03 July 2012

Why Referendums?

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has raised again the possibility of a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union (EU), but this begs the question: should we ever have a referendum on anything? Britain, in common with most western governements, is a representive democracy, that is people get the right to vote for people to run the country on their behalf - we are not a direct democracy, nor should we be.

Britain leaving the EU could have disastrous effects on our economy - or it might even be beneficial. I do not know, and I am sure that 99.9% of the population do not know either. Asking the general population their views on complex issues like this is madness, not least because voters will expect our elected officers to sort out the mess if it goes wrong. Whatever people think of govenment decisions, the people making them have to justify and implement them, and then deal with the consequences of their actions.

Thankfully referendums in Britain are rare - the last one we we had was on whether to adopt the Alternative Vote (AV) in general elections. The whole process was a shambles, not least because there is no rational argument against the adoption of AV, if you you accept that voting systems should be fair. The No Campaign was led by the Conservative Party, who knew full well that the current system was ludicrously unfair, but that crucially it favoured them. (Why some people in the Labour Part supported the No Campaign remains a mystery.)

In a general election we elect people to run the country for us - the goverment has an army of civil servants and others, to provide then with expert advice to guide them in their decisions. They should get on with the job and not ask the rest of us to make decisions for them.