We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Doing referendums differently so the oiks don’t win again

The Electoral Reform Society has released a report about the conduct of the EU referendum called “It’s good to talk: Doing referendums differently after the EU vote”.

The title “It’s good to talk” suggests a conversation, a dialogue. Unlike some commentary by prominent Remain supporters, it does not seek to rule that some people are not qualified to take part in the dialogue at all and their votes should be disregarded. In fact if I chose to use this particular document in order to criticise a paternalist tendency in British politics, it is because it shows this tendency at its most well-meaning. But however reasonably expressed, the purpose of the measures suggested by the Electoral Reform Society is to stop the wild voters ever getting loose again.

So it’s time for a root and branch review of referendums, learning the lessons of the EU campaign to make sure the mistakes that were made in terms of regulation, tone and conduct are never repeated.

“Regulation, tone and conduct.” How very British, how very Sir Humphrey! Yet the people who wrote this probably object to being called “The Establishment”. The report assumes that the referendum was ill-regulated and that the referendum was something that should be regulated. By people like them.

We’ve made nine key recommendations to improve the conduct of future referendums. They are:

Laying the groundwork

1. Mandatory pre-legislative scrutiny for any Bill on a referendum, lasting at least three months, with citizens’ involvement

2. A minimum six-month regulated campaigning period to ensure time for a proper public discussion

3. A definitive ‘rulebook’ to be published, setting out technical aspects of the vote, as soon as possible after the passing of any referendum Bill

Better information

1. A ‘minimum data set’ or impartial information guide to be published at the start of the regulated campaigning period

Written by their sort of people, containing the information that their sort of people think is relevant, impartial in the sense of being in the middle of the spread of opinion that is socially acceptable for their sort of people.

2. An official body should be given the task of intervening when misleading claims are made by the campaigns, as in New Zealand

“An official body” means a body with power. “Given the task of intervening” means given the power to silence. And, of course, the official body will be staffed by suitably qualified people. So some more of their sort of people will have new powers to censor the unenlightened.

3. Citizenship education to be extended in schools

I don’t really need to say it, do I?

alongside UK-wide extension of votes at 16

With the result that those who have only known a life where the majority of their waking hours were spent under the control of the clerisy will mostly vote as directed. There is another point, too. The extension of the franchise to children is no longer an anomaly if all the voters are treated as children. Like children, all the information they receive will be censored and filtered by their wise teachers, who get to decide what claims are misleading.

More deliberation

1. The government should fund a resource for stimulating deliberative discussion/debate about referendum

2. An official body should be tasked with providing a toolkit for members of the public to host own debates/deliberative events on the referendum

“Providing the toolkit” for debates is an example of the agenda-setting power.

3. Ofcom should conduct a review into an appropriate role for broadcasters to play in referendums, with aim of making coverage/formats more deliberative rather than combative/binary

It’s a referendum, for goodness sake. How can it be other than binary? Ah, I think I know. I came across many comments by Remainers saying that the simple option “Leave the EU” was too easy and the question in the corrective referendum should be broken up into multiple different flavours of Leave plus one flavour of Remain. This would have the happy effect of splitting the Leave vote.

We think our new report, ‘It’s Good to Talk: Doing Referendums Differently After the EU Vote’, will be a useful resource in tackling the big questions about where we go from here when it comes to referendums. We hope you agree.

I do not agree. The report suggests various measures that would reduce the chance that polite conversation will be interrupted by shouting. Another way of putting that is that the report puts forward measures to make it harder for angry, inarticulate people to be heard, harder for them to sense that they are not alone, harder for referendums to fulfil their function of yanking the people’s representatives back into contact with what the people actually want.

More than that though, we hope the recommendations we suggest lead to some genuine change so that the public get the referendum debates they deserve in the future.

The wording is revealing. Although the mention of the public getting what they deserve is meant politely rather than literally, debate is seen as something the public get given to them, not as something they do themselves, however raw and “combative” and “binary” it may be.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VKEmail this to someone

53 comments to Doing referendums differently so the oiks don’t win again

  • jdm

    What a wonderfully awful post 😉

    Should Hillary win, I fully expect something quite similar to be implemented here in the States. The arguments will be couched in that awful New York Times-ese which is a different sort of velvet over the old iron fist when compared to the Old World velvet of the upper class English twit dialect as documented here.

  • pete

    They should change their name to the Electorate Reform Society.

  • Runcie Balspune

    There was nothing wrong with the referendum, this is a solution to a problem that does not exist.

