We live in an age of democracy. Very few people challenge the virtues of ‘government by the people’, yet, politicians and commentators are fond of decrying the ‘crisis of democracy’. How do these views square up? This book provides the answer by surveying the philosophical history of democracy and its critics and by analysing empirical data about citizen participation in Britain and other developed democracies. In addition to analysis of major political thinkers such as Plato, Machiavelli and J.S. Mill, it analyses how modern technology has influenced democracy. Among the issues discussed in the book are why people vote and what determines their decisions. When do citizens get involved in riots and demonstrations? Are spin doctors and designer politics a threat to democracy? Do the mass-media influence our political behaviour?
This book is a series of 'remarks' and 'sketches', which together form a mosaic to show how the use of the referendum followed a strict, almost Hegelian pattern of the 'unfolding of freedom' throughout the ages. It outlines how referendums have been used in Britain and abroad, presenting some of the arguments for and against this institution. The book commences with an outline of the world history of the referendum from the French Revolution to the present day, and then discusses the British experience up to 2010. The book examines the referendum on European Economic Community membership in 1975, considering the alternative vote referendum in 2011 and the referendum on Scottish independence in 2014. Next, the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum in 2016, especially the campaign leading up to it, is discussed. After the analysis of the Brexit referendum, the book touches on the Maltese referendum on divorce in 2011. It summarises some of the trends and tendencies in the use of the referendum internationally, highlighting that Britain is not a unique case in holding referendums. The book shows that, notwithstanding the general assumptions about referendums, these are not usually associated with demagogues and populism, but the referendum has tended to be used as a constitutional safeguard. However, in Britain, a country without a formal written constitution, these safeguards were not in place. For the referendum to work, for this institution to be a constitutional safeguard, it must be a people's shield and not the government's sword.
Drawing on the insights of political theory as well as empirical and comparative government, the book provides an up-to-date overview of the theories and practice of referendums and initiatives around the world. The book discusses if we ought to hold more referendums, and how the processes of direct democracy have been used – and occasionally abused -around the world.
This chapter deals with the British referendums in the 1970s and beyond. It looks at the referendum on EEC membership that took place in the mid-1970s and the history lessons learnt from the 1975 referendum. The chapter discusses Harold Wilson's renegotiation of the EEC membership and the referendum which saw 67.2 per cent voted for Britain to stay in Europe. David Cameron held two referendums and presided over a third. In 2011 the questions were devolution to Wales and whether to replace the first-past-the-post electoral system with the alternative vote, and three years later in 2014 it was the issue of Scottish independence. Britishers voted that Welsh Assembly could pass primary legislation, that the existing electoral system be retained and that Scotland remains in the United Kingdom.
This chapter pertains to the United Kingdom European Union (EU) membership referendum in 2016. It first traces the last days events which finally led to David Cameron announcing his resignation in the morning of 24 June 2016. Then, the chapter discusses the initial days of the campaign when a poll the 18 February 2016 Daily Telegraph showed 54 per cent for Remain and a mere 46 per cent for Leave. The signs of erosion of the Remain group were seen in the 16 March budget, which contained cuts to disability benefits as well as tax cuts for the wealthier. Wavering voters were not responding to the predictions of economic gloom presented by David Cameron and his allies. On 7 June, sensing that the economic argument had been exhausted, the UKIP leader NIgel Farage told ITV News, 'there is more to life than GDP'.
This chapter traces the history of the referendum from its earliest origins to its present-day use or, some would say, abuse. After a tour d'horizon of the earlier use of the direct democracy, it presents a historical overview of the use of referendums from the Renaissance through to the First World War. Despite the term's earlier use, the referendum began to be used in earnest only in the nineteenth century, when the Italian Risorgimento and the early years of the Swiss Federation (after 1848) essentially owed their existence to the use of the referendum. Having analysed these cases, the chapter takes a closer look at the discussion about the referendum in the United Kingdom and the European continent. Drawing on a functionalist-inspired model, it ends with reflections and research on why there has been an apparent increase in the use of the referendum since the 1980s.
This chapter analyses whether referendums have gone from being a shield against executive dominance to being a weapon in the hands of the executive. It presents an analysis of all the votes held in different countries since 1973 to shed light on whether referendums and plebiscites have become more associated with populism and semi-authoritarian tendencies. The chapter examines the reasons for the increase in the number of referendums in Free states and democracies like the United Kingdom. Citizen-initiated referendums come in two forms: initiatives (which allow voters to propose legislation) and citizen-initiated referendums (which allow voters to hold a vote on an already enacted law or bills before they are promulgated). The chapter also looks at plebiscites in Not Free states where they are held not merely to confer legitimacy upon an autocratic regime but also to signal the total control of the authoritarian government.
This conclusion presents some closing remarks on the preceding chapters of the book. The book has presented the briefest of historical outlines of how referendums have been used in Britain and abroad, and in doing so, it has implicitly presented some of the arguments for and against this institution. Between 1920 and 1960, there was little reason to have referendums in Britain as compared to constitutional referendums in Denmark and Ireland which were held in the 1950s. The referendum campaign in 1975 challenged the tribalism that had characterised the politics of the United Kingdom. The Brexit referendum and the referendum on the alternative vote electoral system saw spirited debate as well as disinformation on both sides. However, one cannot reject the referendum in general just because one disagrees with the way David Cameron blundered into to calling one.
This introduction covers some key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. In parliamentary systems, referendums are redundant as by seeking a simplistic binary yes/no answer to complex questions, they succumb to emotion and run amok. The book explores whether there more referendums now than in the past, whether that has made the world become more democratic. It examines whether referendums are linked with the growth in social movements in recent years and whether there is a tendency to use alternative channels to challenge the status quo. It also examines whether there is the undeniable prominence of referendums undermining representative democracy. The book outlines the world history of the referendum, and analyses the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence and the 2016 vote on the UK's membership to the EU, and summarises some of the trends and tendencies in the use of the referendum internationally.