This blog has been covering the case for holding a Brexit Ratification referendum. This was brought up at the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) conference held in Edinburgh in March. The motion below was passed at the RIC AGM held on June 30th. This is followed by a letter by Allan Armstrong which was printed in The National, and another by Steve Freeman, which was printed in Weekly Worker.
The following motion was passed at the RIC AGM on June 30th.
1. This meeting recognises that a majority of the Scottish people voted to remain in the European Union.
2. We condemn the Tories imposing a hard anti-working class ‘all British Exit’ on Scotland.
3. We call on the Scottish government to hold a ratification referendum on the Tory deal.
4. We note that if a majority of the Scottish people vote against the Tory deal this would be a justification to trigger a second Independence referendum.
Allan Armstrong wrote a letter to The National in support of this, which was published on 24.7.18.
In The National of 23.7.18, Carolyn Leckie has raised the idea of the Scottish government holding a rerun of the 2016 EU referendum. Like Carolyn, and for similar reasons, I voted to Remain in 2016. I have even less illusions in the EU than Carolyn. I recognise that the EU, unlike the UK, is not a state with is own army or police force, but is a treaty organisation between existing member states. But therein lies the rub for neither Scotland nor Catalunya are states, so their national concerns are not recognised by the EU.
However, the UK state has even more of a stranglehold over Scotland, and the purpose of those in charge of Brexit is to further centralise state power to protect the rich and powerful. They want to undermine the employment and welfare conditions for both UK subjects and EU residents. Or as Nigel Lawson has put it, “Brexit will complete Margaret Thatcher’s economic revolution”, only this time not in alliance with Ronald Reagan, but with Donald Trump.
I would suggest that better than a rerun of the 2016 EU referendum, would be a Ratification referendum. Brexiteers never provided any plans in the event of a Leave vote, and we are now witnessing the shambolic consequences. So a new referendum should be over the conditions of the proposed Brexit deal. It is highly unlikely that Yes voting Leavers, or indeed even some No voting Labour Leavers, are happy with the Brexit deal now being pushed by the Tory Right and DUP, mightily helped by the anti-democratic nature of the UK state.
The Brexit vote did split the Yes movement, even if the Remain vote was not only overwhelming, but also formed a majority right across Scotland. Yet, a third of the original Yes supporters voted Leave. Thus, a Ratification referendum would provide the possibility for reuniting both Yes Remainers and Leavers. Both May, and sadly Corbyn, continue to hide behind the dubious ‘democratic mandate’ of the Leave vote, despite the rigged franchise, with the exclusion of EU residents and 16-18 year olds (in contrast to IndeyRef1) and, as Carolyn points out, “the daily exposure of breaches of electoral law.” But a call for a rerun referendum would most likely strengthen the hard Right in England. However, many Brexiteers would find it much harder to oppose a Ratification referendum, bringing “power back to the people”, than a rerun of the 2016 EU referendum.
A successful Ratification referendum in Scotland would increase the pressure to hold a wider referendum, or to trigger a general election in the UK. Either of these could undermine the continuing slide to the Right in UK politics and lead to a break in the current political logjam, which is only aiding the Tory and further Right. However, any continued attempts by May and the Tory Right to obstruct the likely outcome of a Ratification referendum in Scotland could also provide a more effective spur to either IndyRef2, or whatever form the next stage of the Scottish democratic movement takes.
(for report see RIC-Edinburgh blog at:- http://radicalindyedinburgh.blogspot.com/2018/08/the-case-for-eu-ratification-referendum.html)
Letter from Steve Freeman published in the Weekly Worker on 26.7.18 (https://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1213/letters/)
On September 16 Tory MP Justine Greening came out in favour of a second referendum. She proposed three questions and a system of preferential voting. The Labour Party is not in favour, but did not rule it out. Theresa May said it would not happen under any circumstances. Politicians and parties are split between ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘maybe’.
