Switzerland just overturned a referendum – there’s no reason we can’t do the same

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Friday 12 April 2019 08:37
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Switzerland's highest court overturns referendum as voters were poorly informed in country first

With a further six-month extension to Brexit and the can being kicked even further down the road, it was intriguing to note that the result of a nationwide referendum in Switzerland had been overturned.

The poll, held in February 2016, asked the country’s voters whether married couples and cohabiting partners should pay the same tax. Voters narrowly rejected the proposal, with 50.8 per cent against and 49.2 per cent in favour.

But the Supreme Court has now voided the result on the grounds that voters were not given full information, and the vote must be rerun.

The information provided to the electorate was judged “incomplete” and therefore “violated the freedom of the vote”, the court ruled.

During the referendum campaign, the Swiss government told voters just 80,000 married couples were paying more tax than couples living together. The true figure was almost half a million, the government later said.

The court’s statement noted that: “Keeping in mind the close result and the severe nature of the irregularities, it is possible that the outcome of the ballot could have been different.”

How refreshing this is as we look to the current situation in the UK where voters were likewise not given the full information. The negative economic impacts of Brexit are becoming clearer and Brexiteer claims of £350m a week to the NHS and that a deal with the EU would be “the easiest trade deal in human history” have quickly melted away.

Reality has struck, public reaction has changed and there is clear support not only for a People’s Vote but for staying in the EU. As with Switzerland, now that the circumstances have changed, we deserve the right to have our say.

Alex Orr
Edinburgh

Searching for the perfect Brexit day

Theresa May and Britain have been granted a Brexit extension by the EU till 31 October – All Hallows or Halloween Day depending on where you live. This is normally a day of escape, monsters and ghouls and trick or treat although this time there will be no treat. As it is likely, based on precedence, that there may be a further extension it is worth looking at a few other possible dates for the final Brexit.

In the US, 2 February is Groundhog Day – where a weasel, a rodent, predicts the future weather, although in this case it is likely to be gloomy for a long while.

Or perhaps 17 March, St Patrick’s Day, as this celebrates all the snakes being driven out of Ireland although there was no hard border then.

Of course, April Fool’s Day has been ruled out as nobody is being fooled this time – it’s a complete disaster.

D-Day, 6 June, seems unlikely as that was the landing in Europe which sadly cost many lives and in this case everyone wants to get out of Europe.

But 4 July celebrates the independence of the United States from England, so that would be an appropriate day for the EU to consider.

So far there seem few days that would work so it might be best to extend the range of possibilities – 21 March is World Puppetry Day and there seem to be a lot of strings being pulled here.

Maybe 30 February could be considered although that is normally Teacher Appreciation Day.

In Australia, the first Tuesday of November is Melbourne Cup day, a public holiday for a horse race, where there are many people who bet on a race that is almost impossible to predict, as horses at 101-to-1 odds have won and favourites are often beaten. It does show that even events at very long odds are possible.

Perhaps after all these possibilities it may be better to settle on the first Saturday in February, Ice Cream For Breakfast Day, a day just as sensible as any of the other possibilities although a lot more fun.

The odds of 101 to 1 could be offered for anyone who is able to pick the final date.

Dennis Fitzgerald
Melbourne, Australia

Whether May leaves or not, nothing will change

Theresa May has said she will resign as prime minister if her withdrawal agreement if accepted by parliament.

To try to and ensure this she has engaged with the Labour Party with the aim of getting support for her deal. They insist on some form of customs union which is anathema to many Tories – particularly the ERG and May herself.

If such an arrangement were accepted and the withdrawal agreement were approved, May would go. The new Tory leader, likely to be a hard Brexiter, would reject such an approach. The Irish border issue would arise again. Back to square one. Pass me the tablets please!

Maurizio Moore
Brentwood, Essex

Nicola Sturgeon cannot spin this mess to her advantage

It looks like Nicola Sturgeon’s speech writers are in for a tough time at the forthcoming SNP conference.

Of course they’ll be able to fudge over – at least well enough for the SNP faithful – Sturgeon’s failure to address the educational attainment gap, her apparent inability to reduce NHS waiting times and that Scot Rail lets down commuters on a daily basis across Scotland.

But where the SNP leader’s spin-doctors will struggle is Brexit. Conference after conference, she turns up to tell delegates Brexit equals independence – but she doesn’t deliver. She’s been teasing dyed-in-the-wool separatists with another independence referendum announcement for months.

It’s not Sturgeon’s fault Brexit is going slowly but many in the SNP establishment grow impatient, requiring her to demand an independence referendum now – some even favour a Catalan-style vote.

But the cautious SNP leader wants to play it by the book and won’t risk an unofficial referendum – and the EU has now granted a six-month delay to Brexit, with still no one knowing what form Brexit will take.

So Downing Street will inevitably continue to reject any renewed independence demands until, very likely, after the next Holyrood election in 2021.

Good luck to Sturgeon’s spin-doctor team trying to get a lengthy standing ovation out of that message.

Martin Redfern
Edinburgh

Who needs MPs?

MPs obviously can’t find a breakthrough to the Brexit deadlock. So, why not bring in a panel of outside experts to have a go? They couldn’t make a worse job of it!

Sarah Pegg
Seaford

Roger Scruton should never have been allowed into government

The dismissal of Roger Scruton from his post of government housing adviser is to be roundly applauded, hopefully we shall see his knighthood rescinded shortly as well.

However, what I find inexplicable is how on earth was he even considered for any role in the running of this country in the first place?

It was certainly no secret that he had vile far-right views some years ago. This should have automatically precluded him without further ado. As for the knighthood – it almost leaves one speechless.

I have written in before pointing out some of the execrable recipients of various awards dished out around the world, but this one is surely up there with the worst.

How many lessons need to be learnt, how many awards need to be reversed, how many decent hard-working people get overlooked in favour of despots, racists, and crooks?

Robert Boston
Kingshill

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