Advantages and Disadvantages of Referenda

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  • most direct form of democracy - society's view on an issue is clearly indicated. Politicians cannot simply claim to be representing public opinion. A referendum helps to make decisions legitimate and confirms the principle of government by consent.
  • society is more likely to accept the decision - if the people have demonstrated their expressed consent they are more likely to agree with the resulting policies and allowing stable government of the people. For example, Good Friday Agreement 1998 received clear support from most of the community (70% Yes) and this allowed peace to maintain with only minor difficulties.
  • can prevent government from making unpopular decisions - a 'no' vote will show the discontent of the people and ensure that government still works within the consent of the people. For example, North-East Assembly 2004 rejected the idea of regional assemblies in the UK, with the North-East as the trial assembly.
  • can resolve issues which government and individual parties are unlikely to be able to resolve easily - this allows government to remain stable and limits the chance of a crisis of confidence. For example, EEC Membership 1975 stopped the Labour government from collapsing.
  • entrenches constitutional changes - it protects the decisions made in the referendum from attacks by a future government whose policies may only short term. In order to reverse a referendum decision, it is accepted that a fresh referendum would have to be held. For example, Scottish Devolution 1997 means that it would be extremely hard for a future government to remove their power.


  • Plato argued that people will not respect the decisions that they make themselves - many people prefer to  be led, especially if they believe that their elected representatives can do a better job. What other reason is there to have elected representatives if they still rely on the people…


Old Sir

A very useful, concise overview of the advantages and disadvantages of referenda. It lacks the detail of case studies and examples needed to address assessment objective 2, but students will be able to select their own relevant examples, whether discussing UK devolution or the expansion of EU's reach.

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