My 350 on BREXIT: The will of the people

“All the wars in the former Yugoslavia started with a referendum.”

Peter Emerson
6 July 2016

The 2011 referendum  -  AV v FPTP?  -  a choice of Cameron’s 1st preference or his 2nd, did not identify “the will of the people.”  We all know that many people like PR, either the (Danish, say, or Swiss) PR-list, or the (Irish) PR-STV or maybe the (German) mixture, half PR-list and half FPTP.  In contrast, when New Zealand had a referendum on their electoral system, they had five-options, so (nearly) everyone could vote for what they actually wanted.

The winner of the 2014 referendum in Scotland was devo-max.  But it wasn’t even on the ballot paper!  No-one voted for it.  They couldn’t.  The choice was only status quo or independence.  The outcome, therefore, involved a highly inflated level of support for one or both of these options.

The EU referendum was also hopelessly inaccurate.  If people vote positively  -  I want ‘this’ or ‘that’ or ‘the other’  -  we can work out which is most popular.  But when some people vote negatively  -  Greek Cypriots say no, Gibraltar says no, Ulster says NO!  -  it is impossible to say what in fact is the vox populi.

Back to the EU.  OK, 48% want to remain, 52% do not.  But nobody knows for sure what the 52% actually want.  The referendum ballot should have asked at least three positive questions: d’you want the UK in the EU, in the EEA, or independent?

So, as in New Zealand, set up an independent commission.  It draws up a (short) list of options.  (Almost) everyone can then vote positively, and the result is a much clearer representation of “the will of the people.”

The (simple or weighted) majority vote is the most inaccurate measure of collective opinion ever invented.  Furthermore, its adversarial nature is often the catalyst of division if not bitterness and violence.  Indeed, “all the wars in the former Yugoslavia started with a referendum,” (Oslobodjenje, 7.2.99).  It really is time democratic structures evolved into a post-majoritarian mode.

In the aftermath of the historic British vote to leave the EU, openDemocracy is asking for our readers' thoughts on Brexit and what needs to happen next in 350 words. We've had an extraordinary response and you can read them all here.

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals

To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.

By adding my name to this campaign, I authorise openDemocracy and Foxglove to keep me updated about their important work.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData