Solving the Brexit problem with the help of a simple analogy submitted by
Definitions : The Brexit problem
: How to best assess and implement the will of the people relating to the UK’s future relationship with the EU. The will of the people
: The desires of those of the electorate who choose to vote.
The nub of the problem is that the Brexit referendum was incorrectly presented as a binary choice, on the face of it this appears reasonable, yes/no, black/white, 1/0, remain/leave are all simple binary choices, right?Wrong!With a bit of nuanced thought you can see the choice to leave or remain was far from binary.Think of the following analogy :
A communal household currently located in leafy suburbia has a vote :
Shall we move house or stay put?
60% vote to move 40% vote to stay put.On first glance it seems obvious, to follow the will of the household surely they must move?However of the 60% who voted to move half of them wanted to move to the centre of London, the other half to a remote Scottish island.
All of those who voted for a move to the city centre would rather stay in suburbia than move to a remote Island and vice versa.
Before the true will of the commune can be followed this household needs a second vote of : Shall we move to a specific house in a specific location or shall we stay put in this specific house at this specific location?If we apply the analogy more directly to the actual Brexit referendum we should think of the UK as a large communal household of 66 people instead of a nation of 66 million.House UK had a vote on whether to move house or stay put. 47 of the 66 were eligible to vote.Of the 47 who could vote 17 voted to move house, 16 voted to stay put and 14 did not vote.
There was a debate before the vote was cast and those who wanted to move listed many benefits of moving and several different houses they could move to.
It now appears that some of the promised benefits of moving will not come to pass and that some people who wanted to move to house X would rather stay put than move to house Y.Would it not be prudent to have a vote on whether to move to a particular house or stay in the current home? As the initial vote was so close this seems a sensible approach if the goal is to best represent the will of the people.
________________________ Notes on the analogy : NB
: The analogy is of course an imperfect representation of the Brexit debate, the communal house is meant to represent a diverse group with a territorial bond. The moving house decision is seen as analogous to Brexit, not because Brexit is exactly like moving house, but because it is a complex decision that will impact the entire population. Instead of the decision to move, the household could have voted on other things such as :
- When we repaint the house should we keep the current colour scheme or change it?
- The house is in such a state of disrepair that we are going to have to rebuild it, shall we keep the original layout or redesign it?
- For this week's whole group activity shall we go to the cinema or do something else?
The analogy can be expanded to consider more detailed analysis of the Brexit problem, perhaps the commune is made up of 4 families of different sizes (the English, the Scots, the Welsh, the Nirish). Perhaps the EU could be seen as the landlord etc. However : The main purpose of the analogy
is to illustrate that a binary vote will not necessarily reflect the true will of the people if the question asked does not have a binary answer.
______________________________ FAQ Q1)
But the Brexit question was binary, surely leave vs. remain is a binary choice? A1)
There are many types of Brexit, here are a few examples :
- Soft Brexit : A Norway style deal, close regulatory alignment, free movement continues.
- Negotiated Deal : Such as the May deal, keeping some regulatory alignment, no free movement, Irish Backstop.
- Lexit : Left wing hard brexit to allow state subsidy of industry, renationalisation, green new deal etc. could allow free movement.
- Singapore Style : Right wing hard brexit to allow bonfire of regulations / low tax economy, no free movement.
- No Deal Brexit : The hardest of Brexits where no ‘divorce bill’ is paid.
The above sample of possible brexit types indicates that the choice was far from binary. i.e. It is entirely plausible that someone who voted for a soft Brexit would rather remain than proceed with a no deal Brexit etc.You can also consider remain a non binary option. With this in mind before the second vote occurs it should be explained that remain represents the status quo, i.e. staying in the EU with our future relationship within the EU influenced by the government of the day. Q2)
But in the analogy leave won, so surely they must leave? A2)
The problem is that if you are trying to determine the will of the people, you can’t be sure who won (in terms of best following the will of the people) if you provide only a binary choice for what is a non binary question.E.g. In the analogy the vote was 40% remain, 60% leave, of those who wanted to leave half wanted to go to a Scottish island and half wanted to move to central London. So in terms of will of the people the results were 40% remain in Suburbia, 30% move to London, 30% move to Scotland.
If all of those who wanted to move to Scotland would rather stay in Suburbia than move to London and vice versa the vote on a binary choice would have been as follows :
Remain in Suburbia vs Move to Scotland : 70% Remain, 30% Move
Remain in Suburbia vs Move to London : 70% Remain, 30% Move
If we apply reductio ad absurdum to the analogy then if the initial vote had been 2% remain and 98% leave then it’s still technically possible that the will of the people is to remain, providing those who wanted to leave were evenly split between London & Scotland and all of those who wanted to move to Scotland would rather stay in Suburbia than move to London and vice versa :
The above would give a vote of 2% remain in Suburbia, 49% move to London, 49% move to Scotland. But with a binary choice :
Remain in Suburbia vs Move to Scotland : 51% Remain, 49% Move
Remain in Suburbia vs Move to London : 51% Remain, 49% Move
This mirrors the uncomfortable but unavoidable situation in life that sometimes you have to decide on the least bad option. Q3)
As leave won, surely only leave voters should decide the next step? A3)
This is about the will of the people, not the will of the ‘winners’. Those who lost the first vote are still part of the people so they are still entitled to express their will.
Also see Q2 for an explanation of why it is difficult to determine exactly who won if you provide a binary choice for what is a non binary question. Q4)
Surely a second referendum is unfair? We were told by our then Prime Minister that the Brexit referendum was a one off binding choice, our current Prime minister tells us leave means leave and Brexit means Brexit. A4)
The most charitable answer to this is that Mr Cameron and Mrs May have failed to realise that you cannot necessarily enact the will of the people based on a binary vote for a non binary issue. This explains why many Conservative Brexiteers do not support the May deal. Q5)
Nobody has changed their mind so why bother having another vote? A5)
It may be the case that a significant majority have not changed their view, but this cannot really be adequately tested without there being a second vote on a binary choice. Here are some reasons why people may have changed their minds :
- Those who feel more informed.
- DUP supporters if there is an Irish Backstop.
- Those who would strongly prefer one type of Brexit over another.
- Remainers who like the chosen Brexit deal but did not expect it to be that good.
- Any of the 14 million who decided not to vote the first time may now decide to have their say.
________________________ What should happen next ?
To determine the actual will of the people we need a second referendum of :
Remain (maintain the status quo) Vs Leave (in a specific way)The problem of course is deciding what specific version of leave to have on the ballot paper…..
________________________ Healing the divide
If you apply the communal house analogy to the Brexit referendum question you can see that the Brexit process was fundamentally flawed in its ability to clearly and accurately express the will of the people.
The British people are broadly united behind a sense of fair play and the desire that the will of the people is followed regarding Brexit. If people can accept that you need a binary answer to a binary question then the idea that a second referendum will cause widespread outrage and would somehow be a betrayal of democracy can be dismissed.
Instead of thinking that people who voted differently to yourself are wrong, accept that they voted differently because they have different priorities, values and opinions to your own. Their priorities, values and opinions are just as valid to them as yours are to you. It is entirely reasonable to expect most individuals to vote based on their individual concerns.
In terms of the analogy don’t think that those who want to move to a remote Scottish island are misguided due to the lack of employment in the region, but accept that local employment opportunities may not be a major priority for those who desire the island lifestyle (perhaps they are retired / can work from home / etc.).
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