(5) What is a referendum?
Referendum – is a vote in which the electorate decides an issue by answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a question. Certain issues are so important that they cannot be left to elected politicians. This element of direct democracy is believed to be ‘reconnecting’ ordinary people with politics. Having actively participated in a referendum, people will take far more notice of the real issues at election time. Three are three types of referendums: advisory, binding and initiatives. Referendums that were already held in the UK are:
Northern Ireland, 1973. This referendum was called in the hope of finding a solution to the growing violence in Northern Ireland.
Membership of the EU, 1975. Leading a government badly divided over membership of the EU.
Devolution for Scotland and Wales, 1979. Partly as the price for keeping the Liberals’ support for his minority Labour government, prime minister James Callaghan agreed to have a referendum in Scotland and Wales (the English were not consulted) on whether there should be devolution for Scotland and Wales.
Devolution for Scotland and Wales, 1997. Voters in Scotland were asked two questions. The first was whether they wanted a Scottish Parliament and the second was whether they wanted the Scottish Parliament to have tax-varying powers.
Northern Ireland, 1998. This had two purposes: first, to get support for the Northern Ireland peace process; and second, to get endorsement for devolved powers to Northern Ireland and end the direct rule of Northern Ireland from London.
The troubles in Northern Ireland Many people only have a limited idea about what these infamous “troubles” in the North of Ireland really were. Hopefully this article will shed some light on the matter. In the past the vast majority of violent acts and attitudes of discrimination towards minority groups have been based on blacks or the Jews, often leaving religious wars to the olden day Europe. ...
The mayor of London, 1998. This referendum asked the people of London if they wanted an elected mayor with powers to deal with certain aspects of London as a whole, such as transport.
Recent referendum on Devolution for South East 2004
Future referendums on the single European currency Euro and EU Constitution
(5)(10) How do referendums differ from elections?
Referendum – is a vote in which the electorate decides an issue by answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a question. Elections are held in order to elect those representatives who will decide on these issues and if necessary held these referendums later.
There is no fixed date when the referendums should be held. The government sets the questions whenever it is necessary to ask people’s opinion on these issues. On the other hand, elections should be held in the period of 5 years.
The result of the election is always decisive, whereas the result obtained in the referendum is not always considered as final. Governments sometimes go back again and again until they get the result that they want, as it happened with devolution in Scotland.
(10)(15) Why have referendums been used more widely in recent years?
(15) What are the advantages of referendums?
(30) Make a case for a wider use of referendums.
• Referendums offer a greater degree of ‘direct democracy’. Citizens can have a real input into key decisions.
• They encourage political participation. People are more likely to participate when they care about the issues involved and the choices are black and white. They involve citizens in major issues that affect their whole lives.
• Major constitutional changes should not take place without a vote of those who will be most affected.
• They provide a way for governments to ‘test the water’ before making certain changes.
• They allow government to focus on other issues, rather than getting bogged down in long-running squabbles.
• They can be used to provide a clear and final answer.
• They can prevent dangerous divisions within political parties over controversial issues. This prevents governments from collapsing and, therefore, provides greater continuity in government. They can end controversy on highly divisive issues
Interest Groups Help More Than Hurt Voter turnout has declined since 1960 but participation in interest groups has been growing. Participating in interest groups allows people to take action on issues that are most important to them. Unlike some linkage institutions, interest groups have a very close connection to government. Interest groups are an essential part of the democratic system because ...
• They can be used to overcome obstacles, such as happened in Northern Ireland in 1998
• They provide a way of focusing or renewing the mandate on a particular issue. They give government consent for a specific action.
• They provide a method for resolving tricky moral questions.
• They provide a way of legitimising major constitutional changes.
(20) Outline an argument against the wider use of referendums.
(20) What are the arguments against the use of referendums?
(30) What are the disadvantages of referendums?
• Referendums are inconsistent with our system of parliamentary government and they undermine the principles of a representative democracy. They go totally against the UK’s traditional system of representative democracy, where elected representatives in parliament make major decisions after debating all the relevant issues.
• Far from encouraging participation, regular use of referendums could lead to apathy and low turnouts that might distort the results.
• They undermine collective responsibility in Cabinet.
• Governments can use referendums to duck their responsibility to make decisions – to ‘govern’.
• Most issues are too complicated to be compressed into a simple yes/no question. Some issues are highly complex, such as whether to join the euro and to make a good decision on a highly sophisticated topic requires a degree of expert knowledge, which many of the electorate will not possess. Issues may be too complex to be resolved in simple yes/no terms.
• Funding differences between the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps might mean that the referendum is not played out on a level playing field.
