If "Remain," "Hard Brexit" and "Soft Brexit" had been the options, the vote could have gone differentlyby Tom Clark / January 30, 2018 / Leave a comment
With the leaking of an official report, which makes stark how any flavour of Leave will make Britain poorer, the Brexit collision course with reality is becoming plainer this week. And, consequently, we are seeing the whites of the Leavers’ eyes.
We have heard David Davis’s department concede that No 10 found the economic analysis “embarrassing”, heard Liam Fox being forced to retract a reported remark that his fellow hardline Leavers should ready themselves for disappointment, and heard Iain Duncan Smith being a very quiet man when he was pressed on the grim prognosis in the Whitehall papers.
As the Brexiteers begin to look unsure about whether they wanted to win, it is a pertinent moment to ask whether they had to.
“He who pays the piper calls the tune” is often said to be the surest law in politics. But when it comes to referendums another is just as powerful: he (and let’s face it, it is mostly a he) who frames the question fixes the answer.
Thoughtful democrats have worried about the concentration of power that comes with the freedom to choose the moment of the vote, the terms of the proposal, and above all the choices on offer since the plebiscite that made Napoleon Emperor in 1804.
In particular, it tends to be easier for voters to rally against change, than to rally in favour of any particular proposition.
Electoral reformers in New Zealand were wise enough to avoid falling into this trap. When they have wanted to change the way the country votes, they split the question about whether to ditch the existing system, from the question about which system should be picked to replace it.
In this way, in 1992, they got overwhelming agreement to ditch First-Past-the-Post system without getting tangled up into defensive knots about the particular system that was picked to replace it.
There were moments when David Cameron appeared to also understand the importance of framing the choice. In the 2014 vote on Scottish independence, he held out stubbornly against the Nationalists’ demand to put “Indy-Lite” on the table. He foresaw (as, of course, did the Nationalists) that the hazy idea of a loose federation with London would be likely to come through the middle, and best both the dull offer of the status quo, and the scary leap of outright separatism. That was wise.