    The problem was that our dear government, led by the clueless Cameron, once they announced the referendum, immediately stated a position and a result they’d like to see and considered no other option. He did not plan for the Leave vote, he just threw his toys out the pram and stormed off when he didn’t “win”. He should be brought to account for that manner as most of the financial and economic upset was caused by him leaving the country without an effective government for a few weeks (he was hoping for a few months) during a time of upset over terrorism and mayhem on he opposition benches.

    The relative calm that followed the Leave result still seems to confound the leftist mentality, it was always going to be there. The real sh*tstorm comes once we invoke proceedings.

    A referendum is there to guide government, and once the decision is made the government needs to take the appropriate steps to fulfill the outcome that the referendum decided. All that is needed is (a) an impartial stance by the executive, and (b) a plan laid out for each eventuality disclosed to the voters. A minister who wishes to campaign for one side or the other should leave the executive, and that includes the PM.

    if a government does not like one side of the argument, it should not have a referendum.

  • Frank S

    Excellent post. The Anointed Ones have no idea how awful they look to free-thinkers like our good selves, but then that’s a side effect of deep smugness.

  • Alsadius

    To be fair, splitting the Leave options is okay by me as long as it includes a ranked ballot to get past the vote-splitting issue. But otherwise, I’m in agreement with you. It’s easy to talk about “impartial” this and “official” that, and sound really high-minded doing so, but actually implementing such lofty rhetoric never actually works out right in the real world.

  • It’s a referendum, a plebiscite. The simpler the choice, the more unfettered the arguments, the better.

    I’m old enough to remember the days when a referendum issue was restricted to a simple proposition or question stated as simply as possible, e.g. the South African referendum in the early 1960s: “Should South Africa declare independence and leave the British Commonwealth?” and I still remember seeing the millions of “YES” and “NO” posters scattered all over the country in the months prior.

    Alsadius, the idea of “consolidation” is a good one; but it’s unenforceable, because many of the “qualifying” clauses would be contradictory and thus impossible to consolidate. No; the simpler the choice, the better. Any question that can’t be settled by a yes/no choice should be avoided like the plague.

  • They could have been honest enough to write it in the active, not passive tense. “We will give ourselves power to intervene if we decide a claim is misleading… “, “We will write an official toolkit … “, etc., etc., ending with “You will pay for all this”.

    There is however one point. As regards 16 year olds voting, the result may not be “that those who have only known a life where the majority of their waking hours were spent under the control of the clerisy will mostly vote as directed.” Salmond actually did not help himself by letting 16-year-olds vote in the Scottish referendum. The 16-24 year old group voted ‘no’ by a small majority, the next age cohort voted yes and all higher age cohorts voted no. If we plot this as a continuous graph, the implication is that 16 and 17 year olds were most strongly no within the youngest age cohort, becoming less so in 18+. This was supported by such polls as targeted them specifically. It is possible that 18 is some cut-off point for the ‘too little experience to see through it but too old to trust your parents’ demographic, with 16 and 17 year olds beginning to reach back to the point where what Mum and Dad think still influences you strongly. One may hope.

  • The problem with shooting them is replacing the ammunition.

  • “The problem with shooting them is replacing the ammunition.”

    Perhaps in the UK. Over Here, the contents of my humble ammo locker alone would make a sizeable dent in their numbers. Which reminds me: I need to get some more AK-47 ammo this week.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Niall Kilmartin, I’ve heard contradictory claims about which way the 16-17 year olds voted in the Scottish independence referendum. From memory, one poll taken immediately afterwards said that they had voted narrowly for No, which would be very funny if true given Salmond’s blatant pandering to schoolchildren by lowering the voting age, but a later poll with a bigger sample size said that the 16-17 year olds had voted Yes as he had expected they would. Of course all polls are subject to sampling error and it is a known problem in the polling world that people sometimes lie about how they voted in the past, or convince themselves that they voted differently than they really did.

  • James Hargrave

    “Should South Africa declare independence and leave the British Commonwealth?”. I thought that that one was rigged (never mind the votes from South West Africa) by offering a republic and claiming that you could remain IN the Commonwealth…

    For the closest to proper conduct of referenda (not plebiscites – the referenda bind) in an Anglo-Saxon context, try Australia.

  • Stonyground

    Isn’t the real issue here the fact that the remainers still haven’t come to terms with the fact that they lost? The idea of holding the referendum was for the remain side to win, UKIP to be sidelined and the issue to be kicked into the long grass for the foreseeable future. The leavers weren’t supposed to win, the fact that they did must mean that the referendum wasn’t done in the right way. If it had been we would have got the right answer, stands to reason.