• The questions might be biased, phrased in such a way as to encourage a certain response. The wording of the questions could be misleading, as was argued in the 1975 referendum.
• Governments can time referendums to make a favourable result more likely. Used for the ‘wrong’ reasons
• Decisions are not always considered final.
• Governments sometimes go back again and again until they get the result that they want.
... in Northern Ireland s school system is the norm rather than the exception. Although the government funds both Catholic and Protestant schools the result ... some of these very issues and it passed a province wide referendum by an overwhelming majority, but the new Northern Irish Parliament has ...
• Referendums create a tyranny of the majority. There is a risk that majorities will use referendums to impose restrictions on minorities.
• There is a risk that a decision, such as the reintroduction of capital punishment, might be forced on a government that thinks it is totally wrong.
• Governments sometimes only hold them when they are sure they will win.
• A regular use could result in voter apathy and low turnouts
• Low turnouts may distort the result.
• Effective alternatives to test public opinion already exist.
• Funding differences may affect the result.
(10) Outline two examples of the use of referendums in the UK.
(15) In what circumstances have governments called referendums?
(20) Describe the circumstances of three referendums held in the UK.
THE HISTORY OF REFERENDUMS IN THE UK
• Northern Ireland, 1973. This referendum was called in the hope of finding a solution to the growing violence in Northern Ireland. Voters in Northern Ireland only were asked whether they wished Northern Ireland to remain in the UK. The result was very much in favour, but large sections of the population refused to vote in the referendum, so it had limited impact. The British government did not agree to be bound by its findings.
• Membership of the EU, 1975. Leading a government badly divided over membership of the EU (then known as the European Economic Community), Labour prime minister Harold Wilson called for the first major nation-wide referendum on whether the UK should remain a member. The verdict was that it should. The referendum ended party disunity on the matter — for a while. Wilson was careful not to let the result be binding. It is unlikely that he (always a supporter of the EU) would have called for the referendum if he had thought he might lose it. There was a strong feeling among the opponents of the EU that the government propaganda machine was used unfairly to persuade people to vote to stay in. There was also criticism that the way in which the question was worded was designed to produce an answer in favour of staying in the EU. •
• Devolution for Scotland and Wales, 1979. Partly as the price for keeping the Liberals’ support for his minority Labour government, Prime Minister James Callaghan agreed to have a referendum in Scotland and Wales (the English were not consulted) on whether there should be devolution for Scotland and Wales. There was limited support in Wales for it, and although the majority of those who voted for it in Scotland were in favour, the government decided that as those who voted in favour were less than 40 % of the total electorate, devolution had, in effect, been defeated. Even then the government had not agreed to be bound by the result. As a result, referendums became rather discredited in the eyes of the public. Again it was clear that the government would not have embarked on the referendum unless it had been fairly sure that devolution would not win.
The population growth has caused concern for many Americans because of the terms of numbers and poverty that comes with this growth. There is a pattern showing of wealth transferring from poorer nations to the richer nations of the globe and the information technology revolution is speeding this cycle up. With population growth reaching new heights new concerns for increasing urban growth has ...
Devolution for Scotland and Wales, 1997. Voters in Scotland were asked two questions. The first was whether they wanted a Scottish Parliament and the second was whether they wanted the Scottish Parliament to have tax-varying powers. On both issues they voted ‘yes’. The Welsh were asked only one question about limited devolution. This time the government did agree to be bound by the results, and devolution has subsequently gone through. Here the government supported the measures, which had been in the Labour manifesto. But Tony Blair’s government was anxious not to be seen as pushing through a huge constitutional change without consultation, just by using its huge parliamentary majority. The fact that Labour dominates the Scottish Parliament might be noted.
• Northern Ireland, 1998. This had two purposes: first, to get support for the Northern Ireland peace process; and second, to get endorsement for devolved powers to Northern Ireland and end the direct rule of Northern Ireland from London. As many political leaders in Northern Ireland opposed the peace process, the referendum was seen as an appeal by the British (and Irish) government over the heads of the politicians and paramilitary leaders to the people. With a high turnout and more than a two-thirds majority in favour, this put real pressure on the political leaders of Northern Ireland to accept the Good Friday Agreement.
• The mayor of London, 1998. This referendum asked the people of London if they wanted an elected mayor with powers to deal with certain aspects of London as a whole, such as transport. The result was positive, but the turnout was very low.
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Do referendums improve or endanger liberal democracy?
There is, though, another device that could be used to make the UK more democratic. The use of referendums — votes of the whole electorate on specific issues — has been urged as a way of re-introducing an element of direct democracy in a representative system. Those who press this case focus on three main points:
• Certain issues are so important that they cannot be left to elected politicians.
