Today on Facebook a friend posted an article by Vince Cable saying that Liberal Democrats would table an amendment in the debate on the humble address (response to Queen's Speech) calling for a referendum on British membership of the EU. Only problem: the article was from 2007.
It was the wrong idea in 2007 and it's even more the wrong idea today, but not just because we would lose the referendum today. Misunderstanding about the EU is deeper than it ever was and not by accident. The media have been feeding the public lies and distortions about the EU for several decades. Many politicians from all parties have compounded the problem by repeating the casual xenophobia on which it is all based. But the whole idea of a referendum is wrong.
A referendum is the worst possible way to decide complex issues. Why ?
1. People rarely vote on the merits of the actual issue, but on clusters of related and unrelated matters. Classic example: the referendum on AV. Polls show and have shown for years widespread support for electoral reform but people voted on their opinion of the Liberal Democrats at the time.
2. When an issue is complex, if people vote on the issue at all, they vote on the basis of media representations of the issue, which are often far from accurate and usually biased. In this case, a tiny minority (both for and against British membership) would read the actual treaties. The vast majority will have read and heard over and over again the myths propagated by the media. Before you respond that I am being elitist, I am not saying that people are incapable of understanding the issues. In frequent discussions face to face I am convinced that most people can understand the issues. I AM saying that they won't because they won't have a face-to-face discussion. Instead they will face the continued bombardment of deliberate distortion in the media.
Europhobes (they are not sceptics, not doubtful or critical - they want out) will argue that the issue of in-or-out is not complex in itself. Everyone can understand it. If the Scots can decide whether they want to be an independent country, so can the UK. Totally different question. Scottish Nationalists are actually less nationalist than the British europhobes. They want Scotland to be a country within the European Union, a supranational body. Europhobes by contrast peddle the myth of national sovereignty, that Britain should and could have the power to decide all questions independently. A moment's reflection on the global economy, the environment and security shows this to be impossible. They constantly paint supporters of the EU as wanting to "create a country called Europe", another lie. The EU is about different countries working together.
If anyone persists in arguing the merits of referendums, do they then think that the question of whether British soldiers should fight, kill and die abroad would be a suitable subject to put to referendum. The public has never been asked to vote on the North Atlantic Treaty nor on the fundamental change a few years ago when NATO decided that mutual defence included fighting out-of-area. Perhaps questions rather more important than anything for which the EU has competence ?
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