A referendum is a popular vote in which the electorate decides an issue by answering “yes” or “no” to a question. In the UK, the question is set by the government; they can make it a mandatory referendum, where they use the outcome of the referendum is usually binding, as it has been held under certain circumstances or an advisory referendum, where the government can look at the outcome, then choose whether to act with the majority, or against it. There are also pre-legislative referendums, which are held before legislation is enacted by parliament, and there are post-legislative referendums, which are held after legislation is enacted by Parliament. They are devices of direct democracy, but they do not always live up to their democratic pretensions.
Referendums are seen to be a way of preventing governments from making unpopular decisions; by listening to the majority vote, it can show Parliament how they should be making their decisions and stopping governments from losing voters at the next general election. For example, the 1998 peace settlement in Northern Ireland, there was a turnout of 81%, which means that this was a very popular question set forward, with a vast mass of the public having an opinion on it; with the yes vote receiving 71.7% and the no vote receiving 28.9%. If the government had decided not to make a peace settlement with Ireland, then a small amount of people would have been satisfied with the outcome. However, they also represent the tyranny of the majority. This means that those minorities who do not feel the same way, may suffer as a result of the verdict. In the 1973 referendum to decide where Northern Ireland should remain a part of the UK, the no vote received 1.1% of the electorate. This meant that those who felt that Northern Ireland should separate from the UK ended up not receiving the outcome they desired.
The UK population may be more likely to respect and conform to decisions that they have made or at least had a say in themselves. In general elections in the current representative democracy system in place in the UK, given the nature of our democracy, the public have to choose a policy, instead of making their own. This means that politicians can just make rancid decisions and expect the public to just comply. However, some issues are too complex for the public to understand, so instead of making a sound and justified decision about their beliefs, many voters just pick a choice at random, which means that there isn’t a fully valid outcome. For example, in California in 1996, there was a referendum to decide whether the state should legalise marijuana or leave it illegal. As many people just approved of the idea of legal drugs, the outcome was sound, and the state legalised marijuana. This means that whatever the outcome turns out to be, the government is undermined and it becomes harder for the government to rule the country.
Referendums allow the public to be more involved in politics, not just around the time of general elections. In general elections, voters vote on a package of issues, whereas in referendums they get to make their own choice whenever they need to. This means that people would be more educated and interested in politics, as they would be more well-informed about how the government is running the country, and not just necessarily hear about the major decisions, but also some of the minor ones as well. Conversely, people may use referendums as a verdict of the general