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There has been a lot of comment during the referendum campaign that a reason to vote to exit is in order that the nation can take control back from the unelected mandarins of the EU. The argument goes that by leaving the citizens of the UK can once again represent themselves on the world stage and the UK will once again be a sovereign nation in charge of its own destiny. (It still is by the way either in or out of the EU)
But just how representative is the UK in recognising the views of its population.
In the 2015 General Election according to the BBC only 66.1% of the available electorate bothered to vote. Of that 66.1% only a minority of 36.9% voted for the Conservative party. Therefore the controlling party in parliament has the active support of less than 25% of the available voting public. In Scotland this support for the party in charge is substantially less.
In addition to this the parliamentary candidates of all parties are chosen by a very small number of local party members. Those local memberships by virtue of the fact that they are activists will tend to represent the more extreme views of their respective parties and by inference are more likely to chose candidates who share those views. The majority of voters do not choose MP’s.
The referendum itself illustrates the nature of the problem. Whichever way the vote goes, and it is clear that the decision will be close, a substantial minority will not get the decision it seeks. The vote if very close would mean that over 20 million possible voters will see a decision for which they do not agree imposed upon them. That being the case and given the size of that unsatisfied electorate the conflict within the UK will continue. If the leavers fail they will feel justified in continuing to progress the cause just because a significant minority hold the same view. If the remain camp fail then it is unlikely they will be in a position follow a policy of re-admittance to the EU and their feeling of injustice will be heightened by the fact that such a small difference in the vote swayed the decision. The independence campaign in Scotland will be re-ignited and possibly in the other nations comprising the UK.
Democracy as we understand the term works on a small scale where individuals can have an impact on the decision and the impact on the number of citizens will be low even if the proportion of the total is high. As voting numbers increase then the magnitude of the numbers who disagree increases. What are you more comfortable with a disagreement of 2 out of 10 or 200 out of a 1,000? That 200, just by the size of the minority, feels more justified by its position just from the number of fellow people who hold the same view. Unless people become more actively involved in the political decision making process at a local and party level so that their views can be added to the political conversation at an early stage then the idea that us as individuals have a say in the governance of the nation is a fallacy. A vote every 5 years based on manifestos published by the parties which are rarely implemented in full and remain largely unread or cherry picked views conveyed to the populace by the media does not give political power to the voter.
Those who obsess about sovereignty and control need to examine the reality of our political form. The reality is that as a nation we cede sovereignty to numerous organisations, lobbyists and governments who claim mandates but who in reality have very small bases of active support among the electorate.
Most people take very little interest in the political life of our countries most of the time. The best we can hope for is that the policies and views of those to who we hand political control remains unextreme and moderate. In that way, even if we do not agree with all the policies, at least the majority of us can accept moderate exceptions which is why we as a country are willing to accept our system as it stands with little individual participation from the majority of the population.
There is a strident call for the nation to retake control of its destiny and give power back to the people. This power does not exist for most of us. The political elites and big business may gain some personal power but for the ordinary voter their influence will remain what it has always been, very small.
If we as voters accept that we abdicate political power to small elites and accept their decisions as binding then this referendum should not even be happening. Our membership of the EU has been democratically decided by our Parliament, has the support of the existing Government and both these institutions have been voted for by the electorate under the terms of the political process we as voters have accepted so there is no constitutional reason for all this energy to be wasted on a vote that has no justification. If people want to leave the EU then at a General Election they should vote for a party who will guarantee to leave the EU. You wouldn’t even need to guarantee a majority. That is how our system works.