    Still, being on the winning side is even more satisfying when the opposition are such bad losers.

  • Brad

    I know was on the “wrong side”, Jefferson is quoted (paraphrased) as stating a society needs revolution every 75 years or so. Needn’t be all that bloody, just that every so often, regardless of original intent(s), those in power will pull shit like this to become a closed shop, and they need to be removed. The bloodiness is directly proportionate to how long they’ve had to put down their roots and how obstinate they are to being uprooted. Doesn’t really matter what “-ism” there was to begin with, the grifters will eventually impel the masses to utilize hooks and the most convenient waterway (e.g. the Tiber).

  • Pat

    Voting age.-
    Once people left school at 12 and voted at 21. That’s 9 years out of school.
    Now they leave school at 18 and vote at 18. No gap at all between listening to teachers and voting.
    I contend that this gives too much influence to teachers, especially considering the number who stay in education till they’re 21.
    We need to restore the gap between starting an independent life and acquiring the right to vote, else teachers have too much power and influence.
    Thank God people are living longer than previously so there are enough out of the influence of the education establishment to restore some sanity.

  • Alisa

    Pat beat me to it. Also, add the fact that young people are no longer allowed to work and earn money until they are 18 (in the UK?), and you get voters who have no clue about real life.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Thank God people are living longer than previously so there are enough out of the influence of the education establishment to restore some sanity.

    Yeah. Cuz thats worked out so well.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    I know was on the “wrong side”, Jefferson is quoted (paraphrased) as stating a society needs revolution every 75 years or so. Needn’t be all that bloody, just that every so often, regardless of original intent(s), those in power will pull shit like this to become a closed shop, and they need to be removed. The bloodiness is directly proportionate to how long they’ve had to put down their roots and how obstinate they are to being uprooted. Doesn’t really matter what “-ism” there was to begin with, the grifters will eventually impel the masses to utilize hooks and the most convenient waterway (e.g. the Tiber).

    Talk is cheap, armchair warrior.

  • Paul Marks

    This is really awful – they (the establishment) do not like the result of the vote, so they want to change the way the referendums are about.

    Let us remember what the vote was about – it was about European Union law no longer being law inside the United Kingdom and in our trade with third parties outside the E.U. (that is what independence means).

    There were “lies and distortions” in the campaign – but they were from the “Remain” side, they claimed (repeatedly) that leaving the E.U. would cost the United Kingdom money (the opposite of the truth).

    And the central point that E.U. law should not be law inside the United Kingdom?

    They “Remain” essentially ignored the central legal point.

  • prog

    They wouldn’t be proposing such things had the result gone their way.

  • Eddy

    ‘alongside UK-wide extension of votes at 16’
    Fine, as long as they are also allowed to drink in pubs and buy cigs. If they are old enough to help decide on the future of the nation then they are adults.
    If they are not regarded as adults in all other matters, then they aren’t adults.

  • RRS

    Did I miss something from way over here a wee bit west of the 71st meridian West, or was there a consensus (great word that)of the masses that they weren’t getting any “cheese,” their share of the “cheese; OR most likely:

    Keep the cheese, we want out of the trap!

  • CaptDMO

    WOW! We got CRUSHED, at our own game, with our own “fairness” rules. NOW what?
    “New Rules”. Indecipherably complex.
    OK, Calvinball it is!

    In the US we have an amusing bunch of “entertainers” that SWEAR they’re going to leave for Canada if they don’t get what they’ve been instructed to say.

  • Alisa

    Talk is cheap, armchair warrior.

    Do you know the person who wrote that comment?

  • Alisa

    Keep the cheese, we want out of the trap!

    Applies to so many things.

  • Roue le Jour

    The interesting question about Brexit for me was, what else were they lying about when they said it was impossible?

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    “Are you a dumbo who wants to leave Europe, or are you a smart and compassionate voter who wants to Remain in Europe?” There, fixed what the referendum question should have been! Next question?

  • David

    In the US we have an amusing bunch of “entertainers” that SWEAR they’re going to leave for Canada if they don’t get what they’ve been instructed to say.
    Don’t have a problem with that – though the Canadians might – so long as they don’t think they are going to come “Down Under’. We have more than enough home grown wankers of our own to cope with.

  • Isn’t the plural of referendum referenda?

    Anyway, is this better or worse than the EU method of simply re-running each referendum until the “correct” result is returned, as they did in Ireland (twice?). Both are pretty damned awful. The people who wrote that article you quote from ought to be dragged outside and put in the stocks.

