Giving voice to the millions who didn’t vote in the Referendum

What happened to the 11.9 million who didn’t vote in the referendum last year?  According to the pro-Brexit lobby’s version of ‘democracy’ they no longer exist.

Non-voters may have been unregistered, uninterested, or too busy to pop in the polling station, and others reckoned their single vote would never matter much and didn’t bother, but there is a core who were confused by the lies and misinformation and didn’t know which way to turn, after a campaign that was shoddy on both sides.

In the last few months the effects of the Brexit vote have started to become clearer.  The pound immediately lost value, banks and other financial institutions are starting to move to other European countries, there are big doubts about the future of aero-space and our foreign-owned car industry, EU citizens are already leaving and creating labour shortages in key industries and services, anti-foreigner rhetoric is making the UK an unfriendly xenophobic place, and forecasts predict a long-lasting downturn in the economy, causing tax revenue reductions which would far outweigh the mythical £350m a week gain.  Brexit champions thrived on stirring up anti-EU feelings but had no plan for the future, apart from a low-tax, low-tariff Poundshop Britain which would horrify most of us, including leave voters.  They had boasted we could easily do advantageous deals with economic super-powers like the USA and China, but the reality is stark; trade agreements take years to negotiate, and we would come off worst in deals with ‘America first’ USA and the equally self-centred China.

Despite all this, the Brexiters claim another referendum would be “anti-democratic”, because “the people have spoken.”  We all seem to be forgetting that 11.9 million didn’t speak.  

We have argued that democracy will be served by letting people speak again when the truth about Brexit has become clearer.  What mustn’t be overlooked is that another referendum will give a voice to the 11.9 million who the Brexiters want to gag with their phoney pronouncements about democracy.  Among those 11.9 million are the very people who most deserve to be heard – those who rejected the nonsense spouted before the vote last year, and said ‘I want to know the truth before I make up my mind’.  Now they will be able to do that, and the sole reason for the Brexiters’ objection is that they know the lies they won with last time are gradually being exposed, and they fear losing.  Incredibly, they still dare to speak of ‘democracy’ – in the same breath as demanding the right to disenfranchise the 11.9 million.

The leavers gained an enormous feeling of power by rocking the boat in June last year, but the undecided are a far more powerful group; their numbers dwarf the slim majority gained last year, and they can decide the future of our country.  We need to remind them that only the Liberal Democrats want to let them exercise that power.  They might want to thank us by putting their cross in the right place.

* Andy Daer is a member of the Liberal Democrats in South Gloucestershire, and Vice Chair of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine.

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  • What mustn’t be overlooked is that another referendum will give a voice to the 11.9 million who the Brexiters want to gag with their phoney pronouncements about democracy

    Does this mean you’re saying that the second referendum result should only be valid if the turnout is higher than it was for the 2016 referendum?

  • Surely, there should be a threshold that would need to be reached, before a democratic referendum could be overturned.

  • Andy,

    I don’t think that we need to worry about the 11.9 million who didn’t vote. According to the YouGov poll today, the number of leavers regretting their vote is rocketing, and the “remain” feeling is getting stronger by the day. Now neck and neck, but in the next week or so on this trend “remain” will be the clear majority. Who knows, we could get to 60% favouring “remain” now very quickly. Remain has already, effectively, won the argument, it remains for the government to either abandon Brexit or call a referendum on the deal they manage to negotiate (or not) and then get trounced. Either way the Tories could end up out of power for some time!

  • Nonconformistradical 27th Oct '17 - 6:23pm

    “Surely, there should be a threshold that would need to be reached, before a democratic referendum could be overturned.”

    Leaving aside the issue of how democratic the 2016 referendum was – or was not – if we had a decent, written constitution then it could – should – include criteria for size of majority if a referendum was to be carried in the first place.

  • Peter Watson 27th Oct '17 - 7:05pm

    @Paul D B “According to the YouGov poll today, the number of leavers regretting their vote is rocketing, and the “remain” feeling is getting stronger by the day. ”
    Do you mean this Yougov poll:?
    It shows 45% vs.43% regretting the Brexit vote this week compared with 45% vs. 42% a week before (and 47% vs. 42% the week before that). If it is showing a trend, it is not in the direction you are suggesting, and the split is pretty consistent with the polling before the Referendum which showed a narrow win for Remain that did not materialise.

