I hate referenda and always have done. They are the refuge of weak governments. The 1975 European Referendum was a ridiculous political contrivance and every referendum ever since has been the same or worse.
But they happened and catastrophically last year Britain voted to leave the EU. As the Brexiteers never tire of telling us - get used to it. Well I am, and it doesn’t stop me being angry about it. Sadly it is an historical fact that the British (mostly English) voted for something that is stupid and damaging. As a result the Scots can’t wait to have another go to gain their freedom from England.
Much though I don’t want to see a break up of the Union, I don’t find it hard to understand why they are calling on the Prime Minister to agree to a rerun of 2014. Why? Because they were sold a pup. The British government told them that voting to stay in the UK meant staying in the EU. Now look what’s gone and happened.
On top of that it’s a big opportunity for the Scottish Nationalists. Unlike in England where Theresa may faces no real political opposition, Nicola Sturgeon has fire in her belly and a level of political nous that May lacks and Sturgeon relishes the battle ahead with the Conservative government. Our dull, autocratic prime minister may have turned down the Scottish request, but the SNP will continue to snap at her heels, doubtless to great effect.
I am out on the streets of Bristol most weekends with my colleagues from Bristol for Europe, a Brexit resistance movement that was born out of spontaneous anti-Brexit demonstrations on College Green last year. Recruiting Bristolians is remarkably easy - we have signed up close to 5,000 already. But en passant I hear others who voted to remain saying they are unhappy but we must respect the “will of the people”. “The people have spoken”, “it would be undemocratic to defy them”. Every time these phrases are spoken a chill goes down my spine. Democracy didn’t suddenly come to an end on 23rd June, thereby silencing people like me forever, did it?.
It is Orwellian to argue that the people of Bristol and elsewhere can’t change their minds. When the facts change then policies should change too. It will be to the SNP’s advantage as the efforts of the government to negotiate a deal with the 27 nations of the EU unravel, as they surely will. It should similarly be to the advantage of those who have always believed that exiting the EU will cause untold damage to the UK and remove at one stroke many civil liberties, most particularly the right to carry an EU passport.
The lead up to the invoking of Article 50 has been a dismal reflection of the health of British democracy. Vague and unexplained policies have been allowed to go almost unchallenged in parliament. If our parliamentary government is unable to function as a representative democracy as the great parliamentarian Edmund Burke argued in 1774 in a speech to the electors of Bristol, then the people will have to take the matter into their own hands. In the course of time, we will demand that we have the opportunity to overthrow the mad decision made last June and kick out the political zealots and all their lies and deceits. And it should be noted that another referendum would be the third on EU membership, not the second.
Stephen Perry, an officer of Bristol for Europe.
PUBLISHED IN THE BRISTOL POST 20TH MARCH 2017