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The UK would benefit greatly from the wider use of referendums. Discuss.

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The UK would benefit greatly from the wider use of referendums. Discuss. A referendum is a form of direct democracy involving a public vote on some single issue of public policy. It is a means of presenting a question of importance for a popular consideration and decision. There are many arguments both for and against the wider use of referendums. The use of referendums was greatly favoured by Blair and his new Labour government in 1997. Labour took the view that the device is a democratic one in that it gives the people a direct voice in decision making so that any decision made acquires legitimacy because it has popular approval. Blair remarked in 1995 " in the case of constitutional change there is clearly a case for that decision to be taken by the British people". Further arguments for referendums is that they are not just democratic but are a means of saving democracy with which some people have become disenchanted. ...read more.


This was shown by the way in which the 1975 referendum on UK membership of the EEC minimized the damage done by divisions within the Labour Cabinet. An additional pro-referendum argument is that they resolve issues in such a way that there is a final or at least long-term solution. The 1979 referendums resolved the devolution issue for 20 years. However, they are also many arguments against the wider use of referendums. Firstly, they are inconsistent with representative democracy and undermine the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty. In addition, far from encouraging participation regular use of referendums could lead to apathy and low turnouts that might distort the results. For example, the turnout in the 1997 referendum over the creation of a Welsh assembly was only 50%. In extreme cases this can result in the tyranny of an organized minority. In addition, they undermine collective responsibility in a cabinet. For instance during the referendum such as that in 1975 collective responsibility is suspended over the issue in question in order to allow full public debate of the issues involved. ...read more.


For example the creation of the a Scottish parliament was put to the vote twice, in 1979 and 1977. In recent years referendums have been employed much more widely in most parts of the world. For example, in Eire a 1995 referendum legalized divorce. In addition, in Switzerland which averages four referendums a year, the people approved a decision to join the UN by 55% to 45% in 2002. Despite this referendums are believed by some to be incompatible with the UK system of government. In the 1940s Clement Attlee described referendums as "a device alien to all our traditions". This statement reflects the fact that the UK is a "representative" democracy and the commitment that Britain has to the idea of parliamentary sovereignty, only parliament can cast a decisive vote on any issue. Therefore, within a representative democracy, referendums would appear to be at best unnecessary and at worst unhelpful. In addition the lack of established constitutional guidelines for the use of referendums as exists in Italy and Switzerland ensures that a significant degree of scepticism remains about the role of referendums in the UK. ...read more.

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