Essay about Discuss the view that referenda should be used more often in the UK

Submitted By SebMoorey
Words: 1170
Pages: 5

By using referendums more frequently in the UK we would see many advantages and disadvantages. For example, they are a perfect example of direct democracy in modern society. Other arguments for referendums include, allowing the government to consult the public out of general election time and that referendums provide a single clear answer to one specific question. Arguments against include the great cost incurred through referendums, the eroding of parliamentary sovereignty and they do not give power to the people but the few.

It is sometimes claimed that referendums enhance democracy, in fact they undermine our system of representative democracy, in which individuals are elected to make decisions on behalf of the general public. Referendums undermine representative democracy in various ways. Firstly, they mean that decisions may be less well thought through, since members of the general public are less likely to have access or the understanding of key arguments and information than elected, full-time politicians. For example, you would not want the general public to vote on issues such as the EU as politicians have a far greater understanding of it. The greater use of referendums on some issues may also mean that decisions that continue to be made by our representatives without a referendum would be seen to have less legitimacy. The people will expect a more direct democracy and not trust any other form. They would also want direct democracy for moral issues whereas a liberal democracy would expect not to make those decisions, for example gay marriage in California where there is a majoritarian rule.

On the other hand, referendums provide a single clear answer to a specific question in a way that general elections cannot. In general elections voters vote on a package of issues: there is no guarantee that they agree with all of them or even that the government will abide by its manifesto. For example in 2010, all major political parties included some commitment to an elected House of Lords in their manifesto and none of them included any suggestion of withdrawal from the EU, therefore, the election gave citizens no opportunity to express an opinion on these issues. In the 2010 general election almost 500,000 Scottish voters voted for the SNP. The SNP was the only party in favour of Scottish independence. However, there is no knowing whether these half million Scots voted for the SNP because of its commitment to independence or in spite of this commitment. Only a referendum will give a clear answer to this specific question.

Another reason why referendums should not be used more often in the UK is that they do not give power to the people but to a few, the few being people with money or power. For example, funding is often very unequal, there aren't many regulations for donations. The tabloid media here, for instance the Murdoch press is very anti EU and so it would project the view of the publishers, a very small group of people onto a very large audience. In other words, the media has too much control over outcome. Another case is The Mormon Church, it donated unfair amounts to proposition 8 in 2008, considering they weren't even based in California. Another reason why referendums don’t give power to the majority of people, is that turnout is often very low. In 1997 for example, a referendum was held concerning whether or not there should be a Welsh Assembly, only 50.1% of the people turned out to vote, because of this low turnout, you aren’t giving power to the people, unlike general election whose turnout is normally above 60%. By using referendums more often you would be giving less power to the majority of people but more to the few, who have power and influence.

In contrast, referendums allow the government to consult the people other than just at election time. Elections might not give a strong mandate for the enactment of policies contained in the manifesto and no mandate at all for the government to act