I started to think about current events, and, as it sometimes happens, I had more thoughts than I initially thought I have.
First and foremost, I am surprised. Very surprised. I went to sleep on Wednesday with a feeling that UK will vote “Remain” (not by a large margin). Last year, I was nearly brave enough to bet a bottle of whisky on it. (Hey, I would have made the same bet on Sunday!). I was wrong. However, as I do not have any responsibility (I’m not a famous expert, I have no obligations, my predictions have little, if any, influence), the sorrow of me being wrong is limited and I consider this an opportunity to update my mental model and ask questions.
Why did this happen? Obviously, more people were motivated by fear of THE IMMIGRANTS (double fun in a country with a rich colonial history) than those motivated by fear of losing economic ties. This alone tells us something about the vote, it was a vote against something, not for something. If a society votes out of fear for the lesser evil, this already is a rather unhealthy sign [CITATION NEEDED]. Even worse, this is something a political party can make advantage of by yelling “Vote or lose” without having to do anything.
Who motivated the “Leave” voters? There was a “Leave” campaign, led by non-marginal political elites. This indicates a controversy in the political class; even more, this indicates a lack of consensus on foreign policy, which is something that happened only rarely in the last 70+ years between the iron curtain and the Atlantic Ocean. It would be interesting to know the motives why a significant part of the political class decided that leaving the EU is more profitable; it would be even more iteresting to know what they know.
What has Cameron done? As I perceive that, Cameron (and his political surroundings) played the game of bluff with Brussels, and threatened to exit. As Brussels was not as prone to bluff as Cameron thought it was, he announced a referendum and suddenly other forces hijacked the issue. In football, this is something called an own goal.
Is democracy to blame? This is probably the most polarizing question, and some Germans are currently taking pride in the constitutional impossibility of referenda in Germany. As this is also a question that begs simple answers and mantras, I will try to highlight the sides of the issue as I see them. The good side of referenda is that you have direct influence on a decision. The bad side is that issues can be complicated and it is often hard to obtain information required to make a qualified decision. Especially if political campaigns work with memes instead of actual reasons (and they do). This means that we probably should do the scientific thing and consider previous work on the topic and empirical data. Empirical data suggests that referenda can be a working mode of operation if your country is at least well-connected. (Hello, Switzerland!) Empirical data does not suggest that it does not work in other conditions, although there are some indicators that not all issues should be decided by popular vote, such as death penalty (Gemany has had a popular majority for death penalty). This does not mean that popular votes are bad or that the voter is dumb; this just means that the public benefit is not the sum of individual benefits. IMO this also means that the questions decided by popular vote should be asked in a clear, understandable manner, and readiness of all political elites to take the decision as is and perform it; a referendum should not be the place of political fight.