LibLink: Alistair Carmichael: A People’s Vote is the only way for our country to move forward

Alistair Carmichael emerges from the shadows of his Chief Whip’s role to make the case for a People’s Vote in the Herald in his own inimitable style. First he sets the scene.

Instead of trotting out platitudes (“Brexit means Brexit” – remember that one?) and promising the undeliverable to the insatiable on her own right wing and the DUP (we shall leave the Customs Union AND have no hard border between the North and the South AND we shall have no border in the Irish Sea) she could have built a consensus in the House of Commons.

There are two obstacles to sorting this out – one is May’s intransigence. The other is Jeremy Corbyn:

Challenged in yesterday’s confidence debate the self-styled Leader of The Opposition was unable to say whether, in the event of winning his general election he would press ahead with Brexit or not. That apparently would be up to his party.

When I asked him then if he would follow the policy endorsed by his party members at their conference in September and back a people’s vote after the confidence motion had failed his answer was also less than unequivocal.

As they might have said aboard the Starship Enterprise, “It’s leadership, Jim, but not as we know it”.

The Lib Dems first came up with the idea of a People’s Vote two years ago and it didn’t exactly catch on:

It was not a popular idea at the time. A population weary from frequent and difficult visits to the polls did not much fancy the prospect of another one. I understand the sentiment, but it was then, and is still now, the only way ahead.

By bringing his MPs in behind the campaign for a People’s Vote Jeremy Corbyn could make it happen. Instead he continues to vacillate. It is a vacillation for which he may pay a heavy political price. Those who lent him their votes in 2017, believing him to be an opponent of Brexit are now increasingly seeing him as the Brexit-loving charlatan than many in Westminster (especially in his own party) have long since known him to be.

Let me be clear. I believe that a People’s Vote is the only way for our country now to go forward. In itself it is not an answer to all the problems that caused Brexit and which come with it. Would it heal the divide within our country? No but it would at least allow the healing to start.

You can read the whole article here.

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  • Looking at the Guardian and Times today perhaps PM will announce a free vote, whips off.

  • John Barrett 18th Jan '19 - 11:08am

    Alistair is correct that Jeremy Corbyn is currently part of the problem, not part of the solution.

    However,those proposing another vote as the solution to the current crisis, should also clarify two things. What should happen after that vote in each potential result scenario and exactly what the question will be.

    Until both are much clearer, support for such a vote may increase, but the public will not be likely to accept the result of any future vote as an end to the story, or be prepared for the aftermath which might follow.

    The public should must be told in advance by those calling for another vote, what the outcome would be, if the result was much the same as last time, in that a majority people who voted, voted in a different way from the majority of MPs.

    Will MPs then continue to argue for their strongly held beliefs (which is understandable)or accept the decision of the next referendum. Here in Scotland no SNP MP changed their view on independence when it was rejected by the people some years ago. The SNP are now calling for another vote and will continue to do so until they get the answer they are looking for.

    As Alistair says, the support for a People’s vote was first promoted by the Lib Dems before being picked up by others, but this does not provide any certainty that it will provide a solution to the current problem.

    We were both in the Westminster Parliamentary Party when Nick Clegg was enthusiastically promoting an In/Out referendum on Europe, only to find that others later picked up the idea and put it into action. That idea certainly did not solve the problem many thought it would.

    I suspect the People’s vote will do exactly the same.

    I suspect that the People’s Vote, will do exactly the same and will throw up more problems after that vote than we are facing now.

  • John Barrett 18th Jan '19 - 11:19am

    The alternative would require all MPs of all parties to work together and put the national interest before party interest.

    As those outside Westminster watch our Parliament failing to deal with this issue, let us hope that democracy itself is not put at risk in the months and years ahead.

  • Corbyn – and quite frankly a fair number of his party are a major impediment to anything positive – they are still thinking in 1970s binary solutions and are obsessed with the views of militant trade unions and not upsetting potential UKIP and BNP voters in the UK’s “rust belt”.

    The Lib Dems should insist on cancelling article 50 / re-entry into the EU as a minimum for any part in any future government. A commitment to join the Euro should be seriously considered, to make it even more difficult for any future attempt at Leave in years to come.

  • Steve Trevethan 18th Jan '19 - 1:18pm

    In which ways is the leader of HM’s Opposition “self-styled”?
    Is this an example of an uneccesarily pejorative turn of phrase?

  • Martin Land 18th Jan '19 - 4:00pm

    Rumours abound that a GE will be called for February 28th.

