While support for increased participation is a constant theme in the political rhetoric of the elites, decisions to submit more issues to the voters do not always live up to their idealistic billing. The decision to hold referendums is a case in point. This chapter considers why governments have submitted issues to referendums. Referendums have become part of the constitutional tapestry of the UK. In sum, the referendums held in Britain can—using an elaborated version of Morel's classification of referendums—be categorized as: decision-solving referendums: membership of the EEC (1975) and the Labour Party's decision to hold a referendum on a possible change to the electoral system; legislative referendums; strategic referendums: Scottish and Welsh devolution (1997); joining the Euro; legitimation referendums: directly elected mayor and an assembly for London 1998; regional assembly for the north east; politically obligatory referendums: the Good-Friday Agreement and the European Constitution.
This chapter examines citizenship engagement, looking at a case study of the 2005 referendums on the European Constitution in Spain, France, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. It presents an analysis of the referendums in the light of international research and seeks to determine if the referendums formed a general pattern. It concludes that the referendum results were shaped broadly by two factors: disquiet among the socialist voters and opposition to the EU from unskilled and low-waged employees.
This chapter considers the effects of postal voting, one of the favoured options for increasing participation. It reviews international experiences with absentee, or postal, voting in developed capitalist democracies. In the wake of the 2004 federal election in Australia, concerns were raised about the problems with postal voting in Australia. The Australian Electoral Commission recently acknowledged that there were serious problems with the distribution and production of postal voting packages especially in Queensland. This fiasco led to severe criticism from Commission members.
This chapter concludes the book with a discussion of future the prospects for democracy. It sums up the argument, makes recommendations for future studies, and offers suggestions for new forms of participation. Contrary to the often negative assessment of the state of citizen engagement, this chapter contends that if citizen politics is to thrive, a broadening of the political system itself is required to allow for different forms of democratic participation.