“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.