Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The case for a second referendum



The EU referendum on 23rd June has thrown the UK into a state of political chaos. We are a rudderless ship on stormy waters drifting towards a sandbank. We have 3 or 4 months under a lame duck Prime Minister, followed by, God help us, the possibility of PM Boris Johnson.
Meanwhile Labour is having a spasm.
Hate crimes are happening.
World leaders and politicians are aghast apart from Vladimir Putin, Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump, Gert Wilders and other European neo-fascists.
The markets are reeling, sterling has fallen, Standard & Poor have stripped us of AAA rating and trading was stopped on RBS and Barclays yesterday.

If some idiot goes ahead and invokes Article 50 that sets in train our withdrawal form the EU, we open up the following problems:
  1. Scotland
  2. Ireland
  3. Gibraltar
  4. Calais
  5. Trade with the EU
  6. Issue new Passports to everyone who needs one
  7. The situation for Brits abroad
  8. The position of EU citizens in Britain
  9. A huge raft of legislation changes
  10. Unwelcome changes in the EU itself, including the possibility of a general economic and political collapse.
  11. Other things we are not expecting

Of course, it may all be all right. Boris, Gove and Nigel may come up with a plan and exert inspiring leadership, the other EU countries may behave like perfect gentlemen and ladies, it won't matter that our imports are more expensive and our exports will be subject to protracted negotiations, and all this will have no effect on our balance of trade, and we may develop a new export line in flying pigs.

On the other hand, it may not be all right. It is likely that Boris, Govey and Nigel were wrong, the nine authoritative economic bodies were right, and that Brexit is going to hurt our economy to the point of bringing on another, self-inflicted, recession. 

In view of the seriousness of the consequences of leaving the EU, it would be wise to consider whether we should have a second referendum.

This is the case for the second referendum:

  1. The referendum is not legally binding, only advisory. Nobody is obliged to act on bad advice based on emotion and false information.
  2. It is not correct to say that the democratic will of the people is to Leave. It is very clearly the case that the nation is in two minds over the EU. It is true that Leave was first past the post, and has a 4% majority consisting of 1.3 million votes. which was slightly more than the Green Party's vote of 1.2 million in the 2015 general election. The Green vote produced 1 MP. Is it really right and proper that a similar number of people should be able to plunge our country into chaos?

    Legislation demands that a minimum of 40% of the eligible electorate must vote for a public sector strike for it to be legal. The Leave vote amounted to 37% of the eligible electorate.
    The problem here is that the European Referendum Act 2015 was designed with a simple majority, where 50%+1 vote can win. This is clearly an absurd rule. It is usual  in the case of constitutional change that a supermajority, where a clear and significant majority is required (60/40, 66/33 for example), is used. We need to know who opted for a simple majority and why.

    UKIP cannot complain about the second referendum because Farage said in May that a 48/52 result would be "unfinished business".
  3. The newspaper coverage was not balanced. One study showed that for every single newspaper article advocating Remain, there were no less than four advocating Leave. This is a distortion of the democratic process.
  4. There are many reports of people regretting their Leave vote, once they realised what it meant. The Mail and the Sun have both explained what Leave meant (after the vote), and their reader comments make interesting reading. Even Kelvin MackKenzie, the abrasive Sun columnist, regrets his vote.
    More than 1.1 million are estimated to wish to change their vote.
  5. Many voters feel that they were misinformed by the newspapers before they voted.
  6. A common complaint of those who regretted their Leave vote was that they were misinformed.
    There were three main lies told by the leave campaign:
    5.1 The £350 million per week for the NHS promise which was denied within hours of the result.
    5.2 The promise that Brexit would cut immigration was denied by Dan Hannan MEP, a prominent Leave campaigner, again within hours of the result.
    5.3 Imminent Turkish accession to the EU was claimed by Leave

    In addition to these three, David Cameron claimed 6 lies by Leave:
    5.4 That the UK is liable for future eurozone bailouts. Cameron says his EU renegotiation means Britain is categorically not liable.
    5.5 That Britain’s EU rebate is at risk. Cameron says the British prime minister has a veto on changes to the rebate.
    5.6 That Britain has given up its ability to veto EU treaties. The prime minister says there is nothing in the EU renegotiation that relinquishes the UK’s veto.
    5.7 That Britain cannot stop overall EU spending from going up. Cameron says the EU budget is set in stone until 2020 and can only be changed with the consent of all countries.
    5.8 That the UK is powerless to stop itself becoming part of an EU army. He says Britain has a “rock solid veto” on EU foreign and defence policy.
    5.9 That leaving the EU would save Britain £8bn. He says this claim was debunked on Monday by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which said a Brexit would mean spending less on pubic services, or taxing more, or borrowing more.

