Everything you need to know about the EU Referendum in under 5 minutes

Yeah, you lost me: what’s the EU referendum?

Referendum; a vote on a single political decision which has been put to the public.
Example; Scotland had a referendum in 2014 to decide if they wanted to stay in the United Kingdom. (They did. Just.)

Right now; it’s about whether the UK wants to leave the European Union.


What’s the EU?

EU referendum - the flags of the European Union member states

Time to flag up our issues with the EU?

The EU is a political and economic partnership of 28 European countries.

It is run by the European Parliament. Members of European Parliament (MEPs) are voted in every five years by the public. MEPs set laws which cover transport and business rules in Europe among many other things.

The European Commission proposes laws to the Parliament and enforces EU law. It upholds treaties and looks out for the interests of the European Union – not individual countries.

The EU operates a Common Market.

Sometimes called a single market this means goods, services, money and currency; but most importantly people can move freely between EU states. The idea is free movement of goods and services, which means good news for business and everyone profits. No, it doesn’t mean you get stuff for free. 

In 1973 the UK signed up to the common market (called the European Economic Community or EEC) to trade with other countries and develop international relationships. Jump to 1993; the EEC became the European Union and the European Parliament arrived. Some say 75% of UK laws are influenced by the EU parliament; others say as little as 7%.


Is the UK better off “in” or “out”?

That’s the million dollar question. We’ll be wrapping up the main arguments for and against the EU in a way even an 11-year-old can get their head around. Stay tuned for the full video coming soon.


What you need to know


Save the Date

The EU referendum will take place on Thursday 23rd June 2016.

Cameron has negotiated a set of changes to the UK’s EU membership. He wants to:


– Protect the single market for non-Euro countries like Britain

The UK is one of nine EU countries which doesn’t use the Euro as it’s currency. Cameron wants to ensure that the Euro-using countries can’t gang up and force through measures on non-Euro countries. He also wants to ensure there is no discrimination or no disadvantage for non-Euro countries.


– Change immigration rules

Current EU immigration rules mean that people from EU countries can travel to Britain to work without needing a visa or a work permit.

This also means that they can claim state benefits. Cameron wants to reduce the number of economic migrants coming into Britain. To do this he plans to restrict migrants from claiming benefits until they’ve worked in the UK for four years. Everyone seems to think this is unlikely to happen.


– Get Britain out of the “ever closer union”

One of the founding EU principles which the UK signed up to was the ever closer union. This means European citizens driving to integrate more closely.

EU skeptics dislike this idea as it erodes our national identity and could lead to an EU superstate. Cameron wants a legally binding “get out of jail free” card for Britain. He also wants national parliaments to have more power to block resolutions from the EU parliament.


– Make Europe business friendly

The EU parliament sets certain regulations for businesses in Europe. E.g. the standards new products have to meet when tested. Cameron wants to cut the “red tape” which he believes is holding businesses back.

Cameron’s plan is to get the “best deal” for Britain, before we vote. For more details see his letter to the EU council and a speech he made explaining his demands.

Not everyone is satisfied with these demands. One Tory MP asked “is that it? Is that the sum total of the government’s position in the renegotiation?”

Another asked “how is he going to be able to sell this pig in a poke?” This is a reference to the allegations that David Cameron did something very naughty with a pig’s head whilst at university.

The latest reports suggest that the prime minister wants to push on with the EU referendum sooner rather than later, perhaps even before the end of 2016. We’ll be updating when we know more.


The Question

The question which will be put to the UK is ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’ The choice of answers will be ‘Remain a member of the European Union’ or ‘Leave the European Union’.


Only 18+ get to vote

You’ll have to be 18+ to vote in the EU referendum – this is different to the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, where 16 and 17 year olds got to vote.


The “In” Campaign

Britain Stronger in Europe (BSIE) is a major campaign to stay in the EU. Headed up by former Marks and Spencer boss Lord Rose the campaign has the backing of former Labour Prime Ministers Gordon Brown and Tony Blair as well as Caroline Lucas from the Green Party and Conservative Damian Green.

In Campaign Decoded: The campaign video concentrates on the business argument for staying “in”. The EU is our main trading partner – if we leave the free market we start paying import and export taxes which would hurt business. Without the EU the UK risks being isolated in the international community.

Though there are other pro-EU campaigns, it’s likely BSIE will be chosen as the official “in” campaign by the Electoral Commission.