  • More likely PM resigns someone else takes over, organises delay on article 50 and gets times for things to be sorted out. Surely Theresa May cannot lead in a General, look at last time.
    One niggle I have i is that unless someone bites the bullet and delays Brexit there may be continuing chaos, as Harold Wilson wondered will the tanks be coming up Whitehall.

  • @Martin Land – where exactly do such rumours abound?

  • Martin Land 18th Jan '19 - 5:44pm

    Political Betting, see article in the New Statesman.

  • Martin Land 18th Jan '19 - 7:34pm

    Also see

  • Well has Corbyn has fallen off the fence on the side of Brexit and as of now is refusing to get back on his fence for all seasons, at least we are spared the “He’s a poltical genius, just waiting his time to strike and kill Bexit” obligitory post. I cannot discount they’ll drag him back onto “The fence for all seasons” but it would take a braver man/woman than me to put the case he isn’t a Brexiteer. Still if they do manage to drag him back I suspect someone will pop up to put that case.

  • @Martin Land – thanks; we’ll see what developments unfold next week, although I’d honestly be extremely surprised if May announced that she was seeking another early General Election under the FTPA after her less than triumphant experience in 2017. But we live in unstable and unprecedented times!
    @theakes – it would be totally out of character for May to resign voluntarily – but it’s possible that an internal coup within her cabinet could leave her with no choice. Her fate will probably turn on how she handles the next couple of weeks … although it seems that she lacks the political skills to suddenly start working on a genuine cross-party basis in order to build any sort of consensus.
    @frankie – very few people can still have any illusions that Corbyn is, at best, ambivalent on Brexit. His “fence for all seasons” is a useful device for his own internal party management. But, at some point, he will have to make a choice – whether to enable a Tory version of Brexit (perhaps with a few cross-party modifications) or to finally support another referendum. In the meantime, we need to recognise that we will probably have to win the votes of many more Labour MPs (including those who consider themselves loyal to Corbyn) in order to deliver a HOC majority in favour of another referendum … and, whilst we need to cajole and encourage Labour MPs to act in the national interest, it will not help us to achieve our objectives if we constantly denigrate their leader with gratuitous insults.

  • @Martin – I’m sure that, as one of the principal architects of Article 50, John Kerr (Baron Kerr of Kinlochard) would have some “well informed” ideas on the issues that you raise. As you will be aware, he is also a prominent supporter of the ‘People’s Vote’ Campaign.

  • Sean,
    I suspect my view on Jeremey is a lot more generous than the views of a majority of his MP’s about him. The membership of the Labour party where the bedrock of Jeremy’s support, I’m not so sure it is as supportive as it was, but time will tell.

  • Katharine Pindar 19th Jan '19 - 9:00am

    There was calm good sense from John Major speaking on the Today programme this morning. He said that it won’t matter if you have to eat your words about the past Referendum being final, because leaving the EU without a deal will be too harmful to the country, particularly to ordinary people and business. The ex-PM asks for Mrs May to propose motions on Monday to see if a majority can be reached on any way forward, and if Parliament cannot agree, to accept that there must be another Referendum.

  • Corbyn bashing continues .Lib Dems slide further down the polls and even further off the radar. The overwhelming indifference to the party must be alarming to members….carry on mocking Corbyn though.

  • Silvio:
    I am always saying how poor the Lib Dems are doing in the polls, but even I have to admit
    things are actually a little bit better, 10 -12 per cent in two of the last 3, and if there was an election and Labour provaricate and the LDs are seen as firmly Remain, they could get perhaps double their dreadful 2017 vote.

  • Nick Collins 19th Jan '19 - 1:52pm

    Silvio, one does not have to be a LibDem member to recognise that there are earwigs in one’s garden, not to mention pigeons perched on one’s fence, with better leadership qualities than Corbyn.

  • Nick Collins 19th Jan ’19 – 1:52pm……………Silvio, one does not have to be a LibDem member to recognise that there are earwigs in one’s garden, not to mention pigeons perched on one’s fence, with better leadership qualities than Corbyn……………

    Yet another example of what passes for ‘grown-up’ political comment on LDV.

  • Jayne Mansfield 19th Jan '19 - 3:19pm

    @ Nick Collins,

    It rather makes one wonder why so many of the educated middle class who are left of centre have flocked to the Labour Party.

    Perhaps it is not so much about Corbyn, but about which party that has a set of policies to right the wrongs of the last few years, and the numbers and commitment to push them through.

    If the electorate finds Corbyn and Labour toxic, what, given polling figures, does that say about their attitude to the Liberal Democrat party?

