Jo Swinson’s Dilemma

“I want to thank all the people who put aside their normal party choice to vote for me today.” (Jo Swinson, acceptance speech, 2017 election – quoted from memory)

East Dumbartonshire was one of the top seven NO-voting districts in the Scottish indyref 5 years ago. Jo is well aware she is only an MP because a sufficient number of people (some of whom I know) who normally vote Tory or Labour put aside their party choice to prevent the SNP getting the seat. Of all the Scottish MPs in Westminster, none are more existentially committed to there being no second indyref.

Having won her seat, Jo has now won leadership of the LibDems and this too required her to commit to a couple of positions on a couple of referenda.

She wants a second brexitref. How to square that circle with her position on indyref? Could she say that, since she believes leaving a union of a few decades needs two affirming referenda, not just one, she naturally thinks leaving a union of a few centuries needs ten or twenty consecutive wins (plus another one to cancel out the referendum that the natz lost)? Suitably spaced, such win-them-all-or-lose neverendums would ensure the natz in effect kept their ‘once in a lifetime’ promise – even if they did not die before their time from mingled fury and boredom. I don’t see it ever working in real life – but meanwhile it’s a thing a politician can say.

So on the whole, I see her other referendum-related commitment as the more troublesome for her. The LibDem’s price for forming a coalition with Cameron was a referendum on ‘reforming’ (i.e. changing) our voting system. It was a crushing defeat for the idea and for the LibDems. Now Jo has made electoral reform the “front and centre” price of any coalition with anybody. Will the LibDems be content with the offer of two referendums (to be held sometime after a referendum on it that they must win just to annul their prior referendum defeat)? Will they be content with the offer of even just one referendum – even one in which their getting first to the post with just one vote extra would suffice for victory? This is another issue I hope never arises in real life – but meanwhile, what does a politician say?

Even in today’s LibDem-friendly media environment, the new leader may not be able to avoid the occasional question about why she thinks we common people must vote ‘Leave’ twice before she’ll let us leave the EU, but she’ll let herself change what our votes mean through a mere parliamentary deal.

Updated: 24th July 2019 — 11:43 pm


  1. To make her inconsistency yet worse, Jo Swinson, like Caroline Lucas of the Greens, has let the cat out of the bag and said that she would not accept the result of a Leave vote in a second referendum. She tries to spin it as being merely that she wouldn’t change her opinion that being in the EU was best, but the interviewer pressed her and she said that even if Leave won she still would not vote to leave the EU. I assume this means that she and Lucas have given up on the whole “People’s Vote” line of argument.

    Ms Swinson probably has to keep a crib sheet handy with all her different Lines To Take about all these referendums.

  2. I think that the use of the derogatory term “Natz” diminishes your whole argument, Niall. Calling fellow citizens names simply because they hold different views from yourself seems rather too close to Antifa’s reflexive calling everyone they dislike a Nazi. And who has time for Antifa?

    But to the broader topic, most UK parliamentarians have proved themselves to be worthless tossers. Unfortunately, that applies to more than Ms. Swinson. If the “Great Realignment” following separation from the EU turns out to be simply returning to the status quo ante with a reshuffling of the same kind of principle-less chancers, then a lot of people are going to be very disappointed in Brexit — possibly including one Niall Kilmartin.

  3. Having listened to Jo Swinson’s BBC interview once more I find myself less inclined to acknowledge her ‘admission of hypocrisy’ than before, mostly because it gets lost in her worthless ‘word salad’ (including the Scots for some reason?)

    I do however believe that the results of the second, third, forty-seventh and umpty-ninth referendum on BRExit would be repudiated by Jo were it to come back in favour of “Leave”.

    Hypocrisy, like garlic, may not be obvious, but you can smell it on her breath.

    The LibDems have never been either Liberal or Democrats, but that ain’t exactly news.

  4. Gavin Longmuir – “Natz” is a nickname for the Scottish Nationalists (they have sometimes used the nickname themselves), it is nothing to do with calling them Nazis. Try saying the word “Nationalist” to yourself in a Scottish accent – and you will see that the word turns into something close to “Natz”.

    Natalie is correct – the “People’s Vote” crowd are a bunch of lying fraudsters – as they would not would not accept the result of even a second vote for independence from the European Union.

    And it can not be said too often……..

    Rule by the European Union is NOT independence – a Scotland ruled by Brussels would not be an independent Scotland.

    The SNP may be “Natz” – but they are NOT Nationalists. Rule by the European Union is not an independent Scottish nation.

  5. Paul — I have met Brits who consistently refer to supporters of the Conservative Party as “Tory bastards”; it is spoken almost like one word. I understand they have reasons for their contempt for members of the Conservative Party … but does it help dialog & understanding to start out by using derogatory language to describe one’s fellow citizens?

    You live in a democratic society, where citizens are supposed to think for themselves and reach their own conclusions. Just because someone reaches a different point of view does not automatically make that fellow citizen a less-than-human “Tory bastard”. Initially, it is going to be a rocky road for the UK following separation from the EU. Getting over the inevitable hurdles and accessing the opportunities is going to require the people of the UK to work together. One place to start would be by stopping insulting each other.

  6. A side comment on the use of the term “independence” to describe the situation of the UK following separation from the EU. The UK will not be “independent” in the normal sense of the word. How can a state be “independent” when it depends on other states for much of the food its people eat, when it depends on other states for most of the cars its people drive, when it depends on other states for the planes its airlines fly? The UK, like most other states, will be inter-dependent.

    It makes a lot of sense to eliminate a layer of bureaucracy in Brussels. But that will not make the UK “independent”. Not in a world in which so much will still depend on co-operation with other states.

    Post-separation, the people of the UK will have a greater degree of freedom to deal with their own heavy layer of bureaucracy in London. The part of the Brexit saga that is so dismaying to the outsider is the lack of discussion among Brits about constructively taking advantage of that coming greater degree of freedom.

  7. How can a state be “independent” when it depends on other states for much of the food its people eat (Gavin Longmuir29th July 2019 at 11:02 pm)

    By that standard, the UK was not independent in the days of Queen Victoria. During the US civil war, the hope of the south that ‘King Cotton’ would motivate UK intervention was restrained by many factors, one of them being that the UK also imported much wheat from the north. However Lincoln, and the US ambassador to the Court of St. James, were always very aware that the UK was independent in the practical sense that they could recognise the south, and could go to war with the north. They were perhaps also aware that the US was not so “independent” as to be able to halt all sale of wheat to the UK without there being consequences internally, never mind externally.

  8. “By that standard, the UK was not independent in the days of Queen Victoria.”

    Indeed! Arguably, what is now the UK has not been ‘independent’ since Caesar’s day. Even today’s ‘Hermit Kingdom’ of North Korea is not independent, relying on China, Iran, and others for vital support. That is why I do not find Paul M’s preference for the word ‘independence’ over ‘Brexit’ to be helpful. We live in a thoroughly inter-dependent world.

    What we should usefully be looking for is local self-government, to the degree possible, and for the freedom to “Vote with our Feet” when we find ourselves at odds with our local government. The US States at one time approached that model. Today, the Swiss canton system is probably the closest example.

    But if post-separation from the EU, the UK falls back to old-style highly-centralized government by remote metropolitan Oxbridge less-than-competent Tory/Labour thinkalikes, the people of the UK will have missed a great opportunity. Alarm bells should be ringing about the lack of planning for how to take advantage of the rapidly approaching situation following Brexit.

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