The “Out” Campaign

The Vote Leave group is the official “out” campaign. The two main faces of Vote Leave are soon to be ex Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Conservative MP Michael Gove. .

Out Campaign Decoded: The campaign video focuses on the cost of EU membership. As the UK is one of the richest EU countries it (along with Germany and France) pays more for our membership. Some estimates put the total cost as high as £118 billion a year. Ouch.

Both Britain Stronger in Europe and Vote Leave are cross-party campaigns – made up of MPs from various political parties.


Join the conversation


EU learnings; you didn’t sign up for it, and you may not get a say in what happens next. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care.

Are you “in” or “out”? Let us know in the comments below.


What happens when a Political Party breaks up?

Part 1: We need to talk


What leads to a Political Party splitting up?

In politics you often hear the term “left-wing” and “right-wing” thrown around. For example; left-wing political ideas are usually big on community and believe that government should be involved in society. Taxes are collected (richer people should pay more) and redistributed to support those who cannot look after themselves.

Political parties usually stick to the same side (left or right) but how close they get to the centre ground depends on who leads them. If the party disagrees with where the leader is taking them it can lead to a break up.

Political Party/Political Parties Spectrum of Left vs Right

Politics; more than left vs. right

Confused by all this “left-wing” “right wing” talk? Don’t worry, we’ve got it covered with our guide to the Political Spectrum


Is Labour about to break up?

Tony Blair changed the remit of the Labour Political Party

Tony Blair: “Fist bump if you’ve ever completely changed what your party stands for!”

The Labour Party is at a crossroads. The original Labour party was born out of trade unions; created to represent the working class and workers in government. It was a “left-wing” party.

Then Tony Blair changed things, re-branding the party as “New Labour” and moving the party more to the centre ground of politics. Having lost two elections in a row the Labour party needs to choose; left or right. Unfortunately they can’t decide, and it may lead to the party breaking up.

When Blair became leader of the party in 1994 he created the concept of “New Labour”. First, he weakened the links to trade unions.  He re-wrote Clause 4 of the party’s official constitution which wanted “common ownership of the means of production.” This allowed big business more influence in politics and weakened the power of worker’s unions. New Labour allowed some privatisation of public services, (something the old Labour party was against) believing this would make public services better and was something the public wanted.

Though the term “New Labour” was dropped in 2010, the party has pretty much stuck to this new set of ideals. As this position sat more in the centre ground of politics many have accused New Labour of becoming like the right-wing Conservative Party.



“I don’t like who you’ve become”

At the No More War event at Parliament Square in August. A Creative Commons stock photo. Political Party

Wild Card: Jeremy Corbyn

Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn believes the Labour party has been pulled too far to the right-wing of the political spectrum.

He wants to bring it back to the left and to regain some of the party’s traditional values. E.g. fighting for the workers, higher taxes for top earners (think; those earning about £150K). Jezza also wants to renationalise public services like the NHS and national railways.

This week Tony Blair made a speech about the future of the Labour party. Several comments could be interpreted as digs at Labour leadership hopeful Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn was seen as wildcard when he put himself forwards, but is now reported to be ahead of his rivals.


“It’s not you, it’s your politics”

Labour Political Party on Twitter


In fairness to Blair, he didn’t officially endorse any candidate and said the contest shouldn’t be about an individual, but about a political platform which works for the country. What Blair thinks about Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wing platform is anyone’s guess, though he gave plenty of clues. “When people say ‘well my heart says I should really be with that politics’…well, get a transplant.” Oh Tony, you joker.

If Corbyn wins the Labour leadership could this lead to a split – with half the political party returning to more left-wing politics, and the rest heading in the opposite direction? The party does have a history of break-ups. In 1981 a group of four Labour MPs decided their political party had become two left-wing and formed the Social Democratic Party (SDP).


Part 2: Post-break up options


Have some “you” time

All By Myself - scene from Glee, a girl cries in a car in the rain. Political Party Break Up

“I’m doing just fine.”

The whole point of breaking from your party is to get away from the things you didn’t like about them. So many parties try to go it alone. However our electoral system, which is called First Past the Post gives better results for the larger parties. Its design means one party winning overall is more likely.

How the hell does First Past the Post work?

Take a look at this list of all political parties currently active in the UK, and compare it to this list of the number of parties actually in government. The list of parties in government is a lot shorter. So for a better chance of getting some power, some parties decide to team up.



Political Party Break Up; Matt Le Blanc as Joey in Friends with his signature catch phrase "How You Doin'"

Get yo’ flirt on.

No point sitting around moping; get back out there and hook up with someone new. After all there is strength in numbers, and you’ll never get anything done in parliament unless you have support.

After the Social Democratic Party was formed by Labour runaways they flirted with the Liberal Party. They eventually hooked up in 1988 to become the party we know today as the Liberal Democrats.

In the 2015 general election the Liberal Democrats lost a tonne of seats. They now only have eight seats left, and their ex-coalition partners the Conservatives have gone solo to take power. Break ups are brutal; one party always ends up better off.


Maybe the Liberal Democrats should team up with another political party – Tinder, anyone?


Make Up Sex!

Ok, not really. That would just be… weird. But apart from jokes about the Lib Dems getting into bed with anyone (sorry Nick Clegg) this also has a historical basis.

In 1973 Scottish National Party (SNP) members broke away to form the Labour Party of Scotland (not to be confused with Scottish Labour). They fought a By-Election in Dundee and lost; only gaining 3% of the vote.

What is a By-Election?

Politically, this could be seen as the equivalent of suddenly being single, going out for the night and ending up being carried home. But they did stop the SNP from winning the seat.

Lots of members of the party returned to the SNP soon afterwards. If you can’t beat them, join them… again.


Warning; get caught two-timing and risk being dumped!

Political Party Break Up - Taylor Swift's "We are never getting back together"

Harsh but fair.

In 2014, two Conservative back-benchers decided it was time to leave. Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless weren’t forming a new party but were defecting to the UK Independence Party, led by Nigel Farage.

They then both fought, and won by-elections to regain their old parliamentary seats. A future UKIP surge seemed likely.

However, fast forward to the 2015 general election and only Douglas Carswell was voted back in as an MP. Mark Reckless lost his seat, which was taken back by the Conservatives.

There’s not much chance of Reckless being welcomed back by the Tories. This tweet was posted by Conservative candidate Claire Perry;

Tweet by Claire Perry about Mark Reckless losing his seat in the Political Party UK general election 2015

I wonder if the Conservatives will forgive Mark Reckless… Never mind.

Not only that, the Tories are also suing Reckless for money spent on campaign materials printed for him before he left for UKIP. All is fair in love and war.

For Douglas Carswell, the next five years in Parliament as the only UKIP MP may be pretty lonely. UKIP want Britain to split up with the European Union. So at least they’ll get the EU referendum they wanted.

Don’t even get us started on the sort of break up that would be.


Political Party Learnings; break ups are rough and politics is all about relationships.

Should the Labour party split if Jeremy Corbyn wins the leadership? Is a left-wing agenda the only way for Labour to win in 2020? Who should you vote for in the Labour Leadership Contest?


Subscribe to our weekly explainer The Week: Decoded, like us on Facebook and follow @scenesofreason

“My Turf, My Rules”; 5 things to know about English Votes for English Laws

More powers are being given to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. As they get greater control over their own affairs does this mean English MPs should have English Votes for English Laws (EVEL)?


1) The process of making laws is already fairly complicated

How UK Laws are made

Laws are made in the Houses of Parliament

Though the system means it takes an age to get anything done, there are plenty of opportunities for MPs to raise concerns if they don’t agree with the bill.


2) Now it’s about to get even more complex

The Conservative government is trying to make a change called English Votes for English Laws. It’s a simple idea; only English MPs should have a say over matters which affect England only.

How English Votes for English Laws would work

English Votes for English Laws; a scene from Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers (You have no power here)

English MPs only please.

When a bill is announced, the Speaker will decide if the bill has sections which relate to England only, or England and Wales only. The first stages will go ahead as usual.

At Committee Stage, Bills are examined by small groups of MPs. The number of MPs who go on the Committee depends on how many MPs that party has in the country. So at the moment expect to see lots of Conservatives.

In the new system Bills which affect England would only be looked at by a Committee made up of MPs from English Constituencies. So MPs in Scotland wouldn’t get on the panel. See you later Scotland.

After this point English MPs (and Welsh MPs depending on the bill) will have two opportunities to veto or block the bill.

