he will re-enter the debate. So we should all expect the usual posturing arrogant noxious drivel. It is interestingly similar in bouquet to the exudations of Donald Trump, and his one time colleague Steve Bannon. The uniting thread is the so called “popularism agenda” which at its heart is a nasty, insular, racist and thuggishly ignorant ideology.
The Peoples Vote
So here we are. We should never have ended up in the mess we are in. It has been a toxic mixture of sheer incompetence and lack of judgement by some politicians, together with reprehensible deceit, lies and unforgivable ignorance on the part of others. However, we are where we are, and the call for another referendum on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations is the only solution left for the country.
A Peoples Vote is the right thing to do, it is the rational thing to do and it is the democratic thing to do.
A Peoples Vote will require an Act of Parliament. This should not just be a re-hash of the obviously flawed European Referendum Act of 2015.
- It should include a sensible decision threshold so that it is a proper and representative measure of the voice of the people.
- It should include provision for what should happen in the event of a leave, remain or no-decision vote, so people know exactly what they are voting for.
- It needs to allow those over 16 to vote, as was done in the Scottish referendum. (If you can join the army… you should be able to vote!)