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

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Robyn Ashton

“The UK would benefit greatly from the wider use of referendums.” Discuss (25 marks).

Referendums are the holding of a ballot to the general public in which a question is posed calling upon them to pass judgement with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Currently, referendums have only been held twice nationally; in 1975 on whether the UK should stay in the EEC and whether the AV system should be adopted. Referendums present advantages and disadvantages with the possibility of endangering or improving democracy. The principal turnout for is that referendums are a form of direct democracy being more conclusive and legitimate than parliamentary votes as everyone eligible to vote is given a voice. It is argued that a wider use of referendums would reconnect people with politics.

The wording of referendums can be controversial as the choice of words can also be phrased in a way that influences the decision of voters, encouraging positive responses. For example, “Do you think the UK should stay in the EEC?” Although the electoral system ‘approve’ of the question, Parliament is given the final say like in the 2011 referendum on the ‘alternative vote.’ This reinforces the argument that referendums can be used for the ‘wrong’ reasons and to their advantage as they can be held at a time that suits the ruling party. For example, when the referendum was held on the ‘alternative vote’ the UK had just formed a coalition government and first-past-the-post system had failed to produce a strong, stable government. The Liberals would have been hopeful that the country would have voted ‘yes.’

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Issues can be too complex to be voted on and resolved by the general public by those who do not take an active interest in politics. For people who are not well-informed (and sometimes those who are), they can be easily swayed by the media and pressure groups, powerfully influencing and distorting the vote and not producing authentic results. For those with a lower literacy level a question can be difficult to answer and comprehend. For example, in 2011 the question proposed by the government was “Do you want the UK to adopt the alternative vote system instead of ...

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