The following is an introduction to David Torrance’s new guide to the EU referendum, which the ERS are supporting. Darren Hughes is Deputy Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society.
As the UK’s longest-standing democracy organisation, the Electoral Reform Society has been standing up for voters’ rights since 1884. And this is no less the case than with the upcoming EU referendum.
We’ve been asking how well informed the public feel about the pros and cons of Britain’s membership of the EU. The results are worrying – polling commissioned by the ERS suggests that only 16% of voters feel well informed about the issues.
That means that everyone involved in the referendum should be doing all they can to boost public knowledge and engagement in this crucial vote. We saw in Scotland during the 2014 independence referendum what can happen when people feel informed about an important decision and are empowered to take part – record voter registration, citizen-led debates and a huge 85% turnout.
People are crying out for the full information they need to get to grips with the EU referendum debate, and for the space to have those discussions. We know that there is a clear link between how well informed people feel and their likelihood to vote. So we need to foster a deep and vibrant debate around the real issues – not the personalities.
That’s why this book is a timely intervention. David Torrance brings his usual strong assets to this book – incisive and clear writing combined with the balanced and unbiased journalism we have come to expect from his work. His previous books have generated diverse debate and and informed discussion. David’s recent book on the issues pertaining to the 2015 General Election was an immensely helpful guide to voters in deciding who to support. His ability to distill what is important among the haze of claim and counter-claim serves the reader well. It’s certainly something that’s needed now.
David sets out in a fair and straight-forward way what the policy issues are in the referendum for voters to consider. From migration, trade and sovereignty through to security, education, employment and the environment, voters wanting a digestible summary of the arguments will be glad to have this resource.
He also covers some of the standard questions citizens raise – how does it all work, what is the cost, who is on what side and how did we get to this point. A very useful inclusion is an assessment of the referendum from the perspective of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – often left out of the Westminster narrative.
As he notes, this will only be the third time that a referendum will take place across the whole UK, so it is critical that people feel able to participate in an informed way. Unlike our antiquated Westminster voting system, where millions of voters marooned in “safe seats” play little role in the final outcome, here is a poll where – whether cast to Leave or Remain – every vote counts.
Because it’s vital that people do go out and exercise their democratic right on June 23rd. This is a potentially once in a lifetime decision, and one that will shape the next few decades in almost every way possible – economically, politically, and constitutionally. Such a major democratic choice is one that shouldn’t be taken lightly – hence the need for resources like these – but it is one that should be taken nonetheless, particularly in the context of the huge instabilities and uncertainties the 21st century has faced so far and which Britain will face – as part of Europe or outside of it – in the coming years.
So what next? The Electoral Reform Society has created an online democratic tool to facilitate grassroots discussion about the issues in the referendum. We want voters to read books like David Torrance’s and then get together in their communities to debate and learn from each other, so that as we wait for the ballots to be counted following the poll on 23 June we can say that, regardless of the outcome, the campaign made democracy across the United Kingdom stronger.
You can get a copy of ‘A Guide to the EU referendum’ by David Torrance here