  • We have more than enough home grown wankers of our own to cope with.

    A fair few Brits, too. Didn’t you lot end up with Ben Elton? And how come the union wankers who have death-grip on Australian industry have British accents?

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Tim Newman writes, “Isn’t the plural of referendum referenda?” I don’t know, but your question gives me an excuse to tell the story of how one mathematician asked another mathematician, “Would you care to drop round to take a look at some interesting conundra?” The second mathematician replied, “I can think of nothing more boring that spending the afternoon on our ba doing sa.”

  • Natalie writes very sensibly that we should be highly suspicious about “It’s good to talk:…”, which is obviously a totally specious statement.

    However, I must disagree with her strongly on referendums having to be binary. Also I disagree on tertiary or higher forcing a split of the vote (by using a ranking system, eg the Alternative Vote). Then I disagree with her on a composite question only splitting the ‘Leave’ vote, as discussed below.

    I apologise for the length of my offering, and request readers to try it all.

    Back on Fri 19 Feb 2016, I wrote on the ASI blog (largely repeating what I wrote there back on Monday 29th June 2015. Also repeating in spirit, what I have written elsewhere over several years including as early as 5th November 2009 on Archbishop Cranmer blog. The following are the bits relevant to Natalie’s post, cut and pasted from the recent ASI blog comment.

    Firstly, I am concerned that the proposed In/Out referendum does not and will not ever properly answer the big question that is in the minds of those who have thought about it. Thus, if In/Out is the question put, we in the the UK will continue in a state of unhappy lack of resolution.

    Secondly, the In/Out question strikes me as much more concerned with moving away from what has happened in the past; it is much less concerned with what we are moving towards. One might view this as a question on whether we should run away, or hang around – neither of which strikes me as particularly grown up.

    Thirdly, vastly inappropriate consideration is being given to the definition of the UK/EU arrangement that Mr Cameron might be able to negotiate, for promised future introduction into a new EU treaty. Whatever this arrangement is, the UK electorate need a sensible period for dissemination and consideration. I put this period at a minimum one year. I am very concerned that Mr Cameron and many others view a period of one week as adequate! [My additional view: Given Mr Cameron’s current inability to get any or much differentiation from the status quo: if there is no change in this, then the electorate do need much less additional time to decide. Moving early to the EU referendum would indicate to me, an admission of failure by Mr Cameron – that he has negotiated no materially different ongoing arrangement for the UK staying as a full member of the EU.]

    Fourthly, I see that political manipulation is aimed at using the seemingly simple In/Out question as a vitally important and firm step on the road to ensuring that the result of the vote is to stay in.

    Fifthly and lastly on my concerns, the question put should be, in spirit if not in precise wording: “What should be the future relationship (after any obviously necessary transition period) between the UK and the EU.”

    As the In/Out question is intrinsically inadequate, despite its claimed simplicity, I suggest that we should have a six-way question, with voting by numbered rank for the six identified future arrangements.

    A. Stay in on the current terms (ongoing ever-closer political union), and join the Euro.
    B. Stay in on the current terms (ongoing ever-closer political union); avoiding the Euro.
    C. Stay in on the terms newly negotiated by Mr Cameron and company; avoiding the Euro.
    D. Withdraw to a customs union status (most like Norway as a member of the EEA) with free movement of EU citizens, free movement of labour and services, and free movement of goods. Also with EU (not UK) policy on international trading agreements and on the UK’s internal-only trading standards (including health and safety of products and services)
    E. Withdraw to a free-trade arrangement (most like Switzerland as a member of EFTA, after it and the EU have followed the instructions of the Swiss electorate in February 2014, against the entirely free movement of people). This would allow free movement only of goods; no special free movement of EU citizens (ie visitor visa waiver only), no free movement of labour and (accordingly) more limited free movement of labour-based services.
    F. Totally withdraw from any EU-oriented trading, political and currency arrangements.

    As can be seen, between options D and E, this six-way referendum gives also a strong marker for future UK overall immigration policy. The differences between options A and B allow expression of a view on currency union (and eventual creation of an EU superstate). The differences between options B and C, as well as giving Mr Cameron some leeway, allow a view for/against forcing special conditions onto our current 27 co-members – surely a polite and neighbourly thing to consider.

    In my list of six, I think 3 can be interpreted as covering the current ‘In’ vote, and 3 can be interpreted as covering the current ‘Out’ vote. Thus I don’t think my itemisation makes any attempt whatsoever to swamp the current proposal with any sort of In/Out bias.

