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Robert Lister Nicholls

The result of the 1975 referendum had highly significant consequences for Labour's position on Europe. Although it did not have to, there was at least an obligation on the government to take into account the will of the people and remain committed to membership of the Common Market. The referendum defeat for the left, however, was certainly not the end of the debate – indeed far from it. Offered for reasons of party unity, the referendum contributed to a further fracturing of the elite and the general population on the issue of Europe. It is

in The British political elite and Europe, 1959–1984
Series: Pocket Politics
Author: Matt Qvortrup

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.

Matt Qvortrup

“It is in general a necessary condition of free institutions, that the boundaries of governments should coincide in the main with those of nationalities”, wrote John Stuart Mill in Considerations on representative government 1 . It was this sentiment that prompted groups in multinational countries to seek referendums in recent years; to

in Democracy on demand
Direct or representative democracy?
Philip Norton

Referendums are ballots in which electors are asked not to elect, but to pass judgment on a single question or, less usually, set of questions. Their use is frequent in some nations – the world leader is Switzerland, where they are held frequently – and infrequent or impermissible in others. 1 In the United States, they are employed in some states, but a nation-wide referendum is not possible under the US constitution. An attempt in the 1930s to amend the constitution, to provide for one on the issue of war (the Ludlow amendment), failed in the House of

in Governing Britain
Matt Qvortrup

“We need a referendum based on facts”, wrote a commentator in an op-ed after the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom 1 . The question addressed in this chapter is how or, indeed, if, referendums can be compatible with this ideal; in other words, if a large-scale direct democratic exercise grounded in “facts” is possible. In the concrete case, the

in Democracy on demand
Campaign spending
Matt Qvortrup

After the referendum in Schleswig-Holstein in 1920, Sarah Wambaugh, an American expert on referendums, concluded: Democracy cannot be served by faulty plebiscites [we would call them referendums]. If we are to keep the tool, we must learn how to use it

in Democracy on demand
Reassessing Britain’s entry to Europe, 1973–75
Author: Lindsay Aqui

On 1 January 1973 Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath brought the UK into the European Community. Although this was celebrated at first, by the end of the year the mood had changed from ‘hope to uncertainty’. Not only was 1973 a bad year to join the Community, the UK had done so on the promise that it would ‘join now and negotiate later’. This proved a poor strategy. Compounding these difficulties, Heath faced trouble at home which eventually led him to lose the February 1974 general election. Labour’s Harold Wilson returned to Downing Street, promising a fundamental renegotiation of the terms of membership and a referendum on whether to stay in the EC. This was what he delivered and, in the end, 67 per cent of voters said ‘yes’ to continued membership. Yet the renegotiation has been dismissed as a political strategy which ultimately delivered few results and the referendum is seen as an ‘unenthusiastic vote for the status quo’. But it is clear that in some areas, Wilson’s renegotiation was contiguous with the Heath government’s attempts to revise the terms of entry. Moreover, there was a lively campaign in 1975, which engaged the country in a wide range of arguments for and against membership. In this book, Lindsay Aqui seeks to understand what happened during the first year of membership, the extent to which the renegotiation changed the terms of membership, and whether voters were convinced of the pro-Market case in 1975.

Can one have too much democracy?
Marcel H. Van Herpen

Some analysts suggest that the present crisis of liberal democracy is a sign that our democratic system has become obsolete and no longer represents the will of the people. Their conclusion is that we urgently need more democracy and, in particular, more direct democracy. According to the proponents of this view, plebiscites, referendums, and popular initiatives would provide, if not a complete and sufficient solution, at least an indispensable means for the popular will to express itself more directly. These analysts do not normally pay attention to the

in The end of populism
Matt Qvortrup

IN 1992, Frederik W. de Klerk, the president of South Africa, was in trouble. Nelson Mandela had been released from prison and there were signs that South Africa would finally end the apartheid regime, which had made the country an international pariah. Not all whites were happy with de Klerk. His National Party was losing by-elections and this threatened the legitimacy of the process towards ending apartheid. The president reacted resolutely. He needed a mandate and he needed to regain momentum. He called a referendum, in which the white South Africans were

in Government by referendum
Matt Qvortrup

Introduction In this chapter I trace 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 first presents a historical overview of the use of referendums from the Renaissance through to the First World War. It is pointed out that the referendum – contrary to assertions by Tuck ( 2016 ) – can be traced back to the fifteenth century. Despite the term’s earlier use, the referendum began to be used in earnest only in the nineteenth century

in Government by referendum