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The double yes – a Swiss lesson in democracy


WE hear and read a lot about Dom Cummings. If I were him, I’d lower my profile. Right now he’s sending a message that an unelected adviser is running the government for Boris.

Maybe he’s not got much choice. The vast majority of Members of Parliament appear to believe they’re living in the seventeenth century when much of the electorate couldn’t read or write. About two hundred Tory MPs represent the rump of Ted Heath’s party. Labour are the rump of Tony Blair’s. All are a form of liberal – then, of course, we have the Liberals themselves and various forms of Marxists and nationalists. Oddly, the latter all want to become German colonies.

Many MPs despise voters as their intellectual and often social inferiors, convinced that we’re thick, racists whatever our colour, stupid regardless of our education or achievements. This odious attitude lives on regardless during an age when, through the miracles of quantum physics, even young children are bombarded the day long with news from all over the planet.

Perhaps the first bonus of Brexit is that voters at long last are interested in politics again and therefore more critical of their representatives. Ordinary people know something far more important than small percentage changes to GDP is at stake. Our country and respect for democracy are about to vanish for ever. We voted to leave the EU because we recognised this threat to the very existence of our country as we know and love it. Yes, members of the establishment, patriotism is not a form of far-Right politics bordering on Fascism – it’s quite normal all over the planet.

Had the Germans and French been interested in democracy rather another continental empire, there’s a land one could copy as the model for the EU. It’s only a walk across the bridge over the Rhine for one village in Germany. Switzerland is a confederation – twenty-six cantons allow the federal parliament to act on their behalf for a limited number of matters – foreign affairs, defence, the national currency and economy, customs, transport, justice and so forth. Swiss are citizens not of country nor canton, but of one or more of three thousand local communities – cities, towns and villages – that make up their country.

Swiss voters have the last word over all important decisions and many others. Their politicians know that they work for the voters. In Switzerland nobody gives any politician a blank cheque.

The Swiss have governed themselves through forms of direct democracy since the thirteenth century. Open air meetings survive to this day in two small cantons. Napoleon tried to force a constitution on the Swiss, which they rejected because it offered nothing they hadn’t already. The Swiss wrote their own confederal constitution in 1848 during a time when the Radical Party was so strong that it inflicted an early form of political correctness on the country. Imagine a hundred years with New Labour running everything and you have the Radical tyranny.

The Swiss broke the Radicals’ dictatorship by introducing the popular vote. Anyone who gathers a hundred thousand signatures in support is entitled to have a national or local vote on a question or cause. This step ended an era when the Federal Council of seven ministers could prevent a referendum on grounds of national security, more often private or party interest. Over the years this instrument became refined, political careers built on local or national campaigns. Popular votes decide the strategy for politics – foreign treaties, defence, overseas aid, raising or lowering taxes, immigration, legal, moral and medical questions.

A further safeguard was added to avoid the smaller communities always being out-voted by the five big cities – the ‘double yes’. This requires the winner not only to gain the largest number of individual votes but also a majority of the twenty-six cantons and half-cantons. When the last vote on EU membership was held in 1993 the popular vote was close but those opposed to EU membership won two-thirds of the cantons – a political landslide in Swiss terms. Despite the prototype of Project Fear, the margin against closer association with the EU has increased with every popular vote since, until the government withdrew their 1992 letter of application for membership only two years ago after a vote in Parliament.

Now look at the double yes through British political eyes. Keep in mind that the Swiss way of governing themselves takes powers away from Parliament and returns them to the people – the Queen’s role stays exactly the same. Double yes means small remote communities cannot be swept aside by big cities or, just as influential, big money.

Suppose the numbers of voting areas won also had counted towards the final result of our June 2016 referendum. Out of 382 voting areas (one was Gibraltar) 119 voted to remain, including all 32 areas in Scotland. No fewer than 263 voted to leave. A vote map shows England and Wales and a large portion of Northern Ireland almost entirely leavers’ blue, save for London plus the M40 and M11 corridors. Far from narrow victory, this political landslide was greater than the Swiss vote in 1993.

Now there’s a ground-breaking job for Dom to get his teeth into!

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Adrian Hill
Adrian Hill
Adrian Hill. Former soldier and diplomat, afterwards member of CBI Council and author.

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