    As mentioned above, the vote should effectively be conducted along Alternative Vote lines (ie every voter ranks the options). With AV, we get what we as a group prefer – even if we individually cannot have exactly what we want – as a compromise based on the more fully expressed opinions of all those who vote.

    So, for future referendums, we need to ask where we want to be, not where we are starting from or running away from. If this is a bit complicated, it is surely because there are different opinions on where we should be: that need to be respected. And as for complicated, each elector needs to ask: do I prefer my first choice to my second, my second to my third, and so on. If not, swap the offending pair and move up and down repeating the operation until the ordered list is acceptable. And if the elector has no opinion between some of the choices, they should rank the first few and not the rest (ie leave blank).

    If you think this is too difficult for the electorate, why the hell are you asking them a vastly more complicated question in the first place? And making it difficult for them to answer?

    Best regards

  • “I can think of nothing more boring that spending the afternoon on our ba doing sa.”

    Heheheheheh!

  • Lee Moore

    I am concerned that I may have been in hibernation. Is this April 1 ?

    The trouble with Nigel’s scheme – aside from its endearing battiness – is that it’s like offering a chap a date with

    (a) Pippa Middleton, or
    (b) Keira Knightley, or
    (c ) Natalie Solent

    when you haven’t even met any of the girls, never mind got their buy in.

    When your chap votes for his pick, how, precisely, are you gonna get Pippa, Keira or Natalie to agree to your plan ? Offering people options that depend on the agreement of other people who haven’t yet agreed to anything is just mental masturbation.

    Whereas if you offer a choice between staying in and leaving the EU – that’s something you can deliver.

  • Well thanks Lee.

    I am not sure I rank political elections as equivalent to choosing a life partner – or even a one-night stand. Several countries choose their members of parliament by AV (eg Australia). On the ladies, I vote by rank taking full account of my age: (1) Natalie – demonstrable brain function with some significant shared interests; (2) Keira – excellent earnings. Pippa gets no vote (reopen nominations option (RON); look it up) – famous for not being someone else; and I have a real down on those with mere celebrity being their main attribute.

    As for voting method, for my ‘constituency’ in EU parliamentary elections, the last one had IIRC 139 candidates 20+ political parties, 12 seats to fill and one, YES ONE, ‘x’ for me to mark. Try that for unendearing “battiness”!

    As to difficulty getting the other party to agree to our plan, how are the UK’s current circumstances better than with my scheme (of a more narrowly defined objective). We (the UK) through the wonder of our government and other political parties still are not able to say what we want (so cannot even open negotiations), and it’s 3 months past the vote. The reason we had a referendum on this, IMHO, is because the politicians could not decide; or could not decide (or maybe that is govern) consistently with the wishes of the electorate. In contract negotiation, if there is no broad agreement between the parties, then they must end up with no contract between them: that’s just fine by me – doubly so if forced by an intransigent other party – they have those broad contract terms with others but refuse to have them with us.

    Tell me when the ‘Leaving’ is delivered. Then I’ll look to see if it is what I wanted (or in anyway understood) when I voted.

    Best regards

  • Eric

    A ‘minimum data set’ or impartial information guide to be published at the start of the regulated campaigning period

    Oh yes, I can just imagine what would have gone into the “minimum data set” for the Brexit vote.

  • Lee (September 27, 2016 at 8:42 am) has wittily expressed what I thought when I read Nigel’s proposal (September 27, 2016 at 8:23 am). There is no point in offering referendum choices dependent on the agreement of others, (especially others who are furious we’re holding a referendum at all). Where Lee uses the example of a date, I would rather suggest voting for a divorce or separation, with voting options ‘receive generous settlement and plenty of access to the kids”, “receive no money and no access”, and others between.

    This is not a blog for people who trust in the infinite good faith of governments. If parliaments have a get-out clause from doing what the voters want but they don’t, they will take it. No referendum result will bind any government or parliament unless its terms are indisputably within their control – unless they want to do it anyway in which case no need for a referendum.

  • RRS

    About Referenda:

    Let’s assume that Democracy is a “label” for the processes for the expression of the power (rule)of the people.

    Of course there are many who do not accept that and prefer to assume it is a condition.

    If it is the first (processes of expression), then referenda and plebiscites are among those expressions. The most prevalent form of expression for purposes of governance is delegation. Most delegation, like referenda, is effected by “voting” (or something quite similar)[Drawing straws has been used.]

    over at Libertylawsite:

    a commentator referred to “excess democracy.”

