The People’s Vote (PV) demo on October 20th must be supported 100% without reservations – the Open Britain initiative is not perfect but it is the only show in town. After the demo the wider picture will be clearer as the vote in the Commons in November is racing towards us and party politics will take centre stage.
Setting the scene for what needs to be a broad cross party alliance to have any success – in nearly a dozen and a half Brexit votes since Theresa May took over there have been no significant government defeats – the immediate focus will be on the Scottish National Party’s conference starting October 7th. The SNP is refusing to back the People’s Vote, making only sympathetic noises. This ambiguity cannot survive once MPs start marching through the lobbies.
As Scotland voted to Remain in 2016, it would be easy for the SNP to back the PV, but short term party interest keeps it aloof and possibly aiding the Tories secure Brexit. So far SNP Party interest has followed the dangerous logic that if Brexit is imposed on a nation which rejected it, this would feed into the sense of injustice on which the SNP has grown. Thus the SNP could, for entirely different reasons, support the Tories by opposing any form of popular vote.
The two parties have positions diametrically opposed, the Tories want Brexit and keeping the Union, the SNP wants anti-Brexit and dissolving the Union, but both parties stand against the People’s Vote, which benefits the Tories. While like Labour the SNP can fudge with gusto, the cliff edge of the Meaningful Vote is approaching, possibly as early as November, and how the SNP conference will shape up will give pointers to Theresa May’s possible success.
More positively, differences over the future of the UK has not stopped the progressive parties uniting against the reactionaries in the Welsh Assembly. On October 3rd the Assembly passed a mildly progressive motion which left the door open to a People’s Vote, with limits. The Tories and UKIP voted against.
The motion was initially proposed by the Nationalist Plaid Cymru, but was amended by Labour in line with party conference policy in a way that Plaid could support, leading to the following wording: which passed by 28 votes to 18.
“the option of a People’s Vote must be kept on the table and in particular if the Prime Minister is
unable to secure agreement on the final terms of the UK’s exit from the European Union and there
is no subsequent general election, then the people must decide on the way forward”.
Mirroring Labour’s conference policy, the motion makes action hinge on tory deal making, with two conditions before a People’s vote can be held. Firstly a deal which is not secured by May – ie it is rejected by parliament, and then a General Election can be held. This makes the actual people’s vote the third option not the first. The deal might of course pass parliament so there would be no chance for the people to decide anything. This is a wrong definition of parliamentary sovereignty – the decision has to be made, for or against, by the people. We have a referendum democracy on constitutional issues.
Specifically, the motion mirrors Labour’s fervent desire for a General Election. But as Dave Lammy said at the Pier Head in Liverpool on 23rd September, the Tory rebels may vote for a referendum, but they will not vote for a General Election when they could lose their seats. In the Welsh debate, Labour AM Jenny Rathbone said “I think Labour’s demand for a general election is for the birds because the Conservative Party is never going to vote for general election before 2022. Therefore the alternative vote is actually the only way out of absolute political deadlock”.
There may in fact be a settlement if there is May deal, but only if she can cobble together a majority in the commons. To do this Labour or the SNP or both would have to vote for May, but if not we do have a constitutional crisis. The whip hand is the with the Tory Brexiteers, who can oust May and put Boris Johnson in Number 10. Stopping this might mean May calls a General Election while she is still able to do so, but while Corbynites might fantasise they get their hearts desire by beating a divided Tory Party, this depends on Boris Johnson being unpopular and there is no UKIP revival with Brexit in Name Only putting Brexit voters into opposition to the Tories, but the future is wholly unpredictable . Perhaps we could even see May try Crown Prerogative to push through a deal if rejected by parliament. But in that scenario a 3rd referendum becomes increasingly attractive.
But while a 3rd referendum is a possibility, a vote on the Deal is the achilles heel of the People’s Vote, plan to make the Deal acceptable. There is no time before the Article 50 deadline to do renegotiation, unless there is an extension of the deadline. While possible and a realistic prospect if a 3rd vote is proposed (though it would have to be approved by the EU 27), a delay would only be tolerable for Brexiteers if the option of a victory in a Best of Three vote was on offer. The People’s Vote campaign is the only way to get any popular vote into practice though its meaning is uncertain. What is certain is the need to demonstrate in London on October 20th.
Trevor Fisher 6 10 18