    Don’t look for false hope in polling which suggests little if any change on either side.

    If the goal is to prevent Brexit then I am disappointed that the Lib Dems have stuck to the same negative Remain strategy that failed in 2016 and has achieved nothing since then. Gloating over the problems caused by Brexit is unattractive and unlikely to win over voters. Why not try making a positive case for EU membership instead of a negative one against Brexit? Perhaps look more closely at the reasons why so many people felt their lives would be no worse outside the EU (instead of dismissing them as uneducated xenophobes) and try to devise Lib Dem solutions to show how they could be addressed without leaving the EU.

  • I was more or less happy with this – until the last, cynical, sentence. Do it because it is right, or don’t do it. Doing it to bamboozle people into voting for a party is despicable.

  • Peter Martin 28th Oct '17 - 7:08pm

    I was speaking to a friend, just last week, who hadn’t voted and his reason was simple enough. He couldn’t make up his mind either way! He says he still isn’t sure. He can appreciate the arguments on both sides.

    People didn’t vote for all kinds of reasons. Neither side should claim the no-vote for itself.
    An abstention, whether in an election or a referendum, has to be respected for what it is.

  • Ed Shepherd 28th Oct '17 - 7:32pm

    One of the risks of a second EU referendum is if the Bexit campaign called for a boycott of it. At some point a lowered turnout would allow the Bexit campaign to point to the second referendum as being too low to be valid. A similar problem of low turnout is one of the many problems afflcting Catalonia,

  • Peter Watson, I suggest that you read the Daily Telegraph article (not a natural remain ally) where it shows the poll averages since October last have been moving against Leave. There is still a small majority for Leave, (back to 52:48, having been worse previously with Remainers resigned to a dismal Brexit future) but given the way the numbers are moving now that lead will dissolve quickly and Remain will be in the ascendant. Hope is beginning to reestablish itself!

  • Peter Watson 29th Oct '17 - 11:26am

    @Paul D B “the poll averages since October last have been moving against Leave”
    The Telegraph article’s use of a 5 poll average means that it includes 3 polls in the second half of October (previous polls were more spread out) including an apparent blip in 10/11 October polling of a 47%-42% regret.
    Over the last 4 months the Yougov figures suggest that those who believe Britain was wrong to vote to leave is pretty stable at 45% and those who believe Britain was right to vote to leave might have moved down from 45% to 43%. As Anthony Wells wrote at UKPollingReport, “while the country is still quite evenly divided over the merits of Brexit … the regular trackers do appear to have started to show some small movement towards regret”. The delusion of interpreting this as “the number of leavers regretting their vote is rocketing, and the “remain” feeling is getting stronger by the day” risks making poor decisions about how to proceed.
    Also, polling before the referendum showed a similar split in favour of Remain. My hunch then was that shy Brexiters were under-declaring (having been depicted by their opponents as uneducated racists) and I profited from my only ever bet by backing Brexit while voting for Remain. I was disappointed that the so-called “experts” had not seen that.
    As indicated in the Telegraph article, the polling indicates a whole bunch of things that Lib Dems and Remainers should consider in their strategies: Lib Dem voting intention is still in the doldrums, most people do not want a second referendum, most people want to proceed with Brexit, and most people seem to expect the UK will be worse off and have factored that into their opinions. This last point suggests that gloating over economic bad news might not be a vote-winner and perhaps there is an opportunity a more positive message about the benefits of EU membership.