    So, it might seem that there are some who would advocate limits on certain expressions of the power of the people effected through the processes of democracy. If they are convinced of the need for “parameters” (limits) on expressions by referenda, they must also find need for limits on the processes of delegation (Russia, e.g.).

    Mobs and coalitions of intimidators (fascists, e.g.) are such expressions, of course; still, they are met by other forces IF a people strongly desire effective democracy. Sometimes, for some periods, they do not.

    By extension, those who would, through establishing “parameters,” limit a particular form of expression, could as well establish “parameters” for delegation – and on into participation in those processes. Soon, we would have to start all over again to establish any form of democracy.

    [Apologies for the xs “blue.” I tried to post a link – so I won’t be setting any parameters.]

  • staghounds

    This is a lot of flutter over a referendum that did nothing.

    Actually that’s wrong- it has no result, but it DID frighten our Masters. The next time there’s a referendum/plebescite, it will be a pre-poll-tested ratification of the opinion we are supposed to endorse.

  • Graeme

    Niall Kilmartin

    You write “They could have been honest enough to write it in the active, not passive tense. “We will give ourselves power to intervene if we decide a claim is misleading… “, “We will write an official toolkit … “, etc., etc., ending with “You will pay for all this”.”

    Where do you see a passive in this? All I can see are verbs in the active voice – “we will give” is a standard active future tense, “we decide” is an active present tense, “we will write” is another standard active future tense, “you will pay” is yet another standard active future tense.

    I blame the pernicious influence of George Orwell for all this crap that people write about passive constructions but I cannot blame that prat for people’s inability to distinguish active from passive verbs.

  • Bell Curve

    This is a lot of flutter over a referendum that did nothing.

    Then you know nothing about UK politics, or politics Europe-wide. It changed the entire political landscape in Britain and the fallout will still be landing for decades.

  • Graeme

    PS for examples of passive constructions, see Nigel Sedgwick’s contribution at 8.23:

    “vastly inappropriate consideration is being given to the definition”
    “As can be seen”
    “I think 3 can be interpreted as covering the current ‘In’ vote, and 3 can be interpreted as covering the current ‘Out’ vote.”
    “As mentioned above, the vote should effectively be conducted along Alternative Vote lines (ie every voter ranks the options).”

    Doen anyone think that these passive constructions weaken the argument in any way?

  • Laird

    Like Lee, I disagree with Nigel. Referenda should be binary. The options provided in Nigel’s list are second-order questions, to be addressed only once the primary one is answered. The reasons for any individual’s vote are as diverse as they are irrelevant at that point. Once the question “remain” or “leave” is resolved, details of implementing the choice can be explored.

    Nigel’s scheme is inherently defective, not because it splits the votes of those on either side of the Great Divide, but because it effectively disenfranchises all those on the losing side of the question. Obviously, none of his six alternatives is likely to receive a clear majority of the votes, so the only way of tallying them is first to lump them into broad categories of “remain” or “leave” (the primary question) to see which one carried the day. Once that is done, you would see which of the various “flavors” in that group had a plurality of the votes. But that necessarily excludes all of the voters on the losing side from expressing a preference. If you favored “remain” but “leave” won, wouldn’t you still want to have a say in the mechanics of the withdrawal? His alternative “E” might well have gained a plurality, even a majority, of the “leave” supporters, but when the disappointed “remain” supporters are factored in “D” might actually be the preferred option of most Britons. You can’t take their opinions into account unless the starting point is a clear, binary option.

  • I have carefully noted Lee’s points and disputed them; thus also most of Niall’s. On Niall’s other point, I can assure him that I do not have “trust in the infinite good faith of governments”. My suggestions are just to make government somewhat better in some way or ways – which should help us all.

    I am distinctly concerned with Laird’s point (supported by Perry deH). It seems to me that Laird does not understand that AV does allow ‘Remain’ voters to express preferences between all the preferences in my list of 6; ie also between the 3 that are ‘Leave’-oriented. This is even though, in Laird’s scenario, the 3 ‘Remain’ options have been rejected in the counting process to that point. That is what AV does. It thereby retains and uses much more information on the preferences of every every voter (who ranks any options in the broad category of ‘Leave’) than is done with First Past the Post or with a binary vote lumping 3 ‘Remain’ options into 1 and likewise 3 ‘Leave’ options into 1.

    Noting IIRC that Laird is based in the USA, I understand that what the UK calls AV is referred to over there as “Instant Run-Off”. I am reasonably sure that it does have exactly or effectively the same process as AV. Thus all of Laird’s objection strikes me as ill-founded.

