Wednesday, April 06, 2016

A Black day for Dutch democracy

If, as appears to be the case, today's referendum in the Netherlands has produced a "Nee" vote which just tips over the 30% turnout threshold which requires the Dutch parliament to consider it, then this was a bad day for democracy.

I'm generally in favour of the principle of giving the whole electorate a say in as many matters as possible, but even where a referendum is held on an important issue which you would think everyone understands, you have to accept the possibility that people may use it for to answer a different question to the one you thought you were asking.

There is always the possibility that people will use a referendum not primarily to decide on the question on the ballot paper  but to stick up two fingers at the government, the establishment, some current object of unpopularity like the European Union, or all of the above.

What was particularly unfortunate - indeed, in my opinion particularly disgraceful - about the referendum which was held today is that the people who called it openly admitted that they didn't care about the issue it was supposedly about - or the country they were trying to sabotage - but had another target entirely.

In their own words: Arjan van Dixhoorn, a history professor and one of the leaders of the eurosceptic Citizens’ Committee EU that pushed for the referendum, said that

“The Ukraine vote is really about putting pressure on the Dutch relationship with Europe.” 

He added

“We really don’t care about Ukraine, you need to understand that.”

Two thirds of Dutch electors did not vote, and this may gave been partly due to a policy of deliberate abstention by supporters of the trade deal who wanted to push the turnout below the 30% which would require the Dutch parliament to consider it. It appears this evening as though the 30% was narrowly reached.

Where Ukraine was mentioned at all in the debate it was pointed out that there are flaws in Ukranian democracy - a statement with some truth - and suggested that the trade deal might lead to fast-tracked Ukranian membership of the EU - which is absolute rubbish.

In my opinion, having been stabbed in the back by Vladimir Putin, Ukraine desperately needs help and trade to help them rebuild their economy and create a properly functioning democracy.

Kicking the people of Ukraine in the teeth as a means of getting at the European Union - and if the exit polls are right, that is what Dutch Eurosceptics have done today - is a policy worthy only of the utmost contempt.

If they want to leave the EU, they should have called a referendum like the one Britain is having on whether to do exactly that. If they want to reform the EU they should have called a referendum on reform proposals. As I wrote yesterday, sabotaging the Ukraine helps only Vladimir Putin.

There is no logical reason why this referendum should have anything whatsoever to do with the British vote on whether to leave the EU, but I see that a number of British politicians, one or two of whom I used to respect, have been making statements about how wonderful the Dutch referendum result is. For example Kate Hoey, who until this evening was one of the very few Labour MPs I had any time for, tweeted that it was "a great result." The small number of Labour MPs I have any time for has just become even smaller.

I suspect that today's vote will have no impact whatsoever on the opinion of British electors, and that their joy will be short lived, but the loss of standing in my eyes of people like Kate Hoey will be permanent.

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