Thursday, December 6, 2018

Why a no deal Brexit may still be more likely than a "People's Vote"

There's an anonymous commenter on this blog who keeps trying to get a narrative going that a second EU referendum is "almost certainly" going to happen.  The latest event which has supposedly made this almost certain outcome even more almost certain is the confirmation from the DUP that they will rescue the government on any no confidence motion that follows the rejection of Theresa May's Brexit deal, which should mean that Labour then revert to supporting a so-called "People's Vote" (if they stick to their word).  With Labour, SNP, Lib Dem and Tory rebel support, the theory goes, there would be majority support for a referendum and it would be bound to happen.  And yet, if you check the betting markets, you'll find that punters currently rate the chances of a referendum next year at significantly less than 50%.

As long-term readers know, I don't share Neil "Alligators" Lovatt's faith in the betting markets as some sort of predictive God.  But in this case, I've no doubt that they're a lot closer to being right than our "almost certain" friend.  First of all, although it's true you get to a majority if you add up all Labour, SNP, Lib Dem and Plaid Cymru MPs and add on the likely Tory rebels, it's far from being a comfortable majority.  It's inevitable that there will be a Labour counter-rebellion against a referendum, meaning that it's very difficult to know which way the vote would go.  Self-evidently, if there's a reasonable chance that a pro-referendum amendment will not be passed, there's also a reasonable chance that a referendum will never take place.

But it doesn't end there, because even if a pro-referendum amendment is passed, that still doesn't guarantee a referendum will actually happen.  It would take primary legislation to bring about a referendum, and it's phenomenally improbable that would happen without government support, or at least acquiescence.  The bottom line is that the government may not have the ability to get its own preferred option through, but it's certainly in a strong position to prevent anyone else's option getting through if it's determined to do so.  If we assume that Theresa May will remain Prime Minister through to the spring, and most people do seem to make that assumption, the question we should be asking ourselves is which undesirable option she would be most able to live with.  She doesn't want Remain, she doesn't want a referendum of any sort, she doesn't want No Deal, and she doesn't want a soft Brexit that would entail the retention of free movement.  But only three of those four possibilities would constitute an outright betrayal of what she has been saying to her political base.  The one exception is No Deal.

Some people are nursing the fond belief that No Deal simply can't happen, because there's a natural parliamentary majority against it, and parliament would therefore eliminate it as a possibility.  But this gets back to the old joke about parliament voting against bad weather - there are some things that MPs are simply powerless to do anything about.  If a deal isn't approved, the default position is not Remain, and it's not a second referendum.  The default is No Deal, and that's the case even if parliament passes a non-binding amendment "ruling out No Deal".  Positive action would have to be taken to change that default, and that means action by a government which may have no inclination to do any such thing.

There's a new article by Ian "Smug? Moi?" Dunt, which lambasts Brexiteers for suggesting a non-binding parliamentary vote could simply be ignored.  He suggests that this would be as outrageous as Remainers ignoring the outcome of the 2016 referendum, which was also technically non-binding.  But I'd suggest the government will have a pretty straightforward answer to that point - they could say that however important the will of parliament is, it can't be allowed to overrule the will of the people as expressed in the referendum.  So this, they could argue, is the one narrow circumstance in which the government has a democratic justification for disregarding an instruction from parliament.

That's not to say that No Deal would in any sense be a pain-free option for May - it would trigger yet another wave of resignations and once again threaten to topple her government.  But she may well still do it, because what other option is there that wouldn't unleash similar chaos?

Incidentally, on the subject of parliament not being able to legislate to change the weather, I was struck by the DUP's logic for committing to prop up the Tories in a confidence vote.  Nigel Dodds said that it would be odd to bring down the government if his party had only just achieved its objective of forcing the government to negotiate an alternative deal.  But rejecting the current deal doesn't actually have that effect.  It doesn't require the government to take any particular course of action, and it certainly doesn't require the EU to play ball with any renegotiation.  I just wonder what the DUP's attitude would be if Labour were to delay the confidence motion for long enough that it became clear that the government were planning to put the original deal (perhaps with a few cosmetic modifications) to the vote for a second time.

