Many people think that political science on electoral systems and referenda must be a science since otherwise it would not be called a science. Unfortunately, the label “political science” got coined around 1903 with the creation of the American Political Science Association (APSA), and this label rather reflects an aspiration and no achievement yet. In the UK there is the Political Studies Association (PSA), founded in 1950, baptised more modestly since there still is much scholarship in the humanities. It turns out that many statements by “political science / studies on electoral systems and referenda” aren’t scientific, and for their relevance for empirical reality they can only be compared to astrology, alchemy or homeopathy. A scientist looking at a UK General Election can only think “Garbage in, garbage out” (GIGO).
The UK has been fundamentally disinformed about its electoral system with district representation and the use of referenda like the Brexit Referendum of 2016. The UK is locked in tradition and fuzzy thinking in the humanities. The situation may be explained by the historical path that the UK has taken, but this history hasn’t included a proper application of science to the notion of democracy.
Compare the current chaos w.r.t. Brexit to the chaos with the financial crisis of 2008. On the latter, the UK Queen asked famously:
“Why did nobody notice it?”
There is a longer list of economists who issued warnings in time, with Hyman Minsky at the top and me somewhere too. The next question rather is why such warnings weren’t taken seriously in the policy making process. My diagnosis since 1990 is that there is a failure of the separation of powers, the Trias Politica, with still too much room for politicians to manipulate the information. The remedy is to create an Economic Supreme Court (ESC) that will guard the quality of information for policy. The House of Commons would still determine policy but it would get less room to disinform the public. The current UK Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) is a far cry from what is actually needed.
With this analogy established, consider Brexit again. Might the Queen not repeat the question ? Now however there doesn’t seem to be a list of early warnings that were overlooked. Now we have a “political science” that has gotten lost in abstraction. Here, the remedy is to ask proper scientists from physics to biology to psychometrics to econometrics to look at democracy and to help “political science / studies on electoral systems” become a proper science too. My suggestion is to team up empirical scientists from the Royal Society with members of the PSA and the British Academy, and to encourage a buddy-system to start delving into this. The place to start is my paper “One woman, one vote. Though not in the USA, UK and France” at MPRA 2018, and a presentation 1270381 at Zenodo.org on the distance between votes and seats.
Many people think that the Brexit Referendum of 2016 allowed voters to express their decision, with 52% Leave and 48% Remain. However, not all voters expressed their decision but many were only guessing. A YouGov poll at the time of the GIGO 2017 showed that 17% of voters still listed Remain between different options of Leave. Voters were forced to make a strategic choice about what they feared most what might happen. See my deconstruction of this mess in the October 2017 Newsletter of the Royal Economic Society (RES).
Now there are calls for a second referendum. This call wants to resolve the current chaos by creating more chaos, and potentially a “stab in the back” myth that the 2016 supposed decision isn’t listened to. The lesson from the current chaos should rather be that referenda are generally dumb and dangerous, even in the form of the neverendum. The real problem lies in the UK system of district representation that structurally fails to reflect the views and interests of voters. The deeper problem is that the House of Commons and the electorate are disinformed by an academic field that still is comparable to astrology, alchemy or homeopathy. There is a grand scale of disinformation by famous UK scholars like Iain McLean, John Curtice, younger Alan Renwick, and (other) members of PSA.
My suggestion is that the UK switches to equal proportional representation (EPR), say adopt the Dutch system of open lists (in which you may always vote for a regional candidate though people don’t tend to do so), has proper elections, and then let the new House of Commons discuss the relation with the EU again. It is not unlikely that the EU would allow the UK the time for such a fundamental reconsideration on both its democracy and Brexit. UK political parties may need to split up to offer voters the relevant spectrum of views, though one must allow for election alliances (especially the former Dutch method of list combinations). To some readers this suggestion may remind of earlier discussions about district or proportional representation (DR vs EPR). However, there now is the key new insight about the disinformation by the “political science / studies on electoral systems”, that causes the need to re-evaluate what has been claimed in the past by the academic ivory towers, and also by the disinforming UK Electoral Reform Society (ERS). It remains to be seen whether the UK would want to switch from DR to EPR, but the first step would be to provide the public with proper information.
PS. An eye-opener can be that “political science on electoral systems” relies upon common language instead of developed definitions. Physics also borrowed common words like “force” and “mass”, yet it provided precise definitions, and gravity in Holland has the same meaning as gravity in the UK. The “political science on electoral systems” uses the same word “election” but an “election” in Holland with EPR is entirely different from an “election” in the UK with DR. In reality there is a difference between a contest (DR) or a bundling of votes to support a representative (EPR). We find that the UK is locked into confusion by its vocabulary. An analogy is the following. Consider the medieval trial by combat or the “judgement of God”, that persisted into the phenomenon of dueling to settle conflicts. A duel was once seriously seen as befitting of the words “judgement” and “trial”. Eventually civilisation gave the application of law with procedures in court. Using the same words “judgement” and “trial” for both a duel and a court decision confuses what is really involved, though the outward appearance may look the same, that only one party passes the gate. The UK suffers the same kind of confusion about the “General Election for the House of Commons” when this actually is no proper election of interest representatives but concerns contests for getting district winners. The system of DR is proto-democratic and no proper democracy that uses EPR.