Friday, 13 June 2008

Why referenda are a bad idea

The Irish referendum campaign is a good illustration of why the referendum is not a sensible way of making decisions:

(1) On the BBC TV news, the first two people interviewed in the street said "I didn't understand it, so I voted no". You are asking people to take a decision on matters of complex constitutional detail which they cannot reasonably be expected to have got to grips with. Most ordinary people are even less interested in constitutional matters than they are in politics generally.

(2) The "no" campaign in Ireland, much like the "no" campaign in France a couple of years ago, was dominated by various arguments that were at best irrelevant and at worst completely mendacious. For instance, it was being suggested that the Treaty would affect Ireland's neutrality, and that it would impose freer abortion. In fact the Treaty would have no bearing on these matters at all. But campaigners in the referendum were allowed to get away with claiming that it did. The same sort of thing is almost bound to happen in any referendum.

Of course, here in the UK most people who are clamouring for a referendum are not actually interested in the Treaty as such, about which in any case they have been wildly misinformed by the Tories and their allies in the gutter press. They are just using the proposal for a referendum as a political tactic towards their real aim, which is to leave the EU altogether. They should admit as much, and campaign explicitly on that. At least UKIP is honest and clear about this.

If, as currently seems quite likely, the Conservative Party wins the next general election, they are going to have to come clean on this issue and stop fudging.


Neil Harding said...

I support the Lisbon Treaty, as I did the constitution, but I think Irish people were right to vote No to something they did not understand. In a referendum these things should be properly explained - if they cannot be explained to the electorates' satisfaction, then that is not the electorate's fault.

peezedtee said...

No, indeed, but it does raise the question whether referenda are ever a sensible method of reaching a decision.