But even if the DUP never pull the plug on the Tories, there would still be a decent chance of an election at some point in 2019.  If a government simply can't get its business through, there comes a point where it has to take its chances and seek a fresh mandate at the most promising available moment.

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Be warned: the remainder of this post is a self-indulgent stats post.  Here is the latest ranking of Scottish alternative media sites, based on estimates of unique visitors over the last 30 days from Traffic Estimate.  (I was going to post this on Twitter, but I came up against the character limit.)  As you can see, Scot Goes Pop is sitting pretty in a very creditable fourth place.

1) Craig Murray: 291,200 unique visitors
2) Wings Over Scotland: 181,400 unique visitors
3) CommonSpace: 103,100 unique visitors
4) Scot Goes Pop: 73,900 unique visitors
5) Wee Ginger Dug: 71,800 unique visitors
6) Talking Up Scotland: 68,500 unique visitors
7) Bella Caledonia: 57,400 unique visitors
8) Random Public Journal: 43,500 unique visitors
9) Indyref2: 40,900 unique visitors


  1. It was good to read your analysis of this situation, Jame, because it is becoming ridiculous to hear the increasing amount of talk assuming that another referendum is a near certainty. I think you have clearly shown how and why it isn't. Thanks.

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  3. No deal simply isn't going to happen, May is against it, there's a huge majority in parliament against it and a majority of the electorate against it based on the latest polling. If May attempted to push through a No Deal Brexit against her better judgement, to potentially appease the hard line Brexiteer element of her party she'd lose a confidence vote. Pointing out the technical procedural requirements of parliamentary process doesn't change that basic premise or the parliamentary arithmetic. Other potions may also produce the same result i.e. May and/or her government falling but that doesn't make no deal any more likely.

    1. Hmmm. Obviously me pointing out "the procedural requirements of parliamentary process" fell on completely deaf ears, because you're ignoring that process and talking about May "pushing through No Deal".

      The whole point about the default position is that it doesn't need to be "pushed through". It'll just happen, unless someone takes action to stop it.

  4. As there is no UK-wide electoral mandate for a new brexit-related referendum, I don't see why the Scottish government / civil service should hold one just because the English government might want to.

    Scotland voted 62% Remain. We have our answer here. Polls suggest significant movement to remain since then, and there's no 'material change' to the circumstances to warrant a new vote. Just a waste of money in tough times.

    So let England/Wales have a second vote if they want and if the answer is leave again, these can leave. It would just need to be them though as it wouldn't have been a UK-wide vote, but a devolved / EVEL one (as 2016 should have been given 2014 was).

  5. So let England/Wales have a second vote if they want and if the answer is leave again, these can leave. It would just need to be them though as it wouldn't have been a UK-wide vote, but a devolved / EVEL one (as 2016 should have been given 2014 was)

    England, Wales and Scotland are not members of the EU. The UK is, the whole of the UK can stay or the whole of the UK stays. That's why cant have separate vote. Scotland can vote for Independence and then seek to join the EU but cannot stay a member unless is remains part of the UK and the UK remains

    1. Sorry, but you are not thinking this through.

      We could just go our separate ways. A velvet divorce. No need for further refs.

      England and Wales leave the EU as a new country, Scotland starts negotiations for EU entry (as you say), initially using the e.g. N. Ireland single market model (which we know should work fine as it's been agree for there), and N. Ireland slowly moves to reunification.

      I wish people would get it out of their heads that referendums are needed to exit unions. They're not. The only thing they do is check with the population about their wish on this in certain circumstances. Scotland could want to be British by 95% but could depart the UK if the rest of the UK chucked it out or went independent. It could even have a vote to stay, get the 95%, but it wouldn't matter a crap, not if England/Wales wanted indy. T

      If we had a new brexit ref held only in England and it voted to continue with Brexit alone, i.e. a vote Scotland didn't join, then it would be leaving Scotland. Indy by default, unless Scots vote to join it.

      You are correct for 2016; there was a UK mandate of sorts for it. Highly questionable given EVEL, but a half mandate. There is no mandate for a new brexit ref in Scotland though. None. zip. zilch.

      If there was a new GE to get a mandate, the SNP could stand on a 'we will refuse to hold this in Scotland if we win a majority of MPs' ticket and so potentially get a mandate to prevent it in Scotland. If they succeeded, the people's vote would need to be EVEL England only.