  • Peter,

    We may disagree on the extent of movement, but it is clear that we agree that Brexit regret is growing! Whilst most people still want Brexit, the numbers are getting close to even again now. People are beginning to realize that Brexit will be bad news, and for them personally too! This has only started to be factored into their reaction. I believe. The more it impacts the angrier they will become, an increasingly number again want a referendum on the deal, and many ( as highlighted in the Telegraph article ) want Brexit to just go away (including many leave voters). Remainers don’t gloat in the negative economic impacts of Brexit, but it does make us sad. In the end it is up to leave voters to recognize the unintentional damage they have caused, and reflect on how they can work with Remainers to deliver an exit from Brexit misery. Lastly, there are many, many positive benefits of being part of the EU, economic and otherwise. We should trumpet these more and more. Incidentally, most of the woes that face our country are caused or have been caused by our own government’s bad management.

  • I think what everyone is missing is the rather obvious flaw in our democratic process that the referendum highlights, namely how a minority can hijack a statistically inconclusive result (remember only 1-in-3 voted leave and with only three options on the table: remain, leave and no vote, 1-in-3 is the expected normal result from random voting) and proceed as if they had an overwhelming mandate and sneering at any dissent – even though their own modus operandi was “In a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way. If the remain campaign win two-thirds to one-third that ends it.”

    Whilst we can point out how difficult, slow (and at times frustrating) Quaker decision making can be, it is rare for the final outcome to be as divisive as we are seeing with the referendum result. There are times when quick or small group decision making is necessary, however, I suggest some matters, such as our membership of the EU fall into such a category and thus demand a process that permits greater discussion and consideration of views. Some will interpret this to simply mean greater consideration for the views of those who voted remain, I however, would include consideration of the wide spectrum of views that voted leave, as we know there was no single leave viewpoint.

  • Sorry typo: “however, I suggest some matters, such as our membership of the EU, don’t fall into such a category”

  • some matters, such as our membership of the EU [don’t] fall into such a category and thus demand a process that permits greater discussion and consideration of views

    But the process has been going on since Maastricht — near-on twenty years — and for all that time it’s divided the population pretty much 50-50 down the middle: sometimes shifting one way, sometimes the other, but never with either side having a convincing lead over the other.

    How much slower a process do you want? At some point a decision has got to be made. Consensus decision-making can work, but not when the issue is so finely balanced and not many people on either side are ever going to change their minds. In that situation, all insisting on a consensus does is keep putting the decision off — which is itself a decision favouring the status quo, so those who like the status quo will of course be happy with it but those who see the status quo as a slow drift into a system they don’t like, and never signed up for, will become increasingly disenfrachised.

  • @Dav – Don’t know which process you are talking about, I’m talking about the process that was formally started by the referendum in 2016. Until then we were working within the framework created from the previous consensus of being ‘In’.
    Whilst the issue of our membership of the EU has been around since Maastricht, we shouldn’t confuse this and the lobbying for a referendum with the outcome of such a referendum when the result is contrary to the status quo and thus needing to determine the best way forward.

    As for those not liking the status quo becoming increasingly disenfranchised, well we shouldn’t forget that in making decision and taking a course of action will in itself disenfranchise people, which is exactly what we are seeing now with respect to the referendum. Thus the question is, how as mature democracy do we minimise disenfranchment, which brings us back to coalition and minority government where no one really gets exactly what they want and thus expectations change.

    I agree there is a ‘speed’ issue and that decisions do need to be made, however, we should not allow such factors to blinker our thinking and considerations as to how we might improve our democratic decision making process.

  • Andy Daer …..Giving voice to the millions who didn’t vote in the Referendum…

    Be careful what you wish for. You ignore those who believed that ‘Remain’ was a forgone conclusion and their ‘Leave’ vote was a waste of time…Several friends of mine are ‘Leavers’ who didn’t vote but probably will if there is a second referendum…

  • I agree with Dav that the process has been going on since the 1970s – there has always been an anti-EU brigade

    This brings you face-to-face with Dav’s key points: “At some point a decision has got to be made. … but those who see the [decision] as a slow drift into a system they don’t like, and never signed up for, will become increasingly disenfranchised.”

    The question has to be what should we have done with the disenfranchised group? Because it is clear that by hoping it would go away, didn’t solve the problem, instead it grew, resulting in the referendum and the mess we are now in. Hence why I pose the question, as without change in our political system, post-Brexit we are in the same situation as we were, only everyone has changed sides.

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