The Danger of Referenda

Wednesday 27th August

We exist in a half-baked sort of a Democracy.  It was designed, or evolved at least a couple of hundred years ago, and actually came from long before that.  It started with Kings having a sort of council of barons; a collection of the most powerful men in the land, who both allowed and limited the power of the king.  Over centuries this was diluted until we have now what is known as Universal Suffrage, where everyone over the age of 18 can vote.  But vote for what exactly – almost always a party candidate who while in theory is supposed to represent the views of his or her electors almost inevitably will toe the party line.  Occasionally an Independent or individually minded MP will be elected, but they are getting thinner on the ground than ever.  So we are basically voting for a party which may or may not attempt to carry out its manifesto, but which you are supposed to more or less trust to make the right decisions on your behalf.  You give away your say on anything so that every five years you can say, ‘well done mate’, or ‘get lost you, were useless’.

Times have changed since olden times.  Communication is instant and there is no logical reason why on every issue every person in the country could vote via the internet.  I suspect however that if this were the case only a minority would bother and there would be huge press campaigns to persuade us which way to vote – so hardly a free and frank discussion leading to a sensible result.  Hanging would almost certainly return, and maybe for quite lesser crimes than previous and there may be pretty bad results for minorities generally.  So, there would have to be a few safeguards put in place, and maybe the 50% majority may have to increase to two thirds to bring about major change.

In the meantime we have Referenda, three in about 6 years.  First was for proportional representation, mooted by the LibDems and part of the Coalition Agreement.   This was of such little interest to the general public (but it should have been) that even the LibDems seemed to give in early.  Now we have the Scottish Referendum, which if passed will mean a massive upheaval for all the former countries of the United Kingdom.  At present it looks as if despite the polls narrowing somewhat the Scots will vote no. So two no changes so far, maybe.  But what about the big one?  If Cameron wins the general election and asks us to vote on an as yet unspecified reformed Europe can anyone be so sure there will be a no change vote?  The press and many many commentators will be so anti-European that there is a big danger that we will be out.  Referenda are so dangerous because there really is no guarantee that the public will vote the right (wrong) way.