Paul Edie: What happens when the voters get it so wrong?

I have long felt that I had three nationalities, Scottish, British and European, all of which I am deeply proud of and hold a deep love for.

Tuesday, 30th August 2016, 1:03 pm
Updated Tuesday, 30th August 2016, 2:09 pm
Labour Party leadership candidate Owen Smith wants to almost disregard the vote for Brexit. Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The Brexit vote at first glance looks like depriving me of at least one, perhaps in time two, of these identities and I have to confess that when I woke up on the morning after the referendum I had a deep sense of bereavement.

Like many in this very pro-EU and cosmopolitan city I felt it like a death in the family.

That the grounds for exit now appear to have been based on misrepresentations and are proving to be against the best interests of the citizens of the UK presents a massive dilemma for those of us who still see our future with Europe. Do we undermine a democratic vote, however flawed, in order to do the right thing for the country or do we do respect the wishes of the electorate come hell or high water?

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

This has been played out this week with the plea from Labour leadership contender Owen Smith almost to disregard the result – a view also held by many of my fellow Liberals who, by dint of belonging to the most consistently pro-European party in the UK, feel like custodians of the European ideal.

Smith feels that we should not exit the EU without another referendum on the deal, a view also expressed by Alastair Campbell.

There is a parallel with a referendum in Ireland, where the populace there voted against a new EU treaty contrary to the advice of almost all of their politicians. The referendum was pretty swiftly rerun until the politicians got the result they wanted.

This sort of approach leaves me deeply troubled.

I have to say recent experience of referendums has decidedly put me off them. The experience in Scotland is that many on the losing sides in both the last two have effectively refused to accept the result. This effectively means that the referendums haven’t actually settled the questions they were supposed to.

Much as I dislike referendums, I do think once you have had them you have to respect the views of the electorate, even if you think they are wrong. Sure, the leave side was lying but doesn’t that happen in every election?

However the broad sweep of British history shows us that we go through periods of isolation and periods of closer working with our European neighbours.

So while I accept the referendum result reluctantly and I accept that that means we will now have a different relationship with the EU, one outside the tent, I do not accept that that will necessarily be permanent.

Nor do I accept that independence is the best way out of this current crisis. Independence would be permanent and my assessment is that Scotland would still vote to stay in the UK, possibly in even greater numbers.

So what do we do about Europe in the meantime? I wouldn’t bet against Theresa May just fudging it.

Fudge is a greatly underrated commodity in politics. Everyone believing they have got what they want, faces saved all round, it worked a treat in Ulster but I fear that in his instance we are going to have to endure a lot of avoidable pain before we start to unpick this mess.

Personally I believe that we pro- Europeans should work to get the best deal we can that guarantees as far as we can freedom of movement and of trade.

We should also ensure that whatever separation from Europe is decided is as reversible as possible.

Paul Edie is a LibDem councillor for Corstorphine/Murrayfield