    Best regards

  • Watchman

    Nigel,

    Whilst I can see AV working as a way of an electing an individual (on the condition that we want someone supported by half the voters, so long as we tactfully disregard the fact that we are comparing the first choice of some voters with second or third choices of others…) I can’t see a vaildity of this in a decision making process where a clear mandate is required such as a referenda. There is a reason that all committee decisions are yes/no, why juries decide innocent/guilty and why there are only two lobbies in parliament (sorry to those from countries with child-parliaments which might press buttons or something, but actually walking through a door is much better). You need to know whether something is actually agreed with, not whether it emerges from a complex process as the option with the best combination of preferences.

    Offering a range of factors does not actually show any factor is agreed with by the selectorate unless it achieves an outright majority. Eliminating one and then recounting the votes does not in fact show accurate support, simply because human behaviour being what it is many people would vote differently faced with only the five options than with six options, so second preferences are only second preferences if the six options still exist. If one option is eliminated and five options remain, the first preferences plus reallocated second preferences are not actually a good indicator of what people would vote for if presented with only the five surviving options in the first place, because the internal thought process that selects the first option is in part done by consideration of the other five options and what they represent. And the problem gets worse the more factors are eliminated, so if (as looks likely in the EU referendum) it comes down to two factors, you have a decision made by people considering four other scenarios, none of which are actually in play, rather than a simple decision between two scenarios. That is to say, you are not determining which of these two factors is favoured by the electorate, but rather which of this two factors is more popular than other factors which were also considered and influenced the thought patterns of the voters but are not in the end an option. A decision made this way lacks clarity, and as a result it will lack legitimacy – which is pretty much the same aim as the Electoral Reform Society seem to be trying to achieve for referenda (yes, that is the plural – it’s a third declension Latin noun and people using referendums are virtue signalling that they don’t follow obscure spelling conventions). After all, the actual options presented have to be selected, and whilst there were only two options available for any recent referendum, so whilst people can argue over the wording of the question the actual meaning is clear, with six options or whatever someone would have to select the options; who do you think would be responsible for doing this if not government, with the natural biases this implies?

    I would have no issue with knock-out referenda to test which of the different propositions was the most popular representation of a point of view (actually an idea that may have benefits in minimising the chances of an extreme position or a politically-correct one being taken), but for EU withdrawal where the issue was whether to actually do this or not there are no other propositions available on which to vote. You respond to Lee by drawing on contract negotiations, but the issue here was not negotiating a contract, but the decision on whether to engage in negotation, which is always a binary choice. By replacing this with a multiple choice, you are effectively trying to negotiate your contract by setting terms before the other party has been engaged.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Graeme: Your quotes from Nigel Niall are his examples of the active voice that should have been used.

    For instance the official text says

    2. An official body should be given the task of intervening when misleading claims are made by the campaigns…

    Nigel Niall says it should read:

    “We will give ourselves power to intervene if we decide a claim is misleading…”

    I should think it was obviousNigel Niall was not quoting the “official” text. No no “respectable”,”right-thinking” agency would ever write what Nigel Niall did, even though that is exactly what they meant.

    [I have corrected “Nigel” to “Niall”, since it was obviously Niall Killmartin’s post to which Rich was referring – NS]

  • Watchman writes:

    “I can’t see a vaildity [sic] of this in a decision making process where a clear mandate is required such as a referenda [sic]. There is a reason that all committee decisions are yes/no, why juries decide innocent/guilty and why there are only two lobbies in parliament…” Watchman is just choosing his own definition of “clear mandate”: see below on “agreed with”.

    Committees, in my experience, often choose between more than 2 options, and not necessarily in a sequence of binary steps (which process can be manipulated, by specious argument and otherwise, as is often the case in politics).

    The decision of juries in criminal cases is primarily that of innocent/guilty – so that’s what they do, and sometimes differently on each of the charges; likewise there is often a choice of more than 2 different charges (eg murder, manslaughter, not guilty). The more sophisticated do otherwise than binary more often: in Scotland juries decide: innocent/not proven/guilty. Yah for Scotland and their marvellous scheme!

    The two lobbies of the UK parliament owe, I suspect, more to historical necessity of simplicity and avoidance of cheating than to anything else. We have more modern methods now – though we should always be careful of over-reliance on either simplicity or complexity, and be wary of opportunities for fraud of all sorts.

    And Watchman writes:

    “Offering a range of factors does not actually show any factor is agreed with by the selectorate unless it achieves an outright majority.”

