As we seem to be undergoing a right wing power grab with threatening noises about lack of democracy if the people are not listened to, it is time to remember that the referendum was advisory only and it was for this very reason there was no requirement either for a supermajority or a majority in all UK nations (See Amendment 16 below).
The amendments that we are debating cover a wide range of issues. The House will expect me to spend most of my time addressing the arguments about the proposal to disapply section 125 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. However, I will start by addressing amendment 16, moved by the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond). I was not surprised that he and his party should have moved such an amendment or that they had the support of Plaid Cymru in so doing, but I doubt whether the right hon. Gentleman will be shocked when I say that the Government do not intend to accept it.
Amendment 16 does not make sense in the context of the Bill. The legislation is about holding a vote; it makes no provision for what follows. The referendum is advisory, as was the case for both the 1975 referendum on Europe and the Scottish independence vote last year. In neither of those cases was there a threshold for the interpretation of the result. The Government take the view that, in respect of EU membership, we are one United Kingdom. The referendum will be on the subject of the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union and it is therefore right that there should be one referendum and one result. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will choose not to press his amendment.
Since we have it from the horses mouth, “The legislation is about holding a vote; it makes no provision for what follows”, it seems to me that especially as Parliament itself can agree on so little of what follows, the least we should expect is a referendum to see if ‘we’ like what follows…
And our legislators must learn for the future that advisory referendums are decidedly incompatible with representative democracy.