    There are likely to be other lies that could be identified, but these 9 will be enough to make a case that the voters were misled.
  7. There is a precedent for a second referendum: Ireland held a referendum in 2008 on the EU Lisbon Treaty. It was rejected 53/47 (turnout 53%). The Irish Government asked for the reason for the rejection. A common reason given was inadequate information. Negotiations followed, and a second referendum accepted Lisbon 67/33 (turnout 59%)

    In fact the present referendum can itself be seen as a second referendum, since we were asked whether we should leave the EC in 1975. 67% decided to remain.
In conclusion, there is a good case to be made for a second referendum. It could be scheduled as soon as the practical ballot arrangements can be made. Changes should be made, so that a supermajority should be set that must be passed before we leave. All claims made by campaigners should be examined and verified. Newspapers must simply make equal amounts of space available to the campaigns, and broadcasters likewise must allow equal time for campaigns to make their pitches. 

A second referendum is possible. In the meantime if you haven't signed the petition calling for a second referendum, now is the time to do it. It is an imperfect petition, and although it has been hacked, the spurious signatures have been removed, and it remains a useful focus for bringing pressure for a second referendum. Also write to your MP asking for this.

The show ain't over until some fat idiot presses the Article 50 button. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

A simple majority is not right for major constitutional decisions

The ePetition to call for a 2nd Referendum on the grounds that a simple majority is not appropriate is now past 3 million. That is twice the margin that separated Leave and Remain in the referendum on June 23rd. Parliament is obliged to consider debating the matter.

The petition reads:

"We the undersigned call upon HM Government to implement a rule that if the remain or leave vote is less than 60% based a turnout less than 75% there should be another referendum".

I would urge people to keep signing the petition, not necessarily in the hope of getting a second referendum but to keep pressing the point that a simple majority (i.e. 51/49 = a result) is a flawed way of making a constitutional change. Organisations usually call for a supermajority (60/40, 66/33, or 70/30) to  make important decisions about their constitution.

Of course, we in the UK do not have a written constitution, but that is another matter.

It is clearly wrong when pundits are saying "The British people have made their choice". This result is anything but decisive. It is interesting that Nigel Farage in May said : In a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way. If the remain campaign win two-thirds to one-third that ends it.”

So if Farage had lost, he would be pressing hard for a second referendum. His followers now are just saying that anyone asking for a 2nd referendum are just "bad losers".

Name-calling aside, Parliament needs to lay down rules for future referendums. In particular, if they concern matters with grave importance, there should be a supermajority requirement.

This is not an unusual requirement. In the case of public sector strikes, the Government demands that a minimum of 40% of the eligible electorate must vote for the strike. The Leave vote was just 37% of the eligible electorate. Sure, a strike is not a referendum. On the other hand, a referendum has far more serious implications than a strike, so the bar should be set higher.

Another analogy is jury decisions. A jury is expected by default to  arrive at a 100% consensus in serious cases. The vote may be lowered to 10/12 (87%) if they cannot agree 100%. 

It is very clear that a simple majority where the differential can be as low as 49/51 is inappropriate for this referendum. Whether or not Parliament decides to call a second referendum depends on many factors, we should at least press MPs to design a better system for future referenda.

Update : It's not just me. Here's Kenneth Rogoff, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Harvard University saying the same.

A simple majority is not right for major constitutional decisions

The ePetition to call for a 2nd Referendum on the grounds that a simple majority is not appropriate is now past 3 million. That is twice the margin that separated Leave and Remain in the referendum on June 23rd. Parliament is obliged to consider debating the matter.

The petition reads:

"We the undersigned call upon HM Government to implement a rule that if the remain or leave vote is less than 60% based a turnout less than 75% there should be another referendum".

I would urge people to keep signing the petition, not necessarily in the hope of getting a second referendum but to keep pressing the point that a simple majority (i.e. 51/49 = a result) is a flawed way of making a constitutional change. Organisations usually call for a supermajority (60/40, 66/33, or 70/30) to  make important decisions about their constitution.

Of course, we in the UK do not have a written constitution, but that is another matter.

It is clearly wrong when pundits are saying "The British people have made their choice". This result is anything but decisive. It is interesting that Nigel Farage in May said : In a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way. If the remain campaign win two-thirds to one-third that ends it.”

So if Farage had lost, he would be pressing hard for a second referendum. His followers now are just saying that anyone asking for a 2nd referendum are just "bad losers".

Name-calling aside, Parliament needs to lay down rules for future referendums. In particular, if they concern matters with grave importance, there should be a supermajority requirement.

