A meeting of the Compass group met on Saturday 18 November 2017 at the Yard and we were pleased to welcome representatives from the Salisbury for Europe group. Guy Wilkinson gave a fascinating talk on various aspects of the Referendum and how it fits into our political system.
He pointed out that referenda are unusual in the UK the last being related to Scottish independence. A crucial question is ‘can they be reversed?’ General elections give the opportunity to vote in another government and reverse a previous government’s decisions: referenda by contrast do not seem to be time limited.
How binding are they? One of the crucial principles of our constitution is that parliament is sovereign and should not be bound. Yet the Brexit referendum is being presented as a fait accompli which cannot be argued with. We can remember the fuss when the High Court insisted that parliament should have a vote. Referenda add another layer to our political system. When, he asked, is it appropriate to have a referendum and can it be reversed after the next election?
Another key point is that they are vulnerable to outside influence. We are hearing more stories of Russian involvement and organised interference in the referendum and in other country’s affairs. The effects of social media are increasingly being felt, not always beneficially. It was noted however that this is not confined to referenda. The alleged role of people like Lord Ashcroft to pump large sums into marginal constituencies occurred during the normal election process. The role of our media was also discussed and how the majority of national newspapers were hostile to the EU.
Finally, Guy referred to the UK’s historic policy towards Europe which was basically divide and rule in an attempt to maintain a balance of power. This policy contributed to a succession of damaging European wars in which we were often involved. The European movement post war has been to try and move away from the terrible effects of these wars. If we come out of Europe, will we revert to this divide and rule policy again, rather than working towards greater unity?
The discussion moved onto the after effects of the Brexit referendum which are continuing. A key decision on phase one of the negotiations is awaited and so far does not look promising. A key belief during the referendum campaign was the belief that ‘all our woes come from the EU.’ It is believed by many that once we are out of the EU our troubles will be over and that in some way we will be free.
The Chair thanked Guy for his interesting talk. The next meeting of Salisbury for Europe is on Monday 20th at 19:00 at the Pheasant Inn in Chipper Lane.
The meeting went on to discuss other matters.
- the third Democracy café was a success with 30 people in attendance. The problem with the venue was background noise from the music system which made hearing what was said difficult. The Arts Centre were reluctant to turn the music off as it was for the benefit of other users. Other venues were considered and the Playhouse and Coffee Culture were mentioned. This might mean changing the meeting time however.
- the Citizenship event at South Wilts was a great success
- there was a report from the treasurer
- there may be a talk on 20 January (to be confirmed) by Thomas J Burgess the author of From Here to Prosperity. Further details including venue in due course
- There was a general discussion about progress with the group now that we have been in existence a year. One suggestion was for us to develop ‘positions’ that is, things the group felt to be important concerning things like tax and housing for example. This could be important if the current government collapses and there is a sudden general election