There will be a Tory deal with the European Union. There will be a process of ratification. The only question is, who will be able to vote to ratify or reject it. It could be ratified by the crown – perhaps by the privy council. It could be endorsed by the Westminster parliament with its 1,450 MPs and lords having a ‘meaningful vote’. It could be ratified or rejected by 46 million people in a ‘people’s referendum’.
Opposing a people’s vote means supporting the authority of the crown-in-parliament. There may be a case to oppose a ratification referendum, but it is not based on general principles. This would find the Weekly Worker automatically opposing the Irish referenda on gay marriage and abortion and the Scottish referendum on self-determination and separation. We cannot hide from the working class behind a big wall of ‘principles’.
We are not dealing with any old referenda at any old time, but specifically in relation to the fight over the United Kingdom leaving the EU. It is essential to distinguish ‘repeat referendum’ from ‘ratification referendum’. The term ‘second referendum’ is often used to confuse or obfuscate. We need to cut through that.
A repeat referendum means asking the same question from 2016 – “Do you want to leave the EU?” It is claimed by the right that ‘leavers’ in the ruling elite want to overturn the result by running it again. The Irish case is cited. After the Treaty of Lisbon was voted down, the Irish government ran it again to get the result they wanted.
In principle there is no reason why a given nation should not be asked the same question again. People are then free to give the same answer or change their minds. Democracy is a process which involves learning more of the truth and thinking again. Elections every five years could be annual events. They are not ‘once in a lifetime’, as Cameron described the 2014 Scottish referendum. Scotland’s IndyRef2 would be a repeat referendum asking the same question as in 2014.
A ratification referendum is different. It is not seeking to repeat the first EU referendum. It is asking a different question for the first time: ‘Do you support or reject the deal negotiated between Her Majesty’s government and the EU?’ The 1976 Common Market referendum was in effect a ratification of Ted Heath’s actual agreement to join the EU on known terms and not a decision to join in principle.
In England, ‘leave’ supporters often describe a ratification referendum as a ‘second referendum’ to suggest it is an attempt by anti-democratic forces to run the same event for a second time and get a different result. In January 2018 Nigel Farage mischievously called for a “second referendum”. He wanted to repeat the same question to put an end to the “moaning of politicians who had not accepted the previous vote” (The Independent January 11 2018).
Recently the University and College Union circulated its members to consult on a ‘second referendum’. General secretary Sally Hunt explained: “At its recent meeting the national executive committee (NEC) agreed to my recommendation that the union consult members on whether to support a second referendum on the final Brexit deal negotiated by the UK government.” Since there has not been a first referendum on the final deal, this displays a Faragean level of confusion.
We must be absolutely clear. Our slogan must be ‘No to a second or repeat referendum – yes to a ratification referendum’. Justine Greening called for a second referendum, containing both repeat and ratification-type questions. It must be opposed, but not on the grounds that we oppose every referendum on principle, everywhere, on every occasion.
In England there is a democratic case to oppose a repeat referendum and support a ratification referendum. The 2016 EU referendum divided the working class in England. A repeat referendum would deepen that divide and play into the hands of the Tory right, Ukip and the fascists. Jeremy Corbyn is correct to rule out a repeat referendum, but wrong to oppose a ratification referendum.
In Scotland the argument is different. A majority voted to remain – an important distinction between ‘leave’-voting England and ‘remain’-voting Scotland. There is no reason for Scottish ‘remain’ supporters to repeat this – although Scottish ‘leave’ supporters may have a reason to call for a repeat, hoping Scotland may have changed its mind.
At the end of the day the issue of a referendum is a tactical question in a struggle that has divided the country into ‘leave’ and ‘remain’. We need to locate the case for a referendum in the struggle between reactionaries and ultra-lefts, on one side, and liberals and democrats, on the other.
also see article by Steve Freeman, The Crisis of Democracy, in Weekly Worker, no.1214