We don't need another referendum; we need a constitutional convention
Great Britain in 2016 resembles a country that has endured a civil war, without “a shot being fired” as Nigel Farage so eloquently put it, forgetting about the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox. The pieces are in flux. How to fix a thing so complex as the UK, so interwoven as it is with that which it wishes to separate, whilst keeping its core components intact?
Here is what I think needs to happen next:
1) First of all, we need to get rid of these shitty abbreviations like Brexit.
2) Beyond that, we need to stop all talk of new referendums (save one, which I will come to later), since all they have done is divide us and unleashed forces beyond our control. Just this morning, a Polish centre in Hammersmith, established since 1964, was defaced by racists. Direct democracy in its purest form always promotes bigotry (look at recent ballot initiatives in the USA as examples) and never holds the right people accountable. You can’t exactly sack 17 million people for making the wrong decision. The only time a referendum should be held is when a new state comes into being and this is where I think we are ultimately heading.
3) There ought to be leadership contests for all the major political parties. The Labour and Conservative parties need leaders elected on a platform for negotiating EU withdrawal. I say this as a Corbyn supporter. His mandate from his followers is now useless, since the world has changed.
4) Once they are in place, the new prime minister ought to ask parliament to dissolve itself and to make way for fresh elections. That way, the country can decide on the competing manifestos and different negotiating stances. It will also give the parties time to decide upon what their post EU vision actually is.
5) After a new government is in place (my money is on a coalition between the Tories and UKIP should the latter win more seats), it should then begin negotiating with the EU by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. I do not hold with the EU demand for negotiations to begin instantly, since no one in the UK has the authority, yet, to commence them. This delay, in effect waiting until after a likely UK General Election in November, will indeed have economic consequences. Investors will withhold their money until there is greater certainty. Yet rushing a deal through may lead to serious mistakes on really important issues, such as the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Better to wait and get it right. What has become apparent is that withdrawal from the EU, with the myriad of administrative complexities that come with it, shall look like a cake walk compared to the challenges faced in maintaining the territorial logicality of the UK.
6) Once Britain has withdrawn from the EU, the country needs to unite. There needs to be a constitutional convention, similar to the one held after the American War of Independence. There are a number of ways this could be organised. An open convention could involve representations from hundreds of different groups, charities, businesses, representatives from labour and well meaning individuals. For the sake of clarity, let's say it will also include two representatives from each constituency (perhaps the two parliamentary candidates who received the most votes in each constituency). I believe this constitutional convention could put together a new, codified constitution for the UK, which will better outline the relationship between the government and the governed. It could decide upon the rights of citizens, the powers of government, the makeup of institutions, the frequency of elections and the electoral system, measures for amending the constitution and, perhaps most critically, provide a final settlement for the devolved bodies.
7) Once agreement has been reached, let's say by 2020, Britain could have one last referendum on whether people accept the new constitution of the United Kingdom. If Scotland rejects it, then it ought to have the right to call a vote on independence. Yet if the constitution contains a good dose of regional autonomy coupled with generous political as well as social rights (i.e. the right to basic healthcare), then the constitution can act as a glue to unite a bitterly divided country, and provide a framework to guide the country out of its current malaise and into a new state of being.
The only way to deal with a broken jigsaw is to piece it all together. Or throw it up in the air and start a new one.