Monday, May 23, 2016

Ten Commandments for conducting a referendum with dignity and respect

1) Thou shalt not accuse all Remain supporters of being unpatriotic

Firstly, this does not help your case, and secondly, it isn't true. Saying things like "Remainers hate Britain" may apply in a few egregious cases of "every century but this and every country but his own" such as Emma Thompson, but it does not, repeat not, apply to the vast majority of those who may vote Remain.

If someone genuinely believes that Britain will be richer, better defended, and more influential in the world inside the European Union, then the patriotic thing for them to do is vote remain.

It is very unlikely indeed that either side in this referendum is going to win by much more than ten percentage points - if that. Both sides have been above 40% in the great majority of polls, which means if the turnout is similar to a general election, there will probably be more than ten million votes in each pile. Do you seriously believe that more than ten million British voters hate our country? I certainly don't.


2) Thou shalt not accuse all Leave supporters of being racists

There are some racists in our country and many of them will vote Leave, but the great majority of Leave supporters are not racist.

If someone genuinely believes that Britain will be richer, better defended and more influential in the world by cutting loose from EU institutions which are sometimes highly imperfect, then voting to leave does not make them a racist. See argument above about patriotism: I don't believe that more than ten million people in this country are racist and I know plenty of people who are voting "leave" for reasons which have nothing to do with race or immigration.


3) Thou shalt not accuse everyone on the other side of being stupid

Again, this does not help your cause and it isn't true either. Take as an example my profession - I'm an economist - in which the vast majority of experts think Britain would be better off inside the EU. However, those who don't think that - the "Economists for Brexit" group in particular - include some first rate minds who have a very good understanding of economics indeed.

And the reason I am beginning to lean against them is not because I think their economic arguments are wrong, but because I don't think Britain would vote for the free-trade policies necessary  to make their arguments apply.

So to take an example, calling those who disagree with you "economically illiterate" is not terribly helpful whichever side you're on. You might have a point if you are referring to a specific set of arguments which particularly fail to hang together - those of "Labour Leave" for instance - but it isn't true of everyone and accusing everyone who disagrees with you of stupidity does not come over well.


4) Thou shalt not accuse everyone who changes their mind of having no principles

There can be very good reasons for people to change their minds. As I pointed out yesterday there are very solid and respectable reasons why a number of people on both sides of the EU referendum debate are much less keen on Turkey joining the EU now than they were ten years ago.

Nor is it sensible to assume that everyone who changes their mind towards the side you currently support is a great statesman and everyone who changes their mind in the opposite direction is an opportunist and traitor.


5) Thou shalt not compare the EU to Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany

Both Nazi German and the Soviet Union were run by people who started aggressive wars against people in other countries and murdered many millions of innocent people from their own countries. Neither ever held anything remotely resembling a free election or tolerated anything resembling independent courts or a free press.

The people who founded the European Union, whether you agree with them or not, were trying to make another war like the one started by Nazi Germany impossible and to find peaceful ways to co-exist. You don't have to like what they created to recognise that not one of the five things I wrote above about the USSR and Nazi Germany applies to the EU.

Suggesting that the EU is like a murderous dictatorship such as the USSR or Hitler's Germany is downright offensive and makes you sound like an unpleasant fanatic. Even drawing more measured and reasonable parallels is unwise because the press is bound to report it in ways which cause justified offence and you'll have to spend days explaining what you actually said.


6) Thou shalt bear in mind how the press distorts what people said

It is far too late to hope for any sanity from the press, or that when the media report a grossly exaggerated version of what people have said, their opponents will respond to what was actually said instead of leaping at the opportunity to paint their opposition as headbangers or scaremongers.

But it will make it much easier to work with people after June 24th, if we remember that for example the PM did not say that Brexit will cause World War III or a good number of the more inflammatory things put into his mouth by the media. Neither has Boris Johnson said all the ludicrous things which the press has given the impression he said.


7) Thou shalt at least try to get thy facts right

As I have pointed out in numerous "Worst of Both Worlds" threads on this blog, and as various fact checkers have pointed out, the level of misleading information from both sides during this EU referendum campaign has been an absolute disgrace. Both sides need to do better.

A certain MEP from the region where I used to live tweeted to a friend of mine today - a fellow floater unimpressed with both sides -  that his side was not "in the same league" as the other for crazy scaremongering.

I'm afraid both sides have indeed been guilty of crazy scaremongering and I told him that I thought his side most definitely was in the same league.


8) No matter how badly you think your opponents have broken the seventh commandment above, thou shalt not use the "L" word

Despite what I wrote just above, it's not going to help us put matters right if people are too quick to describe arguments they disagree with as lies or call the other side liars.

It is my impression that, in the great majority of cases during this referendum where someone has called a person on the other side a liar, the individual so described actually believed what he or she had said.

Whether you are pro Leave or pro Remain, before calling someone on the other side a liar, think.

Whatever has incensed you, I guarantee someone on your side has said something equally untrue. I suspect you know perfectly well that I'm telling the truth when I write that, and if you don't you need to apply your critical faculties more carefully to what your own side is saying.

When you came across a statement from your own side which you know was untrue or misleading, did you call it out? Did you, like the pro-Brexit MP Doctor Sarah Wollaston, who refused to hand out Vote Leave's leaflets about the NHS which she considers misleading, refuse to go along with it?

If you didn't, do you really have the moral high ground to attack people on the other side?


9) Thou shalt not claim that there are no valid arguments for the other side.

Whichever side you're on, there are. There really are. It would not be so close if there were not.


10) Thou shalt try to keep thy sense of humour

If there is one thing that can help us get through this, it's the ability to laugh at ourselves and others.

4 comments:

Jim said...

And the 11th

whenst though has kept all ten of the above, and kept thine virtue, then its just time to walk away, walk away

No one can ever accuse you of not trying, or of breaking any of above rules, you just seen what it was. You will get what thou wants in gods good time, but until that day, well let the muppets play and walk away.

Jim said...

and the 12th

When thou knowest thou can defeat thine enemy, but thine own side is the greater foe, then thou knowest the battle ist lost. Just Walk away

Chris Whiteside said...

Thanks for the link. There can be no doubt that you have kept the tenth commandment and held on to your sense of humour ...

Jim said...

LOL, thats exactly how it was intended, What are they going to bring up next, who knows?