Democracy isn’t a once-and-for-ever event.
There’s no rule in democracy which says that people have one and only one chance to make a choice and can never change their minds. And contrary to what Jeremy Corbyn seems to think in trying to whip his party’s MPs into voting for Brexit, there’s no rule in democracy which says that a 52-48 vote amongst the public has to be followed by a 100-0 vote in parliament. Despite what the Daily Mail might say, the 48% are entitled to expect their views to be represented too, and MPs who do so are neither traitors nor enemies of democracy.
Even in the UK, there’s a history of allowing people to change their minds after a referendum. The now-abolished seven yearly vote on whether pubs should open on a Sunday in Wales (the most frequent example of a referendum in the UK) is an example where the right to re-take the vote periodically was enshrined in the legislation. The devolution vote in 1979 was re-run in 1997 (albeit on a slightly different set of proposals), and even the EU vote itself was an opportunity to reverse the decision taken in 1975. Decisions taken in one referendum can be – and regularly have been – reversed in subsequent referendums.
The devolution referendums were held a second time because people who didn’t like the result in 1979 continued to campaign for what they thought was right; and the second EU referendum was held because some people never really accepted the idea that the UK belonged in Europe. One thing of which I’m certain is that had the vote on 23rd June been to remain, UKIP would not have simply packed up and gone away – they would have continued to campaign. And, in a democracy, they would have had every right to do so.
Respecting the result of a democratic vote does not require those opposed to that result to accept the arguments of those who won and assist them to implement the decision. If it did, opposition MPs would consider themselves democratically mandated to assist the governing party in implementing its programme. Respecting the result of a democratic vote means nothing more than accepting that a decision taken in one vote can only be reversed by another vote. The people always have the right to change their minds, and those who would lead them always have the right to seek to persuade them to do so.
In the context of all of the above, why is it assumed that those who think a bad decision has been taken should stop arguing their case, and start working to ensure that what they fought against actually happens? It’s a perverse suggestion. Even worse, why are so many politicians throwing in the towel and doing exactly that? Have they changed their minds? Did they really not believe what they were saying? Did they see it all as just some sort of political game?
Anyone seeking to provide leadership to the nation should be telling us what they really believe is the right future for the nation, and working to persuade the people of that, not facilitating the implementation of what they claim to believe is a bad decision. And if they believe that staying in the EU is the best future, they should say so, and argue for that position. It’s not as if there’s no support for that view – after all, 47.5% of the electorate voted for that, and that’s not a bad position from which to start to build a majority. It’s certainly better than the starting point for building a majority for independence, for example.