Mike Doig gave a thorough and thought-provoking analysis of referendums at the Rotary meeting on 5 February 2019.
Referendums (=Referenda =
'Direct Democracy' - Put the question to the people and let them decide.
'Parliamentary or Representative Democracy' - Elect people to make decisions for us.
A hybrid of the two - focussing a general election on a single issue.
A Referendum has to:
- Be simple and easily understood
- Have a clear course of action
- Be free of conflicts of interest
- Pose a question where one person’s opinion is as good as another’s
- There is freedom of action to implement the result
Representative Democracy is best where:
- The question is complex
- It needs expert analysis and input
- Decisions need to be teased out slowly
- Decisions require consultation with third parties
- There are trade-offs to be considered
A good decision is one where, after the passage of time, the majority are still comfortable with it.
In most countries, Referendums are rarely used.
Examples: probably OK for referendums
- Change our flag?
- Change our voting system?
- Decriminalise abortion?
- Decriminalise marijuana?
- Become a republic?
and not OK:
- What should be the top rate of income tax be?
- More money for PHARMAC?
The Brexit Question
Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?
June 2016 - Factors which influenced voters
- Dislike of ‘Foreigners’
- EU Bureaucracy
Annualcontribution to EU funds
- Sovereignty (ie not subject to EU or ECJ decisions)
- Impact on the economy, jobs
- Trade prospects
- National Security
- Freedom to work in EU
- Policing/crime prevention/terrorism
- Membership of EU institutions (Atomic, Environmental, Scientific etc)
- Status of UK retirees in EU
The border in Ireland (Nobody foresaw this problem)
This Referendum was a blunder leading to a constitutional crisis and trashing of Britain’s reputation. It was borne out of a split in the Tory Party. Direct democracy collided with representative democracy.
- 65% of MPs wanted to remain but 52% of voters in 63% of constituencies said ‘leave’.
- MPs were trapped.
- No-one knew what leaving really meant.
- Negotiating with the EU proved difficult.
- Superficially the question seemed simple but the issues are very complex.
- The motives of many voters were unworthy.
- It's not clear to what extent social media and Russian interference played a part.
With hindsight, the referendum failed the basic tests.