      These are the rules in British politics; you need to win elections with a mandate to justify referendums like this. Like the SNP did in 2011 and 2016 and the UK Tories in 2015 for example.

    2. "we will refuse to hold this in Scotland if we win a majority of MPs' ticket and so potentially get a mandate to prevent it in Scotland."

      But their not doing that, the SNP is one of the main parties advocating for a peoples vote. Seems like you need to consider not voting for the SNP if they no longer are representing your views on such a major issue.

    3. Have they said they'd support a people's vote in Scotland? I'm sure they've been explict on this.

      As for me, it's not a key issue. We know what the result would be here. Seems a waste of time and money + no mandate potentially.

      I'd be happy for the SNP to back the call for such a vote, but then e.g. when the time comes, say there's no need for one in Scotland if that seemed advantageous.

      Jeez, even if the people's vote was UK wide and England voted leave again, all that would do is really confirm Scotland should open negotiatons to Remain / join the EU as an indy country. I mean asking everyone a second time if they're sure about brexit and Scotland saying 'Yes, we are sure we want to stay' while England says 'We are sure we want to leave' pretty much settles it. End of UK.

      So both options have a good chance of getting me what I want. England humiliating itself internationally by voting 'Remain' second time around could also be a winner for indy. I mean what self-respecting country wants to be ruled by a such a chickenshit neighbour lol. If we're going to let another country rule us, at least let's pick one with some baws right?

    4. 'not sure they've been explict'

    5. Seeing as the SNP represents nobody at any level of politics south of the border think it can be safe to assume they are talking about Scotland.

  6. Would be interesting if SNP MPs were the difference between May's deal / brexit and no brexit.

    Speaker could declare it an EVEL matter and England could go it alone I suppose.

    Brexit should have been EVEL from the outset; the Tories failed to win a mandate for it everywhere except in England.

  7. More than half of Scotland's exports are now to the EU. Up 18% recently based on official UK government / HMRC figures.


    Scotland's Economy

    EU taking more than half of Scotland’s exports

    1. Goods exports, services exports are still primarily to rUK. I'd much rather have rUK and us in the SM&CU if possible.

  8. Craig Murray pulling in more unique visitors than the Rev Stu? You've got to be joking. I'm not deliberately trying to be provocative here, but while Craig Murray might be sound on the machinations of the deep state, on every other topic he is, quite frankly, a flake. That must have much more to do with the fact that Wings hasn't been posting much for the last month.

    1. I don't know about that, Athanasius. Craig’s posts are more often on issues of international interest compared with Wings, and I think this is reflected in the comments submitted to it. If you look at them, my impression is that they are usually much higher in number than Wing's, which might just be a reflection that Wings posts more often, but could also suggest a higher readership. However, I also estimate that Craig’s blog has a far wider range of readers, both geographically and socially than Wings, with proportionately many more of them being non-Scottish based, again suggesting the potential for high readership numbers for Craig. Wing’s comments appear to be almost all Scottish based, as do Scot’s.
      Wings and Craig are essentially different types of blog with some similar themes but having different readership demographics.

      Recently, while waiting in a British airport for a delayed plane, I Googled “Scottish Independence Blogs” on my mobile ‘phone. The first item in the results list was the “Guardian, followed closely by the “Telegraph”. Kevin Hague was near the top too. The only “Scottish Independence Blogs” I recognised were “Scot”, “Craig” and “Bella” and all three were well down the list. Even the Sunday Post listed higher. The rest were all Unionist.
      Wings wasn’t mentioned.
      What’s going on?

    2. SEO. If a sites SEO is not setup properly its never going to get to the first page of search rankings. Newsapers and big sites are going to have people whose job it is to get their content high up on search rankings.

      For people like James who don't have the budget to employ someone to do their SEO it comes down to how good you are at SEO and how much time you are going to put into SEO on top of writing the blog.

      Its not just things like tags (and you could spending dozens of hours A/B testing each of your tags to see what is better) but also things like making sure images have the right Alt tags, the right balance of follow/no follow links and a host of other factors.

  9. skier are you trying to emulate your heroes Goebels and Joyce. Your propoganda is wasted you should join RT.