So, by now, most people have likely seen the news that the British public has voted for the UK to leave the European Union. One of the immediate results is that it has thrown the world financial markets into uncertainty and chaos.
Throughout all the debates on the subject, one nagging thought has continued to pummel me --
For something this important, for something that is this critical to world security, for something that has this much of an impact on the world's financial markets -- why is it left to a simple vote of the general public?
I'm sure there's a reason. I wouldn't be surprised if there's even a very good reason. But I don't have the slightest clue what that is.
In fairness, part of the reason is that the vote is "just" a referendum and not legally binding. Except that Parliament is expected to go along with the non-binding referendum, which remain problematic -- whatever the vote would have been -- because it would then have the effect of being, in essence, "virtually" legally binding.
Public whim can change on a dime. And this seems like a whim-related vote. What if next month they take a poll and it shows that the British public thinks hey, y'know, we really want to be back in the union? Or someone gets pressing the issue and puts together a great ad campaign that convinces the public that being in the EU is actually a great thing? Or then something else happens and the public changes it's mind again? And again.
California has the Proposition System, and it's sort of lousy. Among other things, It largely relies on TV ads to convince the public how they should vote on an issue. Yes, there are other venues of support for being informed, but it basically does come down to TV ads. But even though Proposition System decides some important stae matters, doesn't decide the Really Big and Hugely Significant issues that impact other states or the federal government -- like, say, voting to secede from the Union. And even then, if California did decide to leave...they couldn't do it, because there are safeguards built in elsewhere that requite the consent of the States, not leaving it to the whim of any given state. You may recall that when the South decided to secede without consent, it had fairly pesky ramifications...
It's not that I don't inherently think the general public should have any say as to whether their nation stays or leaves the European Union. It's that I don't think that that should be the sole criteria. It's that there should be some sort of checks-and-balances, requiring both a national referendum -- and a referendum that requires, say, a two-thirds vote, not a simple majority -- along with perhaps a two-thirds vote from each representative body of a country. And then give veto power to the nation's leader, which can be over-ridden by other standards. That way, a country couldn't drop out on a petulant whim.
I recall that when the Writers Guild last voted to go on strike, something that critical required around a 75% vote to authorize it, not merely a simple majority like most issues-- and even then, there was a general consensus within the Guild that the union wouldn't go on strike unless the vote was at least 90%. The belief was that to take such a drastic action required near unanimity.
You couldn't pass a resolution today in the United States Senate to make the apple America's national fruit without a vote requiring 60% approval. You can't get the president's nominee for the Supreme Court to even get a vote -- and that's something mandated by the Constitution -- because there aren't enough votes to simply get it to the Senate floor for a hearing.
And yet, for a sovereign nation to drop out of the European Union and impact the stability of the world, you only have to get a paltry 50% plus 1 vote by the general public???
A "cavalier" way to decide such an intensely critical thing that impacts the world markets and international security seems a deeply, overly polite description. Cavalier doesn't begin to describe it. Insanely reckless comes close, and I say this as someone facing the results of the voters a political party choosing to make Donald Trump their leader and put him in a position to have authority over nuclear bombs.
Leaving this decision to a whim strikes me as utterly bizarre. And I say this however the vote would have turned out.
As I noted, I am sure there are reasons it's done this way. And perhaps there's an explanation why a mere non-binding referendum ends up having the realistic effect of being legally binding. Who knows, maybe in the end the British Parliament won't vote to leave the EU. But then, let's watch the turmoil break out for going against "the will of the people."
It seems to me an idiotic, dangerous way to run a world.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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