When the Bill goes to the House of Lords they may make changes. Any changes would need a “Double Majority” to pass into law. This means a majority of ALL MPs would have to vote YES to the changes; a majority of English and Welsh MPs would also have to vote YES.

Complicated? You have no idea.


3) It’s all about something called “Devolution”

Devolution; transferring powers from a higher authority (think: national government in Westminster) to a lower authority (think local government). The government gives away some of its power to local representatives.

At the moment most political power resides in Westminster, London. This is where the Houses of Parliament are, and where the decisions are made. After the Scottish Independence Referendum, where the Scots decided to stay in the UK, more powers were promised to Scotland.


England: We rule OK Scotland: OH HEY THERE

England: We rule OK
Scotland: OH HEY THERE

The Smith Commission (which explored the different ways power could be given to Scotland) recommended that the Scottish parliament be given more controls of taxation and welfare.

You may hear the term “West Lothian Question” being thrown around. This refers to the fact that as more powers are handed over from Westminster, English MPs will have less say over matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish MPs do get a say over matters that affect England only. Sounds totally reasonable.

So to make the system a little fairer the government will introduce English Votes for English Laws.


4) Scotland is ragin’

Not surprisingly the Scottish National Party (they have ALL the power in Scotland) is pretty annoyed about this.

They see English Votes for English Laws as a way of cutting them out of the loop and a “cobbled together unworkable mess”. And of course this means everyone is talking about whether we will have another Scottish Independence Referendum. #IndyRef2 more like #tiredofthis?


5)  English Votes for English Laws; or Conservative Votes for English Laws.

English Votes for English Laws, an adult with a England flag over their head, slaps a child with a Scottish flag

How English Votes for English Laws will work according to the SNP

Depending on which political party you support, English Votes for English Laws will mean different things to you.

Traditionally the Conservatives always do better in England than in other parts of the UK. Labour used to have a lot of power in Scotland and Wales; after this year’s election things have changed a bit.

However that doesn’t mean things can’t change again in the future.

If in the future we had a Labour/SNP coalition in government, the Conservatives could potentially block new laws on the NHS and Schools in England. This is because these are devolved issues, and under the new system, English MPs would get a greater say in what happens. As the Conservatives are likely to have more English MPs, under the new English Votes for English Laws system, they could make it very difficult for a potential Labour/SNP coalition.

Possible outcome; the government in power would not be able to make changes in England. This doesn’t sound so democratic to me.

The Small Print; the next election is five years away, and a LOT can happen between then. We don’t know who will be in government next. It’s possible (but maybe unlikely) that another party could win lots of seats in England. But a system which favours a particular party is probably a bad idea.


English Learnings about English Laws; politics is usually complicated but this takes the p%$*

Should we have English Votes for English Laws? Are the Scots just being too greedy about the amount of power they get? Should we rename ourselves the Divided Kingdom of Great Britain?


Subscribe to our weekly explainer The Week: Decoded, like us on Facebook and follow @scenesofreason

Drink Drive Limit Explained: Women blamed for lowering of limit

Why Are Women Being Blamed For The Lowering Of The Drink Drive Limit?

The Police Federation have said the drink drive limit in England, Wales and Northern Ireland should be lowered – just like in Scotland.

Since records for drink driving related accidents began in 1979 the UK has seen a decline in the number of people killed in drink driving incidents. Though 2011 was the lowest year on record 2013 saw a slight rise: 260 people were killed and 5,710 accidents were linked to drink driving.

Statistically men are more likely to drink drive. But don’t get too smug, girls: new research has shown that the number of male drink drivers has halved, but figures for women have stayed the same. So it has been suggested that the reason fewer people are drink driving is because men are changing their habits, whereas women aren’t.

The Drink Drive Limit

So what does the law actually say when it comes to drink driving?

Blood Alcohol Content or Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) is a measure of the amount of alcohol you have in your system. It’s measured in grams per 100 millilitres of your blood.

The Drink Drive Limit for England, Wales, Northern Ireland is 80 milligrammes, whilst for Scotland it is 50

The Police Federation want the limit for England, Wales and Northern Ireland lowered to 50 milligrammes like in Scotland

WATCH: Toxicologist warns drinkers to wait for before driving…

It’s very simple: If you have more than 80mg of alcohol in your system, or more than two pints (roughly) for example – you’re in BIG trouble.

Blood Alcohol Content can also be measured by breath or by urine.

