Let us look beyond Brexit and determine the implications w.r.t. democracy itself. We can conclude that the UK has an intellectual community that is quite blind on the very notion of democracy. When the educated run astray then there is only an anchor in the democratic notions of the whole population, and this opens the doors to what is called “populism”.
I started looking into Brexit after the surprise referendum outcome in 2016. This memo sums up my findings over the last two years. The following identifies where the educated community in the UK is in need of re-educating themselves.
Earlier in 1990-1994 I already concluded that Montesquieu’s model of the separation of powers of the Trias Politica fails in a key aspect since its conception in 1748. Democracies need the fourth power of an Economic Supreme Court, see (2014). It is necessary to mention this earlier conclusion that predates Brexit, but let us now continue with findings following Brexit.
To start with: What does the UK electorate really want w.r.t. Brexit or Bremain ? Both the Referendum of 2016 and the General Election of 2017 do not provide adequate information. One would think that it is rather damning for a claimed democracy when its procedures do not result into adequate clarity on such a fundamental issue.
The 2016 Referendum Question concerned the legal issue of Leave or Remain but was disinformative about the ways of Leaving or Remaining. The political parties that are elected into the House of Commons are split on both direction and ways as well. The overall situation can only be described as chaotic. One might try to characterise this more positively as that a population with divided views generated a House of Commons with divided views, which would be democracy itself, but this neglects that there is no information about what those divided views actually are. The true process is “garbage in, garbage out” and this doesn’t fit the definition of democracy.
The very Brexit or Bremain Referendum Question fails the criteria for a decent statistical enquiry. I am surprised that the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) did not protest. The question of Leave or Remain is a binary legal issue but the true issue are the policy options. It took some time to analyse this, but with the help of Anthony Wells of YouGov.com I managed to dissect this, see (2017abc). Some 17 per cent of voters ranked Remain between different versions of Leave, which implies a grand game of guessing what to vote for, and which means that the Referendum failed on its purpose of expression of preferences. The UK Electoral Commission missed this but it does not care about this and is happy to take the legal position. They claim to provide proper information to the general public, but what they regard as “information” is regarded by statistical science as disinformation (but the RSS is silent on this). One is reminded of Byzantium instead of claimed modernity.
The main question is why the UK had the referendum in the first place. In Holland since 1917 there is system of equal proportional representation (EPR) for the House of Commons so that referenda are not required. The UK has a system of district representation (DR) that lacks such proportionality, and that invites the confusion that referenda might be used to find out what the electorate really thinks. The latter is a confusion indeed, since it neglects the important role of bargaining, see (2017c).
This diagnosis set me on the course of investigating why the USA, UK and France have DR and not EPR. My original thought was that a party that won an election would have no reason to change a system that caused its election. This would explain why the USA, UK and France were stuck with DR and did not switch to EPR. Last year I discovered that the true cause is different. My finding for the UK is that there is an amazing blindness in the UK intellectual community. The report in (2018a) causes a chill down the spine. It appears that “political science on electoral systems” is no science yet, but still solidly within the Humanities, and alike astrology, alchemy and homeopathy. The eye-opener is that these academics use the same word “election” for both DR and EPR while they actually have entirely different meanings. In reality only EPR has proper elections fitting of proper democracy. The DR system is a proto-democracy that relies on contests. Political “science” is blind to what this means not only for proper scientific analysis but also for communication with the general public. Voters are disinformed on a grand scale, both in the textbooks in government classes and in public discussion e.g. at “election” nights.
Compare physics that also borrowed words from colloquial English, like “force” and “mass”. Yet in physics these words have recieved precise meaning. In physics, gravity in Holland has the same meaning as gravity in the UK. Political “science” uses colloquial terms like “election” and “democracy” but those meanings are not fixed. An “election” in Holland with EPR is entirely different from an “election” in the UK with DR. Political “science” thus uses terms that confuse both the academics and the public. When historians describe how the West developed into democracy, they occlude the fact that the USA, UK and France are still in a proto-democratic phase.
