The EU referendum campaign was an interesting time in our recent political history. It split the two major parties as well as conjuring up some interesting political bedfellows. And it also got a lot of people engaged in politics who normally couldn’t give a damm. Many people in Northern parts of England who voted for Brexit are people who haven’t voted in over 20 years. I remember watching a news report on the BBC and a man who voted for Brexit said that he has never voted before and probably wouldn’t vote again. When I heard him say this it hit me: the problem with modern day politics is that people aren’t engaged enough to care what happens. They see politics and politicians as so far removed from their lives, ‘all the same’ and so corrupt that they’d rather not listen to what they say and they don’t believe a single word they say.
To an extent what they say is true but having been through the referendum campaign the political engagement (myself included as I was out on street stalls talking to people throughout) of the country has been refreshing and important. Seeing people on both sides having a deep interest in issues such as sovereignty, the economy, immigration and international trade showed me that people are engaged in politics when they feel as though they’re vote counts.
However as the referendum campaign is now over and the UK is on course to leave the European Union, many of those people on both sides of the campaign may never be engaged in politics or even care about what laws we will now have to follow – despite now being able to hold our MPs to account for them. The political engagement created by the EU referendum should not loose momentum. As the Government negotiates the UK’s exit from the European Union, let’s all make sure that we are aware of the negotiations and on what terms those shall be on. And when we actually do exit, let’s make sure we as citizens keep a watchful eye on our politicians and the sorts of laws a sovereign parliament allows them to pass. Many people who wanted to leave the EU, myself included, would say sovereignty was one of the driving factors behind that decision. There is very little point therefore, in wanting the UK to be an independent, self governing nation if we don’t hold our representatives to account on the types of laws that they pass.
For most of the people reading this the sorts of laws we’ll be looking for are those that protect and uphold individual liberty and property rights, reduce the size, scope and reach of the State and those that allow free individuals to offer and receive goods and services on the marketplace under a framework on non-coercion and the rule of law.
For politically engaged people, maintaining awareness shouldn’t be a problem but for the wider public it probably would. So I think we need reform as well as engagement. I think reform of our political system and structures can actually facilitate such engagement by allowing for more decision making to be taken as close to the public as possible and by the public when possible. Further powers could be devolved to cities and local councils making way for proper decentralization in areas such as transport, health, and crime and policing. And the UK could even make Swiss style referenda a part of political life.
In Switzerland, citizens can call constitutional and legislative referendums. Constitutional referendums (also known as federal popular initiatives) allow the public a vote on proposed changes to the Swiss Federal Constitution by collecting 100,000 signatures within 18 months. A legislative referendum allows citizens to vote on laws passed by parliament by collecting 50,000 signatures within 100 days. Such reform of the way we do politics in this country could help to sustain the engagement that we have seen in politics during the referendum. It could also ensure that the State is as accountable as possible for the decisions it makes. These are all just ideas of course but that’s the great thing about the current post-referendum politics: it has created a necessity to discuss these sorts of ideas in order to shape the sort of country we now want to have. It would be a shame if the wider public missed out on this opportunity too.