A breathalyser estimates your blood alcohol content based on the amount of alcohol on your breath.

The Drink Drive Limit

If you are caught drink driving you will lose your licence.

End of story.

You’ll probably lose your licence for a year and could be put in jail for 6 months. Eek.

The Drink Drive Limit

Full list of penalties and punishments for Drink Drivers

Just in case you didn’t read it before: It’s impossible for you to work out how many drinks will put you over the limit

Variables like age, weight, gender and even stress levels can have an effect on how you process alcohol.

So the safest thing to do: if driving, don’t drink at all.

The Drink Drive Limit Explained

The police can breathalyse you if you’ve been involved in an accident, or if they think you’ve been drinking. If you fail the breathalyser test you’ll be taken to the police station, where you’ll be required to give a further breath test.

By this point it’s fair to say you’re screwed.

The Drink Drive Limit - A man looks through prison bars saying "I made a terrible mistake"

Of course Scotland had to be independent with their own law

Last year 5th December 2014 Scotland lowered the legal limit to 50 milligrammes. This meant that it was even more likely you would be drink driving even if you’d only had one drink.

In December 2014 alone Scotland saw the number of drink drivers drop by one-third.

Northern Ireland has already talked about following suit.

The Drink Drive Limit

The Drink Drive Limit: Scotland lowered the limit to 50mg

So what’s being said now?

The Police Federation says that England, Wales and Northern Ireland should take their lead from Scotland and lower the limit to 50 milligrammes.

Lowering the limit would bring the UK in line with other European countries.

They also think more needs to be down to reduce the amount of women drink driving. Women are not engaging with campaigns to stop people drink driving – perhaps because most anti-drink driving campaigns focus on men.

If you’re on a night out…

Have a designated driver (who stays sober for the night), get a taxi or bus home, or hit the non-alcoholic beverages. I’m hearing great things about Becks Blue.

The Drink Drive Limit Explained

Sign up to our weekly news roundup, The Week: Decoded.
Follow @scenesofreason and like us on Facebook .

Parliament Seats Explained: Labour and SNP fight it out.

You’d hope the first day of a new parliament would be about getting down to business and a fresh start. However the most important decision seemed to be a Labour SNP fight over who got to sit at the front.

Parliament: How it works:

There are 650 MPs in Parliament; however there is only space in the chamber for 427 people to sit down. Which makes total sense.


People who don’t get a seat have to stand at the back of the chamber to listen to the debate.

To reserve a seat MPs put a prayer card with their name on the seat they wish to sit in. Each sitting of the house begins with prayers – MPs don’t have to attend, but use this opportunity to reserve their seat. A bit like claiming your sun lounger with a towel when on holiday.

Labour SNP Fight - the green benches of the House of Commons Chamber

Places are reserved on the bench by a prayer card with your name on it


The front benches on either side are reserved for the head honchos of the government, and the opposition – in this case the Conservatives and Labour. Long-serving members of parliament usually don’t have to get in early to reserve their seat – these are left empty for them out of respect.


How the SNP said “sack that” to convention:

The Labour SNP fight started when the SNP decided it wasn’t enough to take nearly all the parliamentary seats away from Labour in Scotland; they wanted to also take away their actual Parliamentary seats as well.

Hours ahead of the Parliamentary session SNP MPs took turns sitting in the seat of veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner. Skinner has sat in that position since 1970, so the SNP trying to nick it was a bold move.


Labour SNP fight MP Dennis Skinner addresses the house

Creature of Habit: Dennis Skinner has sat in the same position since 1970


However when Mr. Skinner arrived to take his place, they moved and let him sit down. They really showed him.

Labour SNP fight - the SNP moved off pretty quick


Then nine SNP MPs sat directly behind the Labour front bench. These seats are usually occupied by Labour MPs. Incredible scenes.


Is this Labour SNP fight actually important?

The SNP say that they are the third largest party and therefore deserve a prominent position in parliament. Their argument is that before 2010 the Liberal Democrats (then the third largest party) were allowed that position.

Labour aren’t happy – if the SNP stay where they are, they will be visible in the background every time the Labour leader makes a speech.


Whoever said politics was out of touch with real issues?

Labour SNP Fight - Simon Cowell puts a hand over his face


Sign up to our weekly news roundup, The Week: Decoded.
Follow @scenesofreason and like us on Facebook .