Sunday, July 2, 2017

The role of the status quo in a referendum

I wrote a contribution for an interesting debate in the blog of the London School of Economics about whether a Catalan unilateral self-determination referendum should go ahead. I argued that such unilateral illegal referendum would not fulfill the conditions of the specialized Commission of the Council of Europe in charge of these issues and I developed a comparison with the Brexit legal referendum and other referendums in history (some good, some bad). In the comments section, one participant took issue with my argument that a yes/no self-determination referendum would be divisive, saying that the status quo is also divisive. Unless division should be taken as irreversible, I don't understand the validity of this counter-argument. I believe we should try to find ways to recover unity and cooperation instead of celebrating division with more division. Under much harder circumstances, Northern Ireland came about with a method for resolving their conflict that broke the division. And in my view when the status quo takes place in a democratic society, it should be taken as a starting point. At least when we talk about the status quo we know what we are talking about. Those that voted to leave the EU in the UK one year ago now it seems that they did not know what they where talking about. Voters where comparing something certain and known, although not perfect (the status quo), with something uncertain and unknown (although many were made to believe that is was certain). In these cases, the neutrality between options should be revised, as argued by economists Dasgupta and Maskin in an academic paper. This is what they say in footnote 4 of page 950 of their article in the Journal of the European Economic Association: "Neutrality is hard to quarrel with in the setting of political elections. But if instead the "candidates" are, say, various amendments to a nation's constitution, then one might want to give special treatment to the status-quo -namely, to no change- and so ensure the constitutional change ocuurs only with overwhelming support," as it happened by the way with the Irish Good Friday Agreement, where the overwhelming support took place at the referendum (North and South of Ireland) and prior to it, with the involvement and the consensus of the Republic of Ireland, the UK, the EU and the USA. Some nationalist leaders and commentators elsewhere should learn from that.

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