What are referendums? Do they increase democracy?

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What are referendums?

A referendum is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to accept or reject a particular proposal. A referendum is a modernform of direct democracy that usually favors the majority. Introduced by govt when we need to change our constitution ormake a decision on a controversial issuewheregovt needs approval of electorate. If the party in power's mandate was notvery big, the party didn't haveenough support.If a Referendum isheld makes thegovt look stronger.


1975 Do you think that the UK should stay in the European Community?

Was held because the Labour govt was split over this decision. Cons took Uk into EC but change of Govt in '74. 67%-yes, 32.8%-No.

1997 Do you agree that there should be a scottish Parliament?

Was rejected in 1979, but 1997 SNP was stronger therefore nationalism grew. This grew because the labour govt promised there would be changes in Scottland and Wales. In addition, oil found near scott, but money went to Westminster, helped fuel nationalism. 74.3%- yes, 25.7%- No.

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Arguments for and against

Arguments for Referendums-

  • Form of direct democracy-increases participation
  • Can be a check on 'elective dictatorships'
  • Provides a clear answer on what the Govt may be asking
  • If govt listens to people likely to get more support
  • unite a divided party
  • can provide a mandate for controversial policies
  • legitimises important constitutional issues, e.g. devolution

Arguments against referendums-

  • Inconsistent with the belief of parliamentary sovereignty
  • issues could be too comples for a simple yes/no answer
  • regular use could lead to apathy among the public
  • Low turnout can distort results. E.g. 'Mayor4London' only 34% voted. Clear the low turnout supported the mayor.
  • results may not be decisive. E.g. Welsh devolution 51/49 split
  • could result in the tyranny of the majority
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