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.
Voters can be sophisticated. In 2018, a majority of the voters in Florida voted for a conservative governor, but they also voted to give prisoners the right to vote, something the Republican Governor had opposed. The voters showed that they were able to distinguish measures from men. Politics is not just about tribal partisanship. Voters demand more choice. And they are able to exercise their judgement. Florida is not unique. This is a global trend. A large majority of voters all over the world – according to opinion polls – want more referendums. But are they capable of making decisions on complex issues? And aren’t such votes an invitation to ill-considered populism? This book answers these questions and shows what the effect of referendums have on public policy, on welfare and well-being, and outlines how some of the criticisms of referendums and initiatives can be remedied.
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.
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?
A comparative analysis of the experiences in EU countries
The citizens’ Initiative – which allows citizens to propose legislation- has been used in several European countries. The chapter outlines the effects and implications of this often overlooked institution
The chapter presents one of the first ever comparative analyses of the recall. IT is concluded that the recall is a modest and rarely used mechanism which rarely lead to the recall of elected officials. In a historical section the chapter shows how the recall has been advocated by political theorists such as Marx and Lenin.
Using the example of the European Union, the chapter analyses referendums on European Integration and finds that voters, by and large, are informed about the issues and that the outcomes of referendums on the subject reflect the preferences of the voters.
The chapter presents an analysis of the reasons why the Irish voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty in the referendum in 2008. It is shown that class-voting is still a potent factor explaining the outcomes of referendums.
The chapter presents an overview of referendums on electoral reform using the 2011 British referendum on AV as a comparative case study. The chapter shows that voters, contrary to the received wisdom – are not inclined to vote no, and that there have been several examples of electoral reforms, which have been endorsed in referendums.
The chapter discusses how the courts increasingly have been involved in controlling direct legislation. Using a case study of the United States, the tendency of the court to annul legislation adopted by the people is discussed critically.