    Again, Watchman is just choosing his own definition of “agreed with”. If there is no logical possibility but accepting one of the choices (or one of a somewhat different set of choices that would have been better if presented) then the selectorate (great word: is it his?) must do it. [Aside: in the case of the EU Referendum, the status quo is the default – and I listed it (by approximate description) as one of the options.]

    Let’s drop aside for a bit of irrelevance. Watchman responds to Tim Newman with:

    “…referenda (yes, that is the plural – it’s a third declension Latin noun and people using referendums are virtue signalling that they don’t follow obscure spelling conventions).”

    Well, my oldest household dictionary (The Shorter Oxford Dictionary on Historical Principles, revised 1978) gives no plurals but gives first use of “referendum” in its current meaning in 1882, and references the Swiss example; a different meaning (diplomatic usage, effectively to refer back to higher authority) dates back to 1801. The Collins English Dictionary, both 1986 and 2007 versions, gives both plurals without preference or differentiation; the 2007 version states the Latin meaning is “something to be carried back”. Wikipedia claims virtue signalling was first used with its current meaning in 2010. Somehow I think Watchman is missing the period 1882 to 2009 from his thinking – as well as imagining (sinister) motive where there is nothing but fairly common practice.

    On contract negotiation, setting Heads of Agreement is common practice, before getting down to the detail – with detail including price, standardisation and quality issues, and a lot of legal detail for what the parties do if and when things go badly between them. One side (usually the ‘buyer’ if that term has meaning in the deal) often approaches the issue by (near) dictation of the HoA.

    Best regards

  • Rich Rostrom puts into my pen, the words:

    We will give ourselves power to intervene if we decide a claim is misleading…

    I don’t think I even broached or responded to the subject of misleading claims – nor got anywhere near it.

    Calumny, calumny: the Rich has got it in for me. 🙁

    Or is he confusing Niall and Nigel. Surely, since the two Ns are distinctly opposed on this issue, that is not a competent move.

    Best regards

  • Graeme, September 27, 2016 at 2:36 pm: you appear to be quoting my rewriting of the original to the active tense, not the original’s use of the passive. For example, the original, quoted in the OP, says

    An official body should be given the task of intervening when misleading claims are made …

    as against my proposed form

    “We will give ourselves power to intervene if we decide a claim is misleading… “

    The original is in the passive tense, to give a dishonest impression of objective definition of ‘misleading’ and impartial decision of when to ‘intervene’. My active form illustrates the points the OP makes: someone decides what is misleading and intervenes; someone else gets accused of being misleading and is subject to an intervention.

  • Watchman

    Nigel,

    You know that Scottish juries can’t just go for not proven – they have to choose guilty or innocent, and a failure to achieve consensus brings in the third case? Otherwise very few people would be convicted (human nature around choices then). And committees rarely vote across a range of options, but to adopt or not to adopt a motion – several motions can be proposed, but the choice is binary (I spend a lot of my time in committees, and have never seen a three-way vote).

    Your comment about more modern methods concerns me. We have more modern methods indeed, but I think that the nineteenth-century builders of the Houses of Parliament were capable of determining ways to count more than two options. And more modern ways than walking through a doorway are perhaps less reliable in terms of outcome.

    At core, you are arguing for a system where multiple options are decided between, whereas me (and everyone else who commented on this) are arguing that decisions are binary – you can have a succession of binary decisions if appropriate, as committees do (and as parliament do with votes on amendments), but in the end decision making is yes/no.

    As for referenda as a plural – is it possible you missed a bit of sarcasm (hint, if it’s in paranthesis, it is not likely to be that serious) there; I do sometimes poke fun at fellow commentators who believe in wierd things. That said, I do dislike the use of English plurals for easily managed loan words (so basically those in Latin script) and probably do tend to attribute behaviours I do not like to those I do not like, being human and all that.

    And as for heads of agreements, you only draw them up when a decision to proceed has been made (if you don’t, you may want to look up implied offers of contracts…) – that was what the referendum was about.

  • Patrick Crozier

    These people really are utterly shameless. Fortunately, I think their i.e the lunatic mainstream’s (hat-tip Mark Steyn) grip on power is in rapid decline.

  • All good comments. However, one should always be aware that when a Lefty says, “We need to have a talk about [whatever]”, what they really mean is “Shut up while we lecture you as to why we are right and you are wrong.”

  • […] future referendum, and anyone disagreeing with them should be punished – presumably “so the oiks don’t win again“. The Clinton/Trump debate was also live “fact checked”, and many on line debates […]