Thursday, 19 May 2016

EU Referendum: Sadly, We Can't Be Trusted to Make This 'Once in a Lifetime' Decision

A few days ago I made the point that instead of re-energising our democracy, as the Independence Referendum did for Scotland, the EU referendum has had the opposite effect.

This is what I wrote:
In 2014, 84.6% of the electorate took part in the Scottish referendum to cap off months of enriching debate centred on sovereignty and national identity. But, when it comes to the EU, something in our discourse has gone seriously wrong.
A significant poll conducted by ComRes for the Independent/Sunday Mirror last weekend asked respondents to answer specific questions on the EU's role in our lives.

I would be personally better off if Britain:
Left the EU - 29%
Remained in the EU - 33%
Don't know - 38%

The British government could control Britain's borders if it:
Left the EU - 57%
Remained in the EU - 27%
Don't know - 16%

Britain's national security would be stronger if Britain:
Left the EU - 42%
Remained in the EU - 38%
Don't know - 19%

I argued that a large share of don't knows, on top of consistently high numbers of undecided voters showing up in the main poll (In/Out), an average of 14.7% since September 2015, pointed to an EU debate that has failed to engage with voters.

But I'd yet go one step further to say that - as things stand - we can't be trusted as an electorate to make the right decision, whatever that may be.

The ComRes poll I cited above asked respondents to label several statements about the European Union as either 'True' or 'False'. This is what happened.

Another way of structuring these answers are as follows.

The EU has an official army.
14% of people are wrong.

The EU is responsible for setting taxes in Britain.
20% of people are wrong.

The UK pays more into the EU budget than it gets back.
22% of people are wrong.

UK citizens need a passport to get into another EU country.
29% of people are wrong.

The EU has an official anthem.
30% of people are wrong.

The European Parliament meets 12 times a year in Strasbourg and the rest of the year in Brussels.
34% of people are wrong.

The Treasury estimates that if Britain leaves the EU it would cost the average household £4,300 a year by 2030.
40% of people are wrong.

Most British laws have to be approved by the European Parliament.
61% of people are wrong.

There are 29 countries in the European Union.
73% of people are wrong.

The fact alone that nearly three-quarters of us incorrectly believe there are 29 countries in the EU (there are, in fact, 28 - I had to Google this) does not fill me with confidence - both in myself and others.

This sort of decision will likely carry the most extreme and unpredictable political, social and economic consequences (for better or worse) that we have ever seen in modern times. To me, this data suggests that we have not been given the information we need to make the right call.

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