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