Here’s the Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, speaking to BBC News this morning and giving a striking illustration of the term “dancing on the head of a pin”.
Comically, his excuse for demanding another referendum on leaving the EU while opposing a second Scottish independence referendum is that his new EU vote would be a completely different question – he’d be asking voters if they wanted to accept the Brexit deal and exit from the EU (which one might reasonably summarise on the ballot paper as “Leave”), or to refuse to approve the deal and stay in the EU (or put another way, “Remain”).
Glad we cleared that up, then. But then it got weirder.
Because Farron went on to justify his position by comparing the Scottish Government’s detailed proposals for an independent Scotland – the White Paper – with the absence of any comparable document from the Leave side in the EUref.
But there’s a huge, glaring problem with that analogy – the Yes side LOST the indyref. The prospectus against which subsequent events must be judged is therefore that of the No campaign. You can’t hold the losers of a vote responsible for what happens after it, because their plan wasn’t the one that was put into action.
And by any reasonable measure the promises of the No campaign have been proven false. One of their key planks was that a No vote was the only way to keep Scotland in the EU, and that one’s clearly gone out of the window. Even 44% of No voters believe that most or all of the No campaign’s promises were not kept.
So if Tim Farron’s position is that a second referendum on a subject is justified on the grounds that people didn’t really know what they were voting for, then a second indyref is in fact far MORE justified than a second EU one, because the Leave campaign didn’t actually make any promises to break.
People who voted Leave in effect issued a blank cheque – they said “You haven’t been specific about what Leave really means, but we’re going to vote for it anyway and take what comes”. Tim Farron and his Remain colleagues shouted long and hard that no detail was available, but people listened to them and decided they didn’t care.
People who voted No, on the other hand, did so on the basis of explicit statements and pledges and “guarantees” that almost half of them now say were not kept.
If you buy something in a shop that doesn’t do what it claims, you’re legally entitled to a refund. But if you willingly and knowingly buy a mystery package in a box and it turns out to be something you didn’t want, you’ve got no comeback.
Farron isn’t the only one asking the wrong questions this weekend. This weekend’s Sunday Times carries another opinion poll asking about the timing of a second indyref, but which bewilderingly muddies the answer by putting forward an option that nobody is offering.
Nicola Sturgeon’s proposed timeframe for a new vote is between 19 months and 25 months. Yet the newspaper’s poll gave respondents three options that make no sense in that context, and indeed of which two contradict each other.
The choices “in the next year or two” and “in about two years” overlap, and are absolutely dreadful polling practice. If you want a poll in, say, spring 2019 – which has been this site’s view for six months – you can equally truthfully answer either one, because “about two years from now” is contained within “the next year or two”.
As they’re phrased, those two options mean exactly the same thing, yet they serve to distort the result by splitting the pro-referendum vote in two for no reason, other than to enable Unionists to misrepresent it.(Literally as we write this, Jackson Carlaw is doing just that on Sunday Politics, unchallenged by Gordon Brewer.)
Unionists are tying themselves in knots trying to defend an indefensible position. The truth is that roughly half of Scotland wants a referendum before the UK actually leaves the EU, and half doesn’t. Presenting any other case is dishonest whether you’re the Sunday Times, the Scottish Conservatives or Tim Farron.
And when someone’s lying to you, you’re entitled to ask what they’re trying to hide and what they’re afraid of.