This is not an unusual requirement. In the case of public sector strikes, the Government demands that a minimum of 40% of the eligible electorate must vote for the strike. The Leave vote was just 37% of the eligible electorate. Sure, a strike is not a referendum. On the other hand, a referendum has far more serious implications than a strike, so the bar should be set higher.

Another analogy is jury decisions. A jury is expected by default to  arrive at a 100% consensus in serious cases. The vote may be lowered to 10/12 (87%) if they cannot agree 100%. 

It is very clear that a simple majority where the differential can be as low as 49/51 is inappropriate for this referendum. Whether or not Parliament decides to call a second referendum depends on many factors, we should at least press MPs to design a better system for future referenda.

Update : It's not just me. Here's Kenneth Rogoff, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Harvard University saying the same.

A simple majority is not right for major constitutional decisions

The ePetition to call for a 2nd Referendum on the grounds that a simple majority is not appropriate is now past 3 million. That is twice the margin that separated Leave and Remain in the referendum on June 23rd. Parliament is obliged to consider debating the matter.

The petition reads:

"We the undersigned call upon HM Government to implement a rule that if the remain or leave vote is less than 60% based a turnout less than 75% there should be another referendum".

I would urge people to keep signing the petition, not necessarily in the hope of getting a second referendum but to keep pressing the point that a simple majority (i.e. 51/49 = a result) is a flawed way of making a constitutional change. Organisations usually call for a supermajority (60/40, 66/33, or 70/30) to  make important decisions about their constitution.

Of course, we in the UK do not have a written constitution, but that is another matter.

It is clearly wrong when pundits are saying "The British people have made their choice". This result is anything but decisive. It is interesting that Nigel Farage in May said : In a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way. If the remain campaign win two-thirds to one-third that ends it.”

So if Farage had lost, he would be pressing hard for a second referendum. His followers now are just saying that anyone asking for a 2nd referendum are just "bad losers".

Name-calling aside, Parliament needs to lay down rules for future referendums. In particular, if they concern matters with grave importance, there should be a supermajority requirement.

This is not an unusual requirement. In the case of public sector strikes, the Government demands that a minimum of 40% of the eligible electorate must vote for the strike. The Leave vote was just 37% of the eligible electorate. Sure, a strike is not a referendum. On the other hand, a referendum has far more serious implications than a strike, so the bar should be set higher.

Another analogy is jury decisions. A jury is expected by default to  arrive at a 100% consensus in serious cases. The vote may be lowered to 10/12 (87%) if they cannot agree 100%. 

It is very clear that a simple majority where the differential can be as low as 49/51 is inappropriate for this referendum. Whether or not Parliament decides to call a second referendum depends on many factors, we should at least press MPs to design a better system for future referenda.

Update : It's not just me. Here's Kenneth Rogoff, Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Harvard University saying the same.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

We have to talk about Immigration



The UK is in the deepest of deep shit over the EU referendum result, for many many reasons, but there is one simple overriding actor in this tragedy: Immigration.

There is a simple Right-Left argument about migration, based on the Right saying "We don't want these foreigners here in our country", and the Left saying "Yes we do, they're fellow humans in need of help".

On top of this emotional reaction there is an economic argument, with the Right saying "They take our benefits, housing, services and jobs" and the Left saying, "They boost to our economy, they keep the NHS going, if services are stretched it is because of under-provision, not immigrant demand".

This was the level at which the debate was carried out in the referendum, and, let's face it, we lost. Almost 52% of the voting public voted for Brexit, and immigration was a very strong factor in their motivation.

We need to think more about our approach to immigration. It is a huge topic, with a long long history, but we have to concentrate on the present situation.

There is a weakness to our argument about the economic contribution made by immigrants, because the young, economically active migrants who are being welcomed will turn into economically inactive senior people, so we will need yet more migrants to look after them.
Also, we should be able to train up our own young people to be doctors and nurses, instead of stealing those produced by other countries.

Next, there is an ecological component to the argument, which goes like this:

"No matter how much we love, like and sympathise with those fleeing war, dictators, poverty and environmental degradation, Britain is a small set of islands, already over its carrying capacity, and at 251 people per sq Km, the third most densely populated country in the EU, after Malta (1306/per sq Km), Netherlands (397), Belgium (352), and just ahead of Germany at 230".

The Left deals with the carrying capacity argument by saying "It isn't the size of the human population, it is the amount they consume that matters, and we in the West consume more than our fair share". Which is true, but only partly true, because it is the case that if everyone on the planet had the best possible, greenest, most sustainable consumption pattern, the human population would still have to stop growing, for the simple reason that it is impossible to grow forever in a finite space.