  • @Katherine Pindar – yes indeed, wise words (again) from Sir John who, in hindsight, was perhaps a rather better ex-PM than he is generally given credit for! As I recall, from the Today programme this morning, he was also advocating that Theresa May should tear up all her existing “red lines” and facilitate a series of indicative votes on all the Brexit options, including another referendum which he personally favoured, especially if there was no HOC majority for anything else. Moreover, he urged that any such votes should be conducted by all parties on a free vote basis (i.e. without whips), so that individual MPs could exercise their own independent judgement rather than according to party political loyalty.
    Unfortunately, however, it is clear that Major and his friends only speak for a relatively small minority within the current Conservative Party (although including a small cabal inside the cabinet) – and I fear that his sensible counsel will probably not be heeded by HMG. In any case, any attempt by May to act as a facilitator of genuine consensus, at this late stage, would be bound to attract widespread cynicism.
    Much more likely, though, Parliament will devise a procedural means to wrest control of the process from Mrs May – but, anyway, the Govt motion to be presented to the HOC on 29 Jan is supposed to be amendable, so we may well get indicative votes on alternative ways forward then if not sooner. If this helps to narrow the options down, e.g. by again rejecting “no deal” and failing to support “Canada plus”, “Norway plus” or Labour’s alternative customs union plan, this could frame the terms of the only credible Plan B which would be left, i.e. apply to extend Article 50 and proceed with another referendum – which might by then secure a positive HOC majority …

  • P.S. Further to my previous comments … As others have implored, it would be helpful if political comment on LDV could be conducted on the basis of sensible and reasoned discussion rather than gratuitous personal insults against our political opponents – or perhaps that suggestion is too high-minded for some?
    We Lib Dems should also have the self-awareness to recognise that our much reduced representation at Westminster and our lowly current poll ratings (partly due to our own folly during the Coalition years) means that, whatever our frustrations with Labour’s ambivalent policy on Brexit, we can only secure our immediate objective of securing a so-called ‘People’s Vote’ by working on a constructive cross-party basis – which includes maximising support for that objective amongst Labour MPs. At least some of the Labour MPs who need to be won over for a HOC majority regard themselves as Corbyn supporters; others are Labour loyalists more strongly than they are Remainers – so constant “Corbyn bashing” by Lib Dems could be seriously counter-productive. Let’s therefore ALL please try to desist!

  • Arnold Kiel 20th Jan '19 - 3:08am


    you are raising an important point in addressing the upcoming European elections I have been wrestling with for a while. Here is my current, unrefined thinking: LibDems, possiby together with Greens, SNP, Sinn Fein, and Independents should now field European parliament candidates in all UK constituencies and just start campaigning. It would be consistent with party policy, give a constructive, pro-EU group of candidates a head-start, and could positively cross-fertilise the current Brexit debate. Funding should be out there, given the overwhelming interests of business in remaining. Clearly, UKIP will soon remobilise, and Conservatives and Labour would struggle right now to enter the race, so there could be a time-window of exclusivity.

  • Peter Martin 20th Jan '19 - 10:49am

    This could be significant. The choice could well come down to to May’s deal or postponing Brexit.

  • Andrew Tampion 20th Jan '19 - 11:08am

    The first prfoblem for the so called Peoples Vote is that it’s the same people, Alistair Campbell, Chuka Umanna, Sir John Major, Caroline Lucas, various SNP and Liberal Democrat politicians. If you want to demonstrate growing support why don’t you quote politicians and comentators who have previously been opposed or neutral coming out to back the idea.
    Second most prominent backers of the Peoples vote are strongly pro remain and want to overturn the result. That’s fine but if the campaign was genuinely neutral with both pro Brexit and pro remain support it would be much more acceptable.
    Third, but related to point two is the name Peoples Vote. It what sense is it any more a peoples vote than the 2016 referendum; or any other referendum for that matter. Apart from anything else this terminology is you going to wind up many people who voted Leave first time round because they will take it as implying that in some way it would have more validity than the first vote. This does nothing to heal our Countries divisions.
    Fourthly there’s the question. Is it Remain or leave on Mrs May’s deal; Remain or No deal; remain or no deal or Mrs May’s deal; or what? I’ve seen support for all these options.
    Fifthly if as appears from the polling that the Country is still divided nearly 50/50 what how would that help. Obviously if Leave won again we would have to leave. But as Anand Menon said on Question Time last week how would a 52 to 48 split in favour of Remain resolve anything.

    Finally if we have a second referendum and Article 50 is suspended to allow time for that to happen and the vote confirms the decision to leave what happens then. Do we leave immediately. If so we would have prepare for any possible outcome

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