• An element of direct democracy will ‘reconnect’ ordinary people with politics. Having actively participated in a referendum, people will take far more notice of the real issues at election time, rather than deciding on the basis of superficial factors like the image of the party leaders.
• Although the procedures of ancient Greece are impossible in a country as large as the UK, advances in the electronic media mean that everyone can be well informed, and even take -part in a national debate.
Arguments against referendums
Those who dislike referendums are often accused of being unoriginal and simply opposed to change of all kinds. However, there are some powerful arguments against the device:
• It is associated with totalitarian rule. Dictators find it attractive as a way of claiming democratic legitimacy, even when the vote has taken place without free speech or safeguards against fraud. The questions can be phrased in a way that influences the choice of voters. However careful the wording, it may exclude certain options that might actually be very popular. To be fair, the words of the question should themselves be chosen by a referendum, but this would make things impossibly complicated.
• People who do not normally take an active interest in politics can be swayed by emotional public speaking, rather than deciding on the real issues.
• Even if all the campaigning groups are given equal funding and equal access to the media, people tend to vote for the side that is supported by the best-trusted politicians, regardless of the arguments.
• Referendums can be held at a time that suits the ruling party. So, despite all the outward trappings of direct democracy, elected representatives retain the most powerful influence over the eventual decision.
• In other European states, a vote that does not suit the ruling party tends to be followed by another poll so that the public gets the ‘right result’ in the end.
COMPONENTS OF A RESEARCH ASSIGNMENT ABSTRACT Succinct summary Use keywords INTRODUCTION: what this is all about Background to the issue Rationale for this project, ie. Why do it? How the issue / question relates to existing theory and practice Broad parameters of the research project, eg. location, research approach & methods (refer to the notes handed out on Research Methods earlier in the ...
All of these arguments were expressed before’ the first UK-wide referendum, held in 1975, on the question of continued membership of what was then the European Economic Community (EEC).
Before the contest was held, the arguments against the use of referendums tended to be used by people who wanted the UK to stay in the Community. With justification, they claimed that the then prime minister. Labour’s Harold Wilson, only favoured a referendum because it allowed him to avoid personal responsibility for a decision that was bound to split his party.
As it turned out, the supporters of EC membership had reason to be thankful for Wilson’s decision. The result of the poll, held on 5 June 1975, was almost two-thirds in favour of continued membership. The turnout was high — also around two-thirds — and almost every area of the UK said ‘yes’. The pro-EC group could thus claim that ‘the people had spoken’, and that the issue of EC membership was now settled for ever.
However, the defeated opponents of membership had plenty of counter-arguments. The question presented to voters was: ‘Do you think that the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (the Common Market)?’ Voting to stay in was very different from voting to join in the first place — but the electorate had not been allowed a direct vote when the initial decision was taken. So, opponents argued, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. In addition, the pro-EC campaign was much better funded than the opposing side — and when the UK had joined, people had been bombarded with favourable government propaganda, funded by the taxpayer.
For opponents of what is now (since 1993) the EU, it is significant that there has been no further UK referendum on this subject, despite the important changes that have taken place in Europe since 1975. ‘Eurosceptics’ believe that successive governments have been frightened of holding a vote that will go against them. This viewpoint is supported by the fact that the argument for the principle of referendums seems to have been won. Few people currently deny that there should eventually be a referendum on membership of the European single currency. The question now is not whether such a poll will be called, but when.
Other UK referendums
One reason for the lack of debate over the principle of referendums is that several more have been held in the UK since 1975, although not across the whole nation (see Box 1.8).
The basic idea seems to be that major constitutional changes should not take place without a vote of those who will be most affected. The first of these referendums, in Northern Ireland, took place 2 years before the 1975 poll. Although this vote received relatively little attention in other parts of the UK, for the inhabitants of Northern Ireland it concerned the most vital question of all — whether Westminster or Dublin would have the ultimate authority over them. The problem is that, although it seems agreed universally that referendums should be held on important constitutional issues, people continue to differ in their view of what is important. Thus in June 2003 the Labour government announced referendums on regional government in the north east, the North West and Yorkshire and Humberside. These were the three English regions which had indicated the strongest interest in having their own assemblies. However, at exactly the same time the government rejected the case for a referendum on a European constitution. It argued that none of the proposals currently being discussed would involve a radical change in the way that the UK was governed. However, the public seemed to favour a referendum, and it was difficult to argue that an EU constitution would have less effect on the UK than the proposed regional assemblies, which would have more limited powers than the Scottish Parliament.