A first complication is: There appears to be a special role for the UK Electoral Reform Society (ERS) founded in 1884 and originally known as the Proportional Representation Society. Here we find an independent and disinterested group that criticises DR and that claims to further the UK on the historical path towards EPR. However, it appears that ERS wants a transferable vote, while their claim that transferability generates proportionality is simply false. Such distortion contributed to the debacle of the 2011 Referendum on the “alternative vote”, which is a counterproductive construct to start with. When one presents the ERS with this criticism then the reply appears to be disingenuous. Instead of a clear adoption of EPR, either in the Dutch version or like the UK elections for the EU Parliament, with their wealth of experience by actual application, one can only conclude that the ERS is addicted to this notion of a transferable vote, and they want this model at any cost. Psychology might explain how such zealotism may arise but it remains far removed from proper information for the general public.
A second complication is: There appears to exist a confusion w.r.t. the interpretation of Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem on democracy. In this, there is a major role for mathematicians who mainly look at models and who neglect empirical science. This leads too far for this memo, and an overview is given in (2018e).
A third complication is: There is the interference by a grand coalition of statistics and political science (with some ambiguity whether quotation marks should be used) in creating a black hole on democracy and its measurement, see (2018bcd). Political science never managed to find a good measure for the difference between vote shares and seat shares. My proposal is to use the “sine-diagonal inequality / disproportionality” (SDID) measure, that does for democracy what the Richter scale does for earthquakes. Political science has shown less understanding of statistics, or perhaps failed in finding such a measure because statistical science did not develop this theory or did not understand what the political scientists were looking for. This hole has been plugged now, see (2018bcd). Nevertheless, this diagnosis calls for a reorganisation of university courses in statistics and political science.
The enclosed graph highlights the “perfect storm” of blindness of the intellectual community that lurks behind Brexit. The figure is documented in (2018d). The main idea is that statistics and other sciences like physics, biology, psychometrics and econometrics could help “political science on electoral systems” to become a proper science. Then science can provide adequate information to the general public.
A conclusion is: The UK electoral system has “winner take all” district representation (DR) that does not provide for equal proportional representation (EPR) of what voters want. Again the word “representation” means something else for proto-democratic DR versus democratic EPR. My suggestion is that the UK switches to EPR, say adopt the Dutch system of open lists, has new elections, and let the new House discuss Brexit or Bregret again. Bregret is defined by that the House adopted Brexit before and thus might reconsider. It is not unlikely that the EU would allow the UK the time for such a fundamental reconsideration on both electoral system and Brexit.
It remains to be seen whether the UK electorate would want to stick to the current system of DR or rather switch to EPR. The first step is to provide the UK electorate with adequate information. For this, the UK intellectual community must get its act together on what this information would be. A suggestion is to check the analysis that I have provided here.
Colignatus (2014), “An economic supreme court”, RES Newsletter issue 167, October, pp. 20-21
Colignatus (2017a), “Voting theory and the Brexit referendum question”, RES Newsletter, Issue 177, April, pp. 14-16
Colignatus (2017b), “Great Britain’s June 2017 preferences on Brexit options”, RES Newsletter, Issue 177, October, http://www.res.org.uk/view/art2Oct17Features.html
Colignatus (2017c), “Dealing with Denial: Cause and Cure of Brexit”, https://boycottholland.wordpress.com/2017/12/01/dealing-with-denial-cause-and-cure-of-brexit/
Colignatus (2018a), “One woman, one vote. Though not in the USA, UK and France”, https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/84482/
Colignatus (2018b), “Comparing votes and seats with cosine, sine and sign, with attention for the slope and enhanced sensitivity to inequality / disproportionality”, https://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/84469/
Colignatus, (2018c), “An overview of the elementary statistics of correlation, R-Squared, cosine, sine, Xur, Yur, and regression through the origin, with application to votes and seats for parliament ”, https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1227328
Colignatus, (2018d), “An overview of the elementary statistics of correlation, R-Squared, cosine, sine, Xur, Yur, and regression through the origin, with application to votes and seats for parliament (sheets)”, Presentation at the annual meeting of Dutch and Flemish political science, Leiden June 7-8, https://zenodo.org/record/1270381
Colignatus, (2018e), “The solution to Arrow’s difficulty in social choice (sheets)”, Second presentation at the annual meeting of Dutch and Flemish political science, Leiden June 7-8, https://zenodo.org/record/1269392