A Constitutional Moment

When I started this blog last year, I intended to try and pull together all the various political arguments I’ve been making in different places over the last few years. But the kind of radical constitutional reform I’ve been advocating isn’t a subject that most people want to read about and it’s disheartening writing stuff which you suspect will never be read – so my enthusiasm evaporated after a handful of posts.

But the Brexit referendum seems to have pitched us into a constitutional crisis and – who knows? – perhaps some of my ideas will now find an audience.

My own position on Britain’s membership of the EU has been essentially neutral. I’ve argued for a long time that there needs to be proper constitutional integration between different levels of government, and also that the electorate should have some means of demonstrating where their priorities lie (Voting with your Taxes), and I’ve regarded our relationship with the EU as part of that broader question. But I’ve always assumed that internal reform would come first, that it would start with the relationship between Westminster and local communities, with our international relationships being reviewed only once we’d resolved the flaws in our internal constitutional arrangements.

For that reason, I’ve tended to disregard the EU so when this referendum came up I initially took the view that, in the context of the radical reforms I’ve been advocating, whether we stayed or left would make no difference. (I did in fact vote to remain but only because I didn’t want my wife to blame me if Leave won by a single vote!)

I must confess, though, that I was a bit depressed in the run-up to the vote when opinion polls seemed to be indicating a tight win for Remain. It’s an issue which has destabilised British politics for a very long time and the ardent Leavers clearly would not have been silenced by anything other than a resounding defeat. A slim majority in favour of remaining would have left the issue festering just below the surface; a vote to leave is an opportunity for catharsis.

But can that vote really be regarded as a democratic mandate? I’ll leave my initial answer to that for my next post.

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