In theory, regular referendums on key political questions are an important asset to any liberal democracy. Yet the original objections still have some force. On the basis of UK practice, another oddity can be identified. One would expect that people would regard the results of referendums as being more conclusive than parliamentary votes, since everyone in the country has a direct voice. Yet this has not been the case. Apart from the local referendums on elected mayors, the only UK referendums that have apparently laid a controversy to rest are the 1997 polls on devolution to Scotland and Wales (and even these decisions might be changed if demands grow for complete independence).
There is actually a good reason for this phenomenon. Reserving the referendum for really ‘big’ questions seems, in theory, to be a fair compromise between direct and indirect democracy. However, these are precisely the issues about which passions are least likely to die away, even after ‘the people have spoken’.
Despite these remaining questions, it is fair to conclude that, in principle, the referendum can be an asset for a liberal democracy.
Essay “Do referendums improve or endanger liberal democracy?”
Liberal democracies are countries that are governed in accordance with certain “core” liberal principles, such as the right to free and fair elections, freedom of expression at all times, and the impartial administration of justice. The UK is generally regarded as a liberal democracy, even if it is an unusual one because it lacks a written constitution.
Referendums allow voters to register their opinion on specific questions regarding constitutional or policy issues and are also used in order to make the UK more democratic.
i will start from considering arguments for the referendums:
First and one of the most important points to mention is that referendum is the form of direct democracy. They provide people with the opportunity to say what they think and to decide what they want.
Argument following from previous one is that referendums encourage people’s participation.
It is true to a large extent- when referendums are coming people start to become interested in what is going on in the politics. Referendums are not a common thing and are you used only in such situations when the will of the citizens is very important, because it can greatly effect people’s life, such for instance as joining the EU (1975).People just do not have what to do but to participate. And this participation and involvement leads to the strengthening of the liberal democracy.
What is more, the use of the referendums is like a kind of a check on “elective dictatorship”. For instance, if Tony Blair promised a referendum he just needs to do it, or otherwise he will fall in the eyes of the electors.
Except the fact that this feature of the democratic form of governance gives us a clear answer to a specific question, it also unites divided parties after the result is known-
Referendums help us to deal with flaws in mandate theory, meaning that if you win the elections and referendum was a part your party manifesto then you can try to pass a law.
Moreover, it provides a mandate for controversial issues, particularly constitutional ones. Referendums help us to check if it is what people want. Following this we can assume that they also provide us with the device for resolving controversial moral issues.
Furthermore, they are like a special form of entrenchment. If 70% of aft of the electors voted in favor of any issue questioned on the referendum then it could be passed and entrenched.
And to finish with the advantages of the referendum the last point to mention is that this democratic feature legitimizes important decisions affecting the constitution.
Nevertheless, on the other side of the coin there are arguments against the referendums:
Starting to criticize the referendums the first fact that needs to be noticed is that it is inconsistent with the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, which is supreme law making power, as well as representative democracy, meaning that we elect representatives to make decisions for us. This undermines the House of Commons.
Next disadvantage is that issues may be too complex to be resolved with the simple yes/no terms. Moreover people just could not be fully informed about the issue itself to give a proper answer. It could be that the answer for the question asked is obvious but when it is examined more deeply it maybe that the answer is not that simple.
Furthermore, although in the beginning of the period when referendums will be starting to be used the turnout would be high, later it could result in the decrease of the participation. People would just get bored of the participation, which certainly requires time as well as knowledge about each topic. Following from that point we may say that low participation will distort the results and then referendums will be useless.(example- EU Constitution)
Sometimes, different not expected results may not be decisive. Using the example of the French referendum on the issue of the European Treaty, when the results differed in only some tenth of the percent and were almost 50/50%, we may say that in such situations referendums will be useless as well.(like Northern Ireland in 1973)
A very important fact to take into account is that sometimes the results may be biased: either because of the funding differences or media influence as well as because of the possible bias in the question asked. For example, 1975 –Euro.
Not less important criticism of the referendums is that sometimes when majority wins it can result in the minority becoming angry, and the peace in the country may be distorted.
Lastly, sometimes referendums can be used for the ‘wrong reasons’ such as, for instance, when government wants to look well in the eyes of the citizens and uses these democratic features in order to gain a benefit from them. (1975 or 1997)
There were already 6 referendums held in UK since 1973, and 2 more are coming soon on the issues of the EURO currency and European Constitution. And regardless of those criticisms discussed below there is no point in being not sure whether referendums are a good or a bad policy of governance. Without doubt it is really a good feature of democratic policy as it provides people a chance to say what they think and it certainly improves liberal democracy.