At the time of writing, Ireland has just voted ‘Yes’ in a referendum on gay marriage.
I think that’s far more democratic than the way that gay marriage was introduced in this country, where David Cameron didn’t put it in the Conservative Party manifesto, didn’t hold a referendum, and redefined the word ‘marriage’ – a word steeped in centuries of tradition – because of his personal belief.
The decision taken in Ireland was made in a fair, open and democratic manner; the decision taken in the UK wasn’t.
The Scottish referendum on the Union engaged the public in a way that party politics simply cannot: turnout was high across all age groups. Young people care about political issues more than they care about the colour of a rosette.
Part of the answer to the age-old question of why young people in a modern society don’t vote, is that we don’t have a modern democracy. Some issues are best decided by the people not the politicians.
On a moral issue, why should an MP’s vote matter more than yours on any of these issues? The Left in British politics have opposed greater democracy for many years, fearing that people would vote for social conservativism (or the return of the death penalty – I don’t believe people would vote for it to return, but there’s no reason we shouldn’t have a referendum on it), but the Irish referendum on gay marriage proves that it isn’t so simple.
Ukip has campaigned for years to allow the public to call a referendum on key issues, through a petition with a certain number (two million at present) of signatures. Whilst Ireland’s decision was more democratic than the UK’s, wouldn’t Ukip’s proposal be more democratic still? The proposal to introduce gay marriage wouldn’t have come from a politician, but from the people.
Our big mistake in the UK was to hold a referendum on changing the voting system to AV. Top-down referendums don’t work – they should be called by the people on issues that matter to us, not by the government on issues that matter only to them.
AV was just about the only voting system that’s LESS proportional than First Past The Post, and people correctly voted it down.
Our outdated system is creaking at the seams, and a proportional system is needed: every SNP vote was ‘worth’ 149 Ukip votes in terms of the number of MPs elected. Ukip gained more votes than the SNP and Lib Dems put together, yet took one seat to their 64, and five million people voted Ukip or Green yet saw only two MPs between them.
If we’d had a proper 21st Century system of Direct Democracy, we’d have held a referendum on the European Union long ago. Now it looks as though we’ll finally get one.
The question now is, will that referendum be free and fair?
In the 1975 referendum, official government pamphlets said there would be ‘no loss’ of sovereignty, and sadly enough people believed the lie.
Now we merely watch from the sidelines as countries which didn’t join the European Union (Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Iceland, Monaco, etc.) consistently outperform those which did, and reap the benefits of having the power to negotiate their own trade deals rather than waiting to see when the EU’s Trade Commissioner will do it for them.
Now we need to be vigilant. Will Cameron try to nudge the vote towards staying in by allowing non-British citizens to vote? Will the outright lies (and the scaremongering over mythical job losses if we leave) be countered clearly by evidence showing that trade would continue with Europe whilst we’d have the freedom to develop trade with the big wide world?
Nigel Farage is right to say that the ability to regain control of our borders must be part of the referendum campaign.
Last Friday, a British court couldn’t deport a foreign criminal convicted of shoplifting who’d never worked a single day in England because he claimed that he was ‘looking for work as a shepherd’ and that he was wearing a suit because he’d left his ‘shepherd’s clothes at home 70 miles away’.
Immigration is just one part of the campaign, though – we must also talk about dealing with the endless tide of Brussels red tape, about bringing power back to Westminster from Brussels bureaucrats, about the development of trade links with new markets whilst being good neighbours with Europe.
Oh, and I didn’t mention the shepherd’s nationality, because it doesn’t matter. Stooping to dog-whistle politics would lose a referendum campaign.
- Jonathan Arnott is Ukip MEP for the North East.