I take the long view and the referenda of Quebec (of which were two) both failed, as did the ones in Greece and Spain, as well as in Scotland, in more recent times; if it came to some like the Irish abortion referendum, I would say that on a specific issue such as this then you are more likely to get a meaningful outcome: in the case of broad referenda such as the two Quebec province ones and the Scottish one, the question was too simplistic in relation to the issues involved and that is why nobody felt comfortable with voting it in. There also needs to be support for an idea both politically and in the country: abortion referenda in Italy and Ireland have been won through huge appetite in the general public for change in a particular area of their lives, but what appetite was there for coming out of the EU in the UK? If you look at how unprepared politics were for the result, and how close the vote result was, I would say that, unlike in the case of foxhunting ban, smoking ban, abortion legalisation and other pieces of legislation where parliament was culturally behind a change in social practice, there was no unity in thought or desire for change.
Cameron rushed through the referendum without really testing the mood in the whole country and in parliament in terms of appetite for this particular broad theme.
This is why there is no consensus and on this occasion the fact that there was a winning vote does not really help solving the issue. Simply continuing to repeat ‘we must implement the will of the people’ may seem proper but it is ineffective at this point.
It was a bad referendum, or if you want to refer back to financial trading, it was bad timing - and we all know how bad timing can negatively impact what could seem like the best idea to start with.
I think also that one side claiming that ‘we knew what we were voting for, we are not stupid’ is a way to shut down dialogue: saying that we now know much more about what Brexit as a process actually involves is just common sense rather than being patronising to Leave voters. I see no problem in saying that because it does not qualify the voters but rather the fact that it was a referendum sold on emotions rather than fact, as often political campaigns are (just look at the USA presidential elections and their personality cult). There is nothing wrong with being emotional, so why not say that immigration and nationhood are themes that were treated in emotional terms in this referendum? If we just looked at numbers and statistics alone we would have found no passion on the streets in the wake of the final vote…
Put differently: if the referendum question had been put as, for example:
“Do you wish to rescind part x of paragraph N of article Z of the Lisbon treaty 19-- for the purpose of amending Schengen 19–, as well as invoking Article 50?”
… then, how many people would have got so exercised about it? It would not have stirred as many passions… A question such as “Should Scotland be an independent country?” in the 2014 referendum had emotional potency attached to its wording, and stirred equally strong passions. So the EU referendum was also worded to stir emotions rather than calm debate, which was to be its downfall in terms of implementation.