by Richard Dawkins
. . . it is a well established principle of democracy that, in the case of major constitutional changes that are hard to undo, the bar should be set higher than 50%. Amendments to the US constitution require a two thirds majority in both houses of Congress, ratified by three quarters of state legislatures. Well-run democracies generally impose a built-in bias in favour of the status quo based on the precautionary principle. Like the weather and like financial markets, public opinion fluctuates from day to day. It is obviously unwise to rush headlong into momentous and irrevocable change on the basis of what may well be a temporary spike above the fifty percent threshold. A two thirds majority, or at least a threshold that lies outside the statistical margin of error, is one way to guard against this.
Another way to guard against flash-in-the-pan spikes is to specify that there shall be a second vote, after a cooling off period: two weeks, say, of sober reflection on the consequences if the first vote for radical change were to be upheld.
Cameron could easily have set in place either or both of those precautionary safeguards. In his lamentable arrogance he thought he’d win anyway, and consequently gambled away the country’s long-term future for the sake of short term tactical gain within his own party. It is too late for Cameron to act on what must now be his bitter remorse. He must retire to well-deserved ignominy, and good riddance to him. But parliament, under Cameron’s successor, has a chance to unite the country. By holding a second referendum.
You cannot hold a second referendum simply in the hope of getting a different result. That’s no way to run a democracy, and it’s poignantly revealing that Nigel Farage, anticipating back in May that his side would narrowly lose, proposed that there should be a second referendum. No, the justification for a second referendum is much stronger than that. It is that, if the result were to go the same way twice, we would all have good grounds for accepting that the people really have spoken their mind and truly favour the huge upheaval that is Brexit. Even staunch EU loyalists would then swallow our misgivings and unite behind a Brexited Britain. We would become good losers, prepared to pull our weight, and loyally make the best of it.
The full article is at present available only in the print edition of New Statesman (15th-21st July, page 17), but their website has extracts. Go to http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2016/07/weeks-magazine-brexit-pm and search for “rerun”.