Hans Rosling has a good point to make, which is that we need to move to a position where everyone in the world has enough. But even Hans Rosling must accept that it is impossible to expand forever into a finite space.

The Left meets any worries about the carrying capacity of the UK by pointing out that migrants would still be consuming in their home countries, they have just changed the location of their consumption. Which is true, up to a point, but in moving from a warm and consumer oriented country to the UK, individuals will probably increase their consumption patterns, if only because they need more domestic heating than they do in a warm country.

The basic ecological facts that we face are this:

First, It is impossible to turn back the tide of human movement that  is taking place at the moment, and it is likely to continue until we address the causes of migration, so we have to accept migration as the new norm.

Second, we must take a long term view, and  should start looking at, and solving, the causes of migration, that is, war, dictatorial and oppressive regimes, poverty, and environmental degradation, including climate change.

Cynics may say that is impossible, we have been trying for decades and look at us. But we haven't really been trying. We have been pretending to try, fiddling and verbalising, but we're not really serious about it. Why? One component of this failure is the dominant right wing meme is "Why should we care about wars and regimes in far away places? Let's put Britain first".

The Right has got to understand that we live in a system where everything is interconnected. If they want to stop immigration, they have got to address conditions across the world, and addressing conditions does not mean dropping bombs on people, it means diagnosing ant treating systemic problems.

The Right needs to understand that the definitive solution to migration is not to withdraw from the EU and seal our borders , because that would need a massive Naval task force in the Channel, picking up boats and returning them to the EU, which would be deeply problematical.

Clearly, the only solution to immigration is to work to address the causes of war. If we did this, the end effect is that we could actually end up living in a happier planet.

So, looking on the bright side, the present migration crisis could be a turning point in human history, where we begin to manage ourselves in a more intelligent way.





More
Brexit MEP admits Brexit will do little to curb immigration

More on this blog:
Do potential migrants know about the dangers that they face?
Migration: lets get to the cause of the problem 
What causes war
World Population

Monday, June 13, 2016

Social Combat Against Terrorists

Orlando. 50 dead by the hand of one mentally unstable gunman.

Imagine you were there.

Suddenly the door crashes open and you hear someone shouting "Allahu Akbar", followed by shots. LOUD shots. You look up, and 3 metres from you stands a man carrying a gun, with his back to you. A surge of adrenaline hits. Your perception of space and time changes. This is IT.

How do you react? You have a choice.

First option, get under the table and wait to die. The gunman can stroll around, picking you all off one by one, at leisure. Let's call this the Passivity Option.

Second option: you, and others, rush forward and overpower him. Call it the Resistance Option.

Both options carry the risk of death, but the scale is different.

The Passivity Option means as many people die as he has bullets in his gun and on his belt. Could be everyone in the place, including you.

The Resistance Option means no-one may die, or maybe one or two resistance fighters may get injured or die, depending how many respond.

If only one person goes for it, s/he will probably fail and die, but then s/he will probably die in the Passivity Option also. If on the other hand, three or four other able bodied people in the restaurant have the same reaction, everyone may survive. And they will have a good story to tell.

Resistance has to be the best option. It could play an important part in putting an end to the kind of attacks that happened in Orlando, or in Paris with Charlie Hebdo or the Eagles of Death Metal concert. 

Terrorism uses violence against vulnerable unarmed, civilians. It is the warfare practised by cowards. When cowards find that people fight back, they tend to stop.

And it is not just terrorists. If you live in the USA, you are far more likely to be killed by a freedom-loving gun owner than an Islamic terrorist, and the Social Combat technique works on these on freedom-loving gun freaks too.too.

Social Resistance has been practised a few times already - on one of the 9/11 planes, and in August 2015, when four passengers overpowered a shooter on a train in France. Jasper Schuringa acted on an airline when someone tried to blow it up.

These actions were spontaneous. It will be easier once we have got this idea to spread.

It needs to become a meme, a viral idea. We need a movement. A badge or ribbon maybe. A name. Social Combat Against Terrorists maybe?

There is no point in expecting Government to give advice and leadership on this. I've asked the British Government, twice, and they will have nothing to do with it. I get the impression they fear getting sued by someone who has a go and gets hurt.

So it is up to us, as citizens, to take responsibility.

It is a tough issue. The chance of having to rush a terrorist is about the same as the chance of winning the Lottery (small) but it does happen, but if the default reaction of all able-bodied citizens is to attack a terrorist, the chance of its continuing to happen will grow less.



More on this:

The Schuringa Rule

Why the government does not want us to tackle gunmen

Spotting the flaw in the Government's logic