It’s been a long time since the 23rd June 2016. Perhaps not in the chronological sense but certainly in terms of experience. A vote was held and a decision was made (albeit marginally) but are we really the same electorate over 18 months on? After all, it wasn’t until after the results had come in that the majority of proclamations and promises were torn to the ground, often by those who had happily stood by such pledges merely a few days prior. There was scepticism sure, but nobody of prominence really seemed eager to attempt the killer blow, much less deliver it.
Circumstances have undeniably changed but the lingering question remains, have we? Do we still hold the same values? Have we been swayed by the ensuing omnishambles? Most crucially of all though, how would we vote now?
This final poser continues to haunt the debate, not least due to the echoing mantra of “Brexit is the will of the people” seeping into any and all discussions on the matter. Owing to its perceived trump card status, it’s especially understandable that the truth behind the claim is sought; whether to rebut or reinforce.
This is where polls come in.
I’ve touched upon polls before and how the actual results often don’t match the narrative that’s imposed upon them but a recent Twitter poll held by the Brexit backing Lord Ashcroft brought a certain quandary to the forefront of my mind once more.
Ah, the second referendum question. This one’s been doing the rounds ever since we woke up to the 24th June 2016. Anger and incredulity were common themes, the former of which only grew in prominence the moment this particular charmer confirmed that many had been duped. As for the latter, it can’t be denied that there was a certain complacency amongst the Remain campaign as the referendum vote crept ever closer. There was a sense that, not only shouldn’t a Leave victory happen, it simply couldn’t. It was perhaps owing to this particular naivety that the Remain cause failed to land a fatal smackdown throughout the entire campaign, instead finding itself breezing somewhat passively from issue to issue – never really engaging in the matter at its core and preferring to offer up vague warnings should their advice remain unheeded. Almost as though it didn’t take its opponent entirely seriously.
Mistakes were made and whether it was through unwarranted assurance or misplaced trust in a cause, the instinctive reaction to a mistake is a desire to correct it.
Thus the movement for a second referendum was born, prompting sympathy and scorn in perhaps equal measure. However, even if the majority isn’t quite behind the cause, it would be foolish to ignore the rather significant demographic that are.
Of course it would be disingenuous of me to act as though there’s no counter viewpoint to this, that there’s not a significant number of hardline Leave voters who are desperate to unshackle from the nefarious EU as a matter of priority so we can ride off over the horizon of prosperity on our magic unicorns. I mock but hell, this petition to trigger Article 50 immediately edged out the ‘Referendum on the final deal’ petition by a fair few signatures. Which way the wind is blowing depends entirely on who you ultimately believe and therein lies the real problem.
We simply don’t fucking know.
Right now the debate has become almost static, sure the steady stream of broken Brexit promises continue to filter through as the days drift by but it’s not quite as impactful as it once was. We’re creeping up to the two year mark since the referendum and the news that Brexit is actually shit isn’t really surprising anymore and, as such, the battleground has shifted. It now seems to be primarily concerned with second guessing as to which side of the fence public mood is currently leaning towards.
As such we find the discourse peppered with polls, petitions and questionnaires – almost to the point of parody. Furthering the farce, we’re also provided with hysterical displays of indignation when the result doesn’t quite go the way the original poster had envisioned.
As hilarious as Ashcroft’s reaction and accompanying sophistry is, he does have a semblance of a point. Opinion polls are only representative of the people who acknowledge their existence long enough to bother voting in them and, in the case of Twitter polls at least, it then becomes more a battle to get the word out to those who subscribe to your views rather than an earnest endeavour to actually find out the truth of the matter. I don’t deny that it provides a small morsel of both satisfaction and assurance when an opinion poll suiting my desired narrative comes along but this is essentially cold comfort. The lack of any form of control whatsoever fatally dilutes the result and ultimately, irrespective of the message the outcome was supposed to convey, the trumpeted cause remains unfortunately stranded with its wheels ever spinning in the mud.
Not that this ever deters anyone mind, exponents from both sides of the argument will continue their quest to uncover what the British people really think – or at least try to paint a picture of what they want the British people to think.
Though curiously, despite such an apparently popular desire to uncover this information, there’s also a notion cropping up simultaneous to this that it ultimately doesn’t matter. That the British people spoke back on June 23rd 2016 and they stand by their decision. Those espousing such an idea are, by and large, members of the Brexit Bunch – each equipped with the results of their own Twitter polls that oh so obviously weren’t shared predominantly within anti-EU circles.
The trouble being that there’s an inherent contradiction afoot here. A prevailing concept behind the entire Brexit campaign was the idea of the country (and by extension, its people) taking back control. So much so that it was the slogan for the official Leave campaign.
Forgive me for perhaps being obtuse but it’s rather baffling to me as to how you can be a self proclaimed bastion for democracy one moment, yet insist that a contentious issue is settled beyond doubt and no further input from the people is required the next. It’s often claimed that any attempt to undermine the referendum result, even in the form of a second vote, would be undemocratic though I’ve always found this argument to be patently absurd. I mean if a second referendum was put to the public and this time the majority opted for Remain that would surely be a democratic decision, right? If not then I’d be curious as to the justification behind how one vote can be less democratic than the one that preceded it. After all, a second referendum would inevitably be more informed; Brexit has remained a hot button issue to this day with time failing to heal the divide. You almost can’t help but assimilate the discussion as it rages on around you.
In closing I would simply say this. For every time you’re frustrated with the direction Brexit is taking make sure to ask yourself whether you’d like more control – irrespective of where your loyalties lie. If it’s control that you’re after then presumably you’d like an opportunity to express it in a meaningful way? If you find yourself answering in the affirmative once more then there’s only one thing that will satisfy your desire – a shiny new referendum, complete with all new choices and each potential consequence finely detailed. Best of all, unlike Ashcroft’s latest poll, the result actually has enough clout to potentially change something.
Unless of course, that’s too democratic for your tastes?Follow @grahamlithgow