Small majority                                   

 

The vote in the referendum was 52 to 48 for leave, on a 72% turnout of registered voters.

 

Imagine a large, empty room – a school gym perhaps – with a line painted across the floor.  Suppose there are 100 people in the room.  Supposed we ask everyone who votes Leave to go to one side of that line and everyone for Remain to go to the other.  Suppose we end up with 50 people on each side – a tied vote.  Now suppose just that two people change their mind, and step across the line from Remain to Leave.  The vote is changes to 52 to 48.  Just two people out of one hundred made the difference.

 

So the result of the majority in the referendum represents, on balance, the decision of just two percent of the people who voted – one and a half percent of the people registered to vote – less than one percent of all British citizens.  Should the voices of such a tiny fraction of the population be allowed to command such a massive upheaval of the nation’s affairs as Brexit?

 

The tradition in the English speaking world is that a major change in the constitution of anything from a tennis club to a nation needs a two-thirds majority.  That US constitution works that way.  In the last few decades the slogan “50% + 1 = democracy” has come into fashion.  For comparatively small matters, like the election to a four year term of office, it may make sense:  but for major, permanent changes to a nation’s constitution, it doesn’t.

 

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