A Tale of Two Exits: Scotland and Brexit

Straight answers to straight questions: lessons from the Scottish referendum

1. In December 2014 I wrote a blog post entitled A tale of two referendums. The piece was written in the light of the September 2014 Scottish independence referendum and the year-long campaign which had preceded it. That experience had left me very sceptical about the wisdom and utility of referendums as a means of illuminating and resolving constitutional questions. I wrote:

“ . . . referendums are no way to conduct politics in any mature multi-party Parliamentary democracy. They do not, after all, give straight answers to straight questions. Their very calling may be the result of political manipulation, and their results remain subject to radical political re-interpretation. They necessarily misrepresent difficult and complex political issues by reducing matters down to but one question, which can only be answered yes or no. They require certainty and finality in the face of the uncertain and the unknown. They do not allow for a multiplicity of voices or viewpoints. They leave no space for compromise. Information and properly informed discussion is lost in their barrage of unverifiable claims and unfalsifiable counter claims as to what the future holds from each opposing side in any referendum battle.”

2. I predicted that, as with the Scottish independence referendum:

“ . . . similarly competing and irreconcilable claims will be made by the opposing sides in the campaign around the anticipated referendum on the United Kingdom’s continuing membership of the European Union, following the coming general election. Those wishing the UK to break from the EU will doubtless extol the mythic virtues and heroic vigour of Albion unbound ...

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