In a survey conducted by Scottish Legal News, Scottish lawyers have indicated that a majority of them would support a ‘People’s Vote’ on the final Brexit deal. The survey comprised 750 members and 76% of these approved of a People’s Vote. The remainder voted ‘No’. Speaking on this result, the editor of Scottish Legal News, Graham Ogilvey, stated that while the publication tended to steer away from political matters, the constitutional ramifications were too large to ignore. “The results of our poll reflect the concern felt by most Scottish lawyers at the sorry saga that is unfolding before our eyes,” stated Mr Ogilvey. Commenting on the attitude of the Scottish people he added: “They are deeply worried about the economic, social, constitutional and political consequences of a major upheaval like leaving the EU and customs union…there is concern that these [consequences] have not been properly thought through – or truthfully put to the British people,”. Joana Cherry, an SNP MP for Edinburgh South West also commented on the result of the poll, saying Scottish lawyers were ‘aghast’ at the process. “I am not surprised to see such an overwhelming poll in favour of a second EU referendum within the legal community.”
Accompanying the piece were two arguments, one for another, the other against. Mark Lazarowicz, an advocate and chair for the European Movement in Scotland, wrote for the pro-People’s Vote side. He described the current political situation as “the stark reality that the UK is now a few days closer to falling off the Brexit cliff edge.” He argued also that the Leave side was equally frustrated with the protracted pace of the negotiations, and that they too wanted some certainty on their political future. He pointed out that the original 2016 referendum did not give any details on the UK’s arrangement after it left the EU and, additionally, the referendum was technically only advisory. Thus, there was room to interpret it as non-binding. He conceded that another referendum may also end in an inconclusive result, but that this referendum could be made binding, citing the 2011 Alternative Vote Referendum as an example. He finished by saying that a second vote was the best chance for the ‘people’ to let their voices be heard, having lived through two years of Brexit limbo.
Writing against the People’s vote was advocate Gordon Lindhurst, Conservative MSP for the Lothian district. He asserted that the people’s vote occurred on June 23, 2016. Furthermore, referenda only related to major constitutional changes. The implementation of these changes was in the hands of the executive. Concerning the result, he admitted that it had succeeded by a narrow margin but even though it was an unpopular choice that did not mean it should be invalidated. He concluded by also observing that there was also no clear agreement on what exactly the question should be for the second round of voting.
Whether the poll will have any effect remains to be seen. While there is a legal basis for considering another vote, that does not necessarily translate into a convincing argument for non-lawyers. The debate will continue and there may be a People’s vote. But if there is not, at least the lawyers gave the people some advice.
By Daniel Forde – Law Editor