Who gets democracy?

Champion of the working-class and editor of the National Review, Rich Lowry, writes:

Democracy is too important to be left to the people.

That is the global elite’s collective reaction to Britain’s vote to exit the European Union, which is being portrayed as the work of ill-informed xenophobes who never should have been entrusted with a decision of such world-historical importance.

Judging by their dismissive tone, critics of Brexit believe that the European Union’s lack of basic democratic accountability is one of its institutional advantages — the better to insulate consequential decisions from backward and short-sighted voters.

To respond to Lowry briefly: bullshit.

To elaborate, let’s first bear in mind that given his reaction to the outcome of the referendum, there’s every indication that the leader of the Leave camp, the Eton-schooled Boris Johnson, promoted an exit from the EU on the assumption it wouldn’t happen but that he would be able to leap frog from the campaign into Downing Street. The latter part of his plan appears destined to succeed but soon he will find himself charting a course he had no plan or prior intention to actually navigate.

Given the stream of lies to which Brexit leaders have confessed since Thursday, there’s every reason to believe that in a rerun of the referendum, large numbers of Leave voters, having seen they were duped, would probably not even vote a second time around. It’s patronizing to Leave voters themselves, to think they would robotically make the same choice even after having seen they were being guided by false promises.

At the same time, the Remain vote would be driven up not necessarily by a significant swing of Regrexit voters but instead by a massive increase in young voters. Even though 75% of 18-24 year-olds voted Remain, 64% of that age group didn’t vote. Having just been given a shocking lesson about the importance of voting, I suspect — given a second chance — they’d demonstrate they have as much interest in exercising their democratic rights as do their grandparents. Moreover, given that the decision at hand would have ramifications for the rest of a lifetime, it would be reasonable to follow the precedent set in Scotland and lower the voting age to 16 — which likewise would provide an additional boost to Remain.

So, this isn’t an argument about who has greater or less respect for the will of the people. It’s about who is or isn’t serious about determining what the will of the people really is, which is to say, discerning the popular will when honest choices are on offer.

Two years ago, Scottish voters were told that if they voted for independence from the UK, they risked thereby casting themselves out of the EU. In those circumstances 55% rejected independence.

That situation has now been reversed and given that an overwhelming majority of voters in Scotland want to remain in the EU, if independence is the only way of staying in the EU, it’s very likely that a second independence referendum will have the opposite result from the one in 2014.

Moreover, for observers with a keen interest in upholding democratic principles, the 2014 vote is of additional relevance here because, unlike the vote last week, the determining factor in voter eligibility was legal residence, not citizenship. On that basis, the power of decision-making was placed in the hands of the people who would be directly impacted by the outcome of the vote, irrespective of whether they identified themselves as Scots.

Last Thursday, 2.7 million people who have made Britain their home were not allowed to vote because although they are EU citizens resident in an EU country, they are not British citizens.

These people are now being told by Johnson and others that they need have no fear about the protection of their rights, yet those reassurances would be a lot more credible if their right to vote in a referendum having such a huge impact on their future had been respected last week. It goes without saying that among that bloc of would-be voters support for Remain would have been close to unanimous and Remain’s victory thus a near certainty.

There are legitimate reasons for arguing that a second referendum cannot soon take place, but it’s disingenuous for people like Lowry to present this as an argument between those who those who value democracy and those who don’t.

Another referendum will indeed be necessary but this one should pose what is becoming the central question: Do you want the UK to remain together or would you prefer to see it break apart?

The Little Englanders who want to leave the EU and destroy the UK are probably are rather small minority of British citizens. They have a right to be heard but not to claim ownership of a country that belongs to many others.

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