I’ve refrained from long-form comment on the UK’s EU referendum, partly because the debate is generally painful, but also because there are extremely clever people who’ve already made most of the points I’ve wanted to make.

One thing that I think is worth addressing, though, is the current suggestion that people are switching back to Remain because they “don’t know what Brexit looks like” (thanks to Paul Evans for the formulation here). I think this is definitely true; I also think it’s a positive response to a specific failure within the Leave campaigns [1], not just a fear of change.

The reason “we don’t know what it looks like” is that the people who are in favour of it have polar opposite, completely contradictory visions of what it should look like.

When Scots voted on their Remain/Leave decision, the SNP – to its great credit – published a long document containing the details of exactly what it would do in the event of independence. Some of these were criticised for over-the-top optimism about the actions of rUK and the EU, and others on the basis of their effect, but crucially Scots knew what the people in charge after a Leave vote would try to do [2].

That simply doesn’t exist for the UK EU referendum. The Leave campaigns, all of which include people likely to be in government in the event that Leave wins, have adopted positions that range from “staying in the free migration zone and the common market” through to “deporting settled EU migrants and relying solely on WTO basic rules for trade access”.

That – not the inherent uncertainty in doing anything that hasn’t been done before – is the crux of the “not knowing what it looks like” problem.

That deliberate, dishonest ambiguity is also why Leave has done far better than it would have done had it been forced to outline what it would actually be attempting to do in the event of a referendum win. As it is, “build a libertarian paradise with no tariffs and open borders”, and “Britain first, deport all the immigrants” types can rally round the same banner, even though they disagree with each other at least as much as they disagree with the current model.

[1] The existence of “Leave campaigns” with an S is probably the tl/dr of this.

[2] The SNP white paper was flawed and optimistic, but at least it was there for you to be able to critique its optimism and flaws. Similarly, a Leave manifesto that committed to a Norway model could reasonably be critiqued on the basis that the EU might not let us have one – but in the actual campaign we’ve seen every model of multilateralism/autarky from Norway through to North Korea thrown up, dependent on what the politician in question thinks the audience wants to hear. “Is their plan credible” is secondary to “do they even have one”…

2 thoughts on “Actually, it’s about ethics in plebiscite campaigning

  1. Thats because Brexit is not about what the various people who argue for Brexit want Britain to look like afterwards. Thats for the people of the UK to decide in future elections – Brexit is merely the process that gives the UK people the power to decide their own future, not be told what it is by Brussels.

    If the ‘Send all the immigrants home’ crew can get enough votes at future UK elections, then thats what Brexit will look like. If the ‘libertarian paradise’ crew get enough votes then thats what it would be. If the ‘Corbynista’ crew get enough votes it’ll be all hail the Great Leader Jeremy.

    Or as is most likely a tight of centre government is voted in with things much as they are today, but with some alterations at the margins on immigration and trade with the rest of the non-EU world.

    But what a post Brexit UK would look like has zero to do with what any of the individual campaigners wishes, and everything to do with the UK public’s vision of what Britain should look like.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *