Doing referendums differently

1 Sep 2016

There’s no denying it: referendums have become a central feature of our politics. So it’s about time we started thinking seriously about how we should run them.

Since 2011 we have had two UK-wide referendums (on voting reform and membership of the European Union), a Scottish independence referendum, and a Welsh referendum on devolution of powers. The UK is in an extended period of constitutional flux - and is showing few signs of coming out the other side any time soon.

As passionate believers in democracy, we wanted to see the best possible referendum debate during the EU vote. We tried to ensure the debate was as high-quality as possible, and learn important lessons in how good deliberation can be stimulated in living rooms, community centres and workplaces across the country.

Sadly though, the wider debate let voters down. So it’s essential we ensure that the mistakes made during the EU referendum debate are never repeated again.

That’s why we’re pleased to launch our landmark EU referendum report into the conduct of the referendum, ‘It’s Good to Talk: Doing Referendums Differently After the EU Vote’.

This report shows without a shadow of a doubt just how dire the EU referendum debate really was - and what we can do about it.

The state of the referendum debate

There were glaring democratic deficiencies in the run-up to the vote, with previously unreleased polling showing that far too many people felt they were ill-informed about the issues; and that the ‘big beast’ personalities did not appear to engage or convince voters.

The polling also shows that voters viewed both sides as increasingly negative as the campaign wore on. Meanwhile, the top-down, personality-based nature of the debate failed to address major policies and subjects, leaving the public in the dark.

It’s clear that the EU debate was in stark contrast to the Scottish independence referendum, which for all its faults undoubtedly featured a vibrant, well-informed, grassroots conversation that left a lasting legacy of on-going public participation in politics and public life.

There are so many lessons to be learned from the EU campaign – from the effect of a too-short campaign period to the fact that misleading claims could be made with impunity. This report lays out both the facts, and the way forward.

Where next?

Now that the dust is starting to settle, we need a complete rethink about the role of referendums in the UK. Instead of jumping from referendum to referendum at the whim of party politics, we should think carefully about how referendums fit into our wider democracy.

So it’s time for a root and branch review of referendums, learning the lessons of the EU campaign to make sure the mistakes that were made in terms of regulation, tone and conduct are never repeated.

We’ve made nine key recommendations to improve the conduct of future referendums. They are:

Laying the groundwork

  1. Mandatory pre-legislative scrutiny for any Bill on a referendum, lasting at least three months, with citizens’ involvement
  2. A minimum six-month regulated campaigning period to ensure time for a proper public discussion
  3. A definitive ‘rulebook’ to be published, setting out technical aspects of the vote, as soon as possible after the passing of any referendum Bill

Better information

  1. A ‘minimum data set’ or impartial information guide to be published at the start of the regulated campaigning period
  2. An official body should be given the task of intervening when misleading claims are made by the campaigns, as in New Zealand
  3. Citizenship education to be extended in schools alongside UK-wide extension of votes at 16

More deliberation

  1. The government should fund a resource for stimulating deliberative discussion/debate about referendum
  2. An official body should be tasked with providing a toolkit for members of the public to host own debates/deliberative events on the referendum
  3. Ofcom should conduct a review into an appropriate role for broadcasters to play in referendums, with aim of making coverage/formats more deliberative rather than combative/binary

We think our new report, ‘It’s Good to Talk: Doing Referendums Differently After the EU Vote’, will be a useful resource in tackling the big questions about where we go from here when it comes to referendums. We hope you agree.

More than that though, we hope the recommendations we suggest lead to some genuine change so that the public get the referendum debates they deserve in the future.

Comments

118 Responses to Doing referendums differently

Mark Deacon 1 Sep 2016
9:08am

What is this rubbish about the Scottish referendum? As an English person living in Scotland I can assure you that it was not based on any form of reasonable factual debate. It was and still is a very divisive issue.  The Yes campaign was based on greed (we'll keep all the oil money) and blaming the English for everything.  As to being factual, even at the end the Yes campaign didn't know what currency they would use.
Brexit on the other hand was based on control (sovereignty) versus economic benefit, but unfortunately the Remain camp didn't realise that a lot of people weren't benefiting economically. Sure, the better off you are, or the more educated you are, chances are you benefit from EU, but plenty of people don't.

Maurice Frank 1 Sep 2016
11:29pm

I back what Mark says, as a Scot. There was also the fear of attacks on homes causing few No posters to be displayed and vastly more Yes posters, even though it turned out that No won! There was the well known phenomenon of the aggressive Cybernats online, they set up a string of fake debate pages on Facebook where they turned on angrily and swiftly banned anyone who took any other position than faithful Yes.
I have to reveal where I think the rubbish has come from ERS's Scottish office at the time was staffed by 2 Yes supporters. They never gave any answer to an enquiry about apparently burying an item that a local reform group brought to them about voters' questions for both campaigns. I left ERS partly because of this, [as well as because I had joined ERS in its push to reform itself after the AV ref but it never budged from insisting on STV]. Shortly after the ref I attended an ERS hosted meeting in Edinburgh, not even about indy but where a claim was made that Yes voters were measured as more intelligent and the chairing gave no chance to reply to it. Those 2 staff never answered about this either. They offered to deal with both these items only by a cafe meet to talk, which would have no written outcome.
I have to suppose that their filtered perception of the ref in favour of their side has informed national ERS's perception.

Dave Badger 12 Oct 2016
11:12pm

And yet those people were persuaded by false claims to vote for something which would put economic wealth even further from their grasp.

Denis Turner 1 Sep 2016
10:29am

The disastrous referendum result was due to the negative campaign run by UKGOV coupled with the fact that for years they laid the blame for every wrong at the door of the EU.  They failed spectacularly to publicise the many benefits of EU membership and paid the price.
In your report there seems to be little mention of the disenfranchisement of expats who stand to lose most after 'Brexit'.  Many of us who moved to Europe thinking we were covered under EU treaties we thought were set in stone now find that those safeguards could soon turn to dust.
The ERS must support votes for life for expats and I draw your attention to the following websites that campaign for, what should be, a basic right.
http://www.ecreu.com   www.votes-for-expat-brits.com and 
http://pensionersdebout.blogspot.fr/
Please support this issue.
Denis Turner
The Manche -Basse Normandy - France.

James Andrew 1 Sep 2016
3:20pm

Denis,
 
I was brought up in Norfolk, moved to Somerset and now live in Surrey, should I be allowed to vote for the MPs in each of those places or just the one I currently reside in? 
As for European treaties being set in stone the treaty of Troyes grannted Henry V and his successors the throne of France, how did that one turn out?
It was your choice to move.
James
 

Clive Walley 1 Sep 2016
4:38pm

Your childish comment adds nothing to the discussion. The person you aimed your sarcasm at has a fair point. There are up to 2 million British Citizens living, working or retired in mainland European countries many of which have been disenfranchised by the obscene 15 year rule. Their crime? To accept the rights of the various EU treaties to live and work in any of the 28 member countries. This is something all 28 countries including the UK signed up to.
Now because the UK has become Xenophobic and racist to an unforgivable degree it seems every man and his dog want to have a go at these UK citizens working/living in the EU and even worse terrorising EU citizens living/working in he UK and in some cases murdering them! Like you, I lived  in many different counties of the UK before I moved out but it never occured to me that I should have more thasn one vote for doing so - as you suggest. However, as a pure bred time served tax-paying Englishman I have worked for my rights which include my passport, my pension, my vote and my winter fuel allowance already stolen be deceit. It sickens me to see how bitter and twisted Brits are becoming in the UK where the politics of envy reign supreme. Why should we not have a right to vote in our own place of birth? Millions of people living in the UK have the vote and were not born there! Why do people like you find it so enjoyable to target us? We have paid our dues - I wonder if you have paid your yet or indeed any.
The UK is in a minority when it comes to disenfranchisement - even Cameron said it was ridiculous and outdated. So Mr Denis you must be ridiculous and outdated too. Why don't you and I suspect your fellow Brexiteers get on and sort the damn mess out without having to resort to having a go at us?

Span Ows 26 Sep 2016
9:37pm

Clive, really? Who now is being childish: "the UK has become Xenophobic and racist to an unforgivable degree"
"terrorising EU citizens living/working in he UK and in some cases murdering them!"
"It sickens me to see how bitter and twisted Brits are becoming in the UK where the politics of envy reign supreme"
"So Mr Denis you must be ridiculous and outdated too"
"Why don't you and I suspect your fellow Brexiteers get on and sort the damn mess out without having to resort to having a go at us?"
That last one takes the biscuit. I am a 3 times expat and yet still find everything you have said to be (a) ranging from being completely wrong to being absolutely crazy and (b) childish.

MICHAEL C BURRAGE 1 Sep 2016
4:27pm

<p>Denis, I too am an expat, and I hate to see you worrying because it is entirely unnecessary. You are protected ny the Vienna Convention, and in nay case no Brexiteer has ever proposed banning French or other migrants to UK, so your rights are &nbsp;ound to be well protected in any negotiation. besides you sdsoubtless brought capital to France with you and why would the French wish to discorage you or others?</p>
<p>I did a great deal of research before the referendum and disagree completely about the benefits of EU membership for the UK, much of it published. I am enormously proud of the good sense of the British people. Against all the organized political parties, against the talking heads of IMF, OECD, WTO and the president of the US, against the FT, BBC, the Economist, The Times, against university vice-Chancellors and all the other EU grant recipients, and the entire UK establishment, they said No! &nbsp;Wwe wish to govern ourselves. Takes quite a people to do that! &nbsp; But that is &nbsp;beside the present point. Stop worrying.</p>

Hcl 1 Sep 2016
9:47pm

Surely if one leaves one's home country to liver permanently in another country, one has to accept the fact that, should constitution change, one has to put up with it.  YOU left after all.

Andy Hartley 1 Sep 2016
10:35am

I believe that in the rules framework for any future referendum, there should be a minimum percentage required before any result is acted upon. ie. Not a straight 50/50.

DazJim 1 Sep 2016
2:59pm

But... it wasn't 50-50 or the motion wouldn't have been decided....  the gap was millions of people...lol

David Preedy 1 Sep 2016
3:46pm

As far as I understand, most countries with written constitutions require a higher majority for a constitutional change than for other changes - both in referenda and indeed in Parliaqmentary votes.  It's difficult to do this without a clear definition of what the constitution is, but it's pretty obvious that leaving the EU would amount to a significant constitutional change and should have required a higher majority. 

4caster 1 Sep 2016
8:54pm

I would agree that a two thirds majority should be necessary to change the Constitution, except for two things.
Firstly, we were offered no referendum when we joined the EU, and I doubt that Heath's government would have mustered a two thirds majority for joining the Common Market as it then was. Three years later we were given a referendum, with a clear majority for remaining, but not two thirds.
Secondly, the EU has changed enormously since we joined the Common Market, and we have never been offered a referendum on any of those changes.
So a vote on a simple majority is what was needed this year.
Look how the EU has treated Greece and Spain: bankrupted them.
Look how it is now treating the Republic of Ireland: dictating their taxation policy on Apple's subsidiary and backdating their demands for 11 years. Taxation is definitely the responsiblity of member states.
The EU(SSR) has become an undemocratic monolithic superstate, and it should not take a two thirds majority to release us from it.

chrisso50 1 Oct 2016
12:34pm

"Three years later [in 1975] we were given a referendum, with a clear majority for remaining, but not two thirds."
Well it was 2 years later (as we joined the EEC in 1973) and in 1975 more than two-thirds of those voting supported Remain. It was 17,378,581 (67.2%) that voted Remain.  That's just 30,000 less than the number that 40 years later voted to Leave (17,410,742 and 51.9%). That is the point: there should be a two-thirds majority in order to change the status quo on a constitutional issue.

Jenni Connaughton 1 Sep 2016
10:17pm

A brief comment - completely agree.  Ridiculous to have such a major constitutional change on a 4% difference, much of it based on campaign lies.

John B 2 Sep 2016
10:52am

A win is a win! As for campaign lies look at Remains's economic meltdown, higer unemployment, migrants ling her sent back and families would be worse off by £4200 a year!

John Hutchinson 2 Sep 2016
1:32pm

Truth can be tinged with emotion and interpretation, and one way to get round this is to focus the debate on evidence of the facts. It was upsetting to see in the referendum both the miss-representation and miss-interpretation of the evidence , but it was really sad to hear some parties saying that the experts who invest the time in studying and interpreting the evidence were of no value.
This can be addressed by the proposed review bodies .

John B 7 Sep 2016
12:57pm

In other words, your side lost and you can't accept it. Be honest

Span Ows 26 Sep 2016
9:39pm

It was a binary referendum: 50% + 1 vote wins.

Gerald Wiener 1 Sep 2016
4:07pm

I totally agree that for major issues, tantamount to constitutional change, referenda require a set minimum turnout (e.g. 80%) and a 60/40 differential in the vote to take effect.

Nigel 2 Sep 2016
9:21am

The Conservatives are ruling the country in 20 odd%
England and Wales voted almost 60/40
( but Mayor of London has hoisted the EU Flag SINCE the vote in defence of Democracy)

John B 2 Sep 2016
10:55am

But would you say that if Remain won with 52%? As for Constitutional change we do not have a written change, so why this two-thirds or implausible 80% turnout. Be honest, you disprect the result!

Sue Dumpleton 1 Sep 2016
4:49pm

Yes I agree there should be aminimum percentage required, and it should be a percentage of the whole electorate - not just those who actually vote.

Peter B 2 Sep 2016
2:21pm

Interesting proposition; setting criteria and hurdles to passing a vote.  This was the proposal in the proposals to reform votes to go out on strike.  That was decried as undemocratic. 
Clearly, if a referendum is about something you want to block then adding hurdles is a good idea.  But the quid pro quo is that referendums which you support are destined to fail.  As you may be aware there is legislation on the books for us to have referendums on EU treaty changes, I'd speculate that having the hurdles suggested would likely bring the EU to stagnations.  Now whether that's a good thing or not is another matter but it's the logical consequence of the proposition.  The can't be bothered's count as supporting the status quo by default.
One other thought, the electoral register list new voters from the day they are entitled to vote, but does not exclude dead voters who can't vote so the total electorate will be smaller than officially recorded.

Gervase Markham 2 Sep 2016
8:58pm

That doesn't work, because the "status quo" side can win by default by just getting all their supporters not to vote so quorum is not met. That happens in some countries with this system.
Gerv

John B 7 Sep 2016
12:55pm

So to change the voting system you'd ahve this too?

Jim May 1 Sep 2016
10:45am

Excellent report - may I suggest there should be an official body to oversee and intervene when whenever misleading claims are made in every future national election as well!
 

Connor 1 Sep 2016
3:32pm

In principal it would be excellent for an independent body to validate or over-rule claims made by each side.   The problem is that any 'official' regulator is likely to be biased.   During the referendum campaign, the government used dodgy data based on flawed assumptions (eg that we won't be able to trade with 550million people if we leave the EU, even though 65million of those people are the UK citizens, and that we can trade with the EU just as any other country (like China) can).   The BBC is supposed to be impartial, and it always claims to be impartial, even though analysis has shown that it is not impartial.  So the question is, how do we ensure that any overseeing body genuinely is impartial?   Because if it lacks impartiality, it will sway voters and could damage the quality of the referendum.
We need something like a court where each side can challenge anything put forward by the other side, with an arbiter (judge) between them.
 
 

Peter B 2 Sep 2016
2:05pm

I agree, there's no such thing as an impartial view.  It's up to either side to hold the other to account; not  a referee.

D Lamb 1 Sep 2016
8:35pm

Absolutely right, Jim May. I tried to complain about the misleading information posted through my door only to find that there is no oversight whatsovever on election materials. Let's campaign to get this changed and prevent far-reaching decisions being made on the basis of inaccurate or even false information. 

Brian Clegg 1 Sep 2016
10:55am

I have no problem with most of these suggestions, but why not apply some of these restrictions to general elections and party manifestos and party political broadcasts? For example, why shouldn't an official body also be given the task of intervening when misleading claims are made in manifestos, PPBs and statements by politicians? It happens all the time, and surely is just as important as in referendum campaigns?

Tom Beaton 1 Sep 2016
3:52pm

While I see your point about other elections there is a unique problem with referendums in that there is no one standing for election - it is a disembodies proposition - so no one, during the campaign, feels they will have continuing responsibility for it after the campaign is over.  The referendum outcome holds no party, campaign group or individual responsible.

Patrice 1 Sep 2016
11:01am

I do not have the space, the time or the will any more to vent my views on the EU Referendum ... save to say that basically 52 people out a 100 told 48 people that from now on their EU rights will no longer be (including of course the 52 who voted out - turkeys voting for Christmas?). And it is dressed up as democracy.

All of the EU referendum nonsense and drivel aside, the ERS shoudl focus its attention on the flawed UK voting system - which is by and large a two party system with no representation from minority groups (of whichever political persusasion). It means that nutters can spread their poison (whch then makes its way into mainstream political narrative) and then walk away - shameful. Forty odd years of some progress down the drain. And for whose benefit?

My final parting shot if I may. I have engaged with British Future, letting them know, in particular the Chair of the newly set up Enquiry - Gisela Stuart, former Chair of Vote Leave (looking into protecting EU nationals' rights in the UK following the outcome of the referndum) what i think is a massive democratic flaw in the UK - after 40 years in the UK I could not vote ... but my British wife and my 4 British children could! Scandalous and utterly crass.

Jacq 1 Sep 2016
12:38pm

Your're just a bad loser, Patrice, and a badly informed one too. The referendum established the decision whether we should or should not be in the EU. It was not a vote on rights, which will be agreed as part of Brexit negotiations.
Try reading up international legal precedent on acquired rights. A Commons Library document drew attention to a substantial level of rights acquired by both Brits and EU27 nationals. In practice, I can see those rights being confirmed by the Brexit treaty, although there will be common sense clauses to remove them in cases of criminality or inability to support oneself financially.

Konrad Machej 1 Sep 2016
3:16pm

Patrice is right.  EU rights depend on agreements made under treaty, and we are ewalking away from the treaties we have signed.  We will lose those rights, and if anyone thinks that the remaining EU members are going to protect British interests after this fiasco, then I would like to see the evidence that our EU partners have any sympathy for us following our our self-inflicted wounding.

Symon 1 Sep 2016
3:41pm

Jacq,
A vote to leave was a vote for something unknown. I had never thought of a leave vote as a vote for anything in particular but if it was not a vote on rights why will they now subject to negociation? If we had voted stay in the EU our rights would have remained the same. Perhaps this is something else we should have been told before the referendum!

John Tod 1 Sep 2016
4:15pm

As a retired British public servant living in Brussels, I share the frustration of other UK citizens who like me have had their EU citizenship rights and benefits taken away in a referendum in which they had no right to vote. I think it was also undemocratic to withold the vote from the 3 million EU citizens living and working in the UK, while allowing the vote for those from the Commonwealth, Ireland and Gibraltar. In a federal country like Australia , any vote in a referendum requires approval by all the states of Australia. Why did no one insist that the Remain or Leave vote, to be effective, would need a majority in each of the 4 nations of the UK, ie England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? The United Kingdom is not a unitary state.In addition, EU membership is wriiten into the Scotland Act and the Good Friday Agreement: are tgese to be ignored by HMG? 
 
I agree with the ERS that the franchise should have been extended to those over the age of 16, as with Scottish Independance Referendum.However I am amazed by your comment that only mavericks like Boris Johnson and Nigel Farrage were able to persuade voters towards the Leave option when they were responsible for the biggest lies and untruths of the campaign. Also you are disingenuous in implying that the Remain and Leave campaigns were equally culpable for lying to the public. The Stronger In campaign used Treasury forecasts and data from the zBank of England. The threadbare nature ofvthe Leave Camoaign was revealed after they had won the Referendum and were unable to say what should happen next. As a result of their pandering to the basest indtincts of people worried about immigration, we are now experiencing what Will Hutyon in the Guardian called the 'worst outbreak of rwvism and xenophobia' in his lifetime. 

John Tod 1 Sep 2016
12:16pm

As a retired UK public servant living in Brussels, I agree that UK citizens living in other EU countries should have had the right to vote in the EU Referendum, especially as it has led to them potentially losing their current rights as EU citizens. Equally it was undemocratic to deny a vote to 3 million EU citizens in the UK whose rights in Britain are now in jeopardy, while still allowing Commonwealth citizens in the UK to vote. In a federal country like Australia, there is a requiement that all states of the country have to approve any Referendum vote. Why was this not included in the UK's EU Referendum, so that a Remain or Leave vote would have had to be approved by the electorate in England, Scotlandl, Northern Ireland and Wales, the four constituent nations of the United Kingdom? The UK is not a unitary state !

Anonymous 1 Sep 2016
1:18pm

Ony 2 changes needed.....results of referenda shou;d be carried out within a set time of the referendum (say 3 months), and there will be no repeat referendum on the same issue for at least 10 years.

Pat Hart 1 Sep 2016
2:52pm

I would agree with your 10 year rule providing the referenda were run truly democratically, which the last one wasn't. As for the three-month suggestion, this would be impossible to carry out in most cases. 
 

Quentin 1 Sep 2016
4:51pm

The UK is not a unitary state !

We are one union, one United Kingdom.

Jonathan 1 Sep 2016
2:31pm

Interesting paper but you don't include international experience. If you did you would see that many countries include both a minimum turnout requirment and a threshold eg 60%.

See Rogoff "Britain's Democratic Failure"

Tim Williamson 1 Sep 2016
2:46pm

Two sides slugging it out forces them into extreme behaviour (in-group / out-group) which leads to  populism and racism. And it doesn't get us anywhere. The Scottish referendum wasnt very pretty and the US presidential debate is ghastly. So too is our UK Parliament with the "Government" on one side and "The Opposition" on the other.  MPs lining up on one or the other - and then bawling at each other.  PMQs usaually nothing more than slagging each other off.  All this egged on by a sensation-seeking media.
Time to grow up and start understanding what democracy actually is, why we need it - and how people behave when forced into 2 sides. Learning about In-group /out-group behaviour is essential for us all.

Alan 1 Sep 2016
2:56pm

It appears that those UK citizens that live in the EU and vice versa want to have a say in how we that live here permanently should be ruled. It has nothing to do with them. They can of course apply for citizenship of the host country and then they can vote any way they see fit. Alternatively the can come home and suffer like the rest of us.
As for votes at 16, what a complete and utter load of rubbish. This is only being driven by the liberal left as a means of allowing, in the main, impressionable, politically uneducated, children to help bolster their New World Order agenda.
I am glad that we are leaving the corrupt and unaccountable EU and that I can now vote for a party that can be held to account and removed by means of the democratic ballot box
 

Peter 1 Sep 2016
10:17pm

I agree Alan and add that the voters who want out of that corrupt,undemocratic, wasteful and wholly unaccountable mess of a bureaucracy gone wrong, will I am sure be thanked by the ones who just failed to read and absorb the last forty years of wasted investment and various efforts to change which failed. All of which has been reported time and time again.
As for the politicians here they are in my view a collection of gutless, self serving individuals who are so arrogant in their arguments that we voted out because of them; which I find an insult to all who voted out, implying that we were unable in the main to understand what has gone wrong over 40 years and that we want no more of it.
For my part I cannot wait for more commonsense to prevail and result in an English parliament; with all the other members of the failing UK to form their own to.
Perhaps, we could hope for a truely radical change and form an "Anglo Celtic Alliance" (to include Eire, who really are fed up with the EU, also), all wholly democratic individual nation states...even an upper fully elected house, as a final end to the Lords and all the long lasting troubles between our various nations. Then watch out Europe, we could then show Brussels a thing or two on nation state administration, free from corruption and mismanagement.  

Stephen Riley 2 Sep 2016
10:53pm

I live in constituency with 20000 .majority. No chance of kicking them out!
Get real. PR preferably STV is needed.

Steve 1 Sep 2016
3:01pm

I suspect that getting a "minimum data set" would be extremely difficult.  You could write a 10 page essay on "Is the EU democratic" - it likes to think it is but is it?  Do you include such decisions on light bulbs having to be changed or lower powered vacuum cleaners being imposed?  Do you include as facts proposals such as a European Army?  Did the Working Time Directive actually make any difference (we had paid holidays before that regulation was imposed)?  Do you list all the regulations imposed without being passed by parliament - but no one could agree on how much of our laws were imposed, it depends on your definition of laws. The remainers and leavers both gave out many opinions but facts? Were there any?
 

Konrad Machej 1 Sep 2016
3:10pm

The main lesson from referenda is that they are a bad form of ;lolitical activity.  People vote for (or against) personalities, or for meaningless slogans ("We wanbt our country back"), and not on the issues.  People rejected AV because it was proposed by the Liberal Democrats, and people wanted to punish them over tuition fees, even though electoral reform would have helped stop electing Governments by minority votes.  The New Zealand referendum, on the flag, had a negative response because people did not wish to support their Prime Minister.  We don't need guidelines about how to run referenda.  We need to discourage them.  At least, if there are to be referenda, major constitutional reform should require a two-thirds majority.  Another approach would be to require at least two, over two successive Parliaments.  The EU referendum should be set aside, for the reasons you have so cogently presented.  That's what we need to campaign for.
The main lesson from referenda is that they are a bad form of ;lolitical activity.  People vote for (or against) personalities, or for meaningless slogans ("We wanbt our country back"), and not on the issues.  People rejected AV because it was proposed by the Liberal Democrats, and people wanted to punish them over tuition fees, even though electoral reform would have helped stop electing Governments by minority votes.  The New Zealand referendum, on the flag, had a negative response because people did not wish to support their Prime Minister.  We don't need guidelines about how to run referenda.  We need to discourage them.  At least, if there are to be referenda, major constitutional reform should require a two-thirds majority.  Another approach would be to require at least two, over two successive Parliaments.  The EU referendum should be set aside, for the reasons you have so cogently presented.  That's what we need to campaign for.

Pat Hart 1 Sep 2016
3:16pm

I agree with almost all of this, but I'm not sure about a 'definitive rule book' unless it is open to alterations and suggestions as time goes by. I also would like to see a minimum majority vote of 70 to 75% and, if possible, a compulsory obligation to vote with a fine for non-compliance.
 

Roger Saxon 1 Sep 2016
3:23pm

Any review of referendum law needs to address:
1. Real-time monitoring of camaign spend. Its no use finding out after the result that one side or both have overspent or used funds improperly.
2. Whether a 50% rule is appropriate for far-reaching decisions. Alternatively, whether we should require 100% turnout, with the option to mark your vote as 'don't care'.
3. Careful design of the classic 'debate' format, where proponents can get away with misleading statements and lies, without challenge from the host. The BBC had a very good facts checker website and this could be fed in real time to a host or co-host to allow challenge. Also examination of the 'fairness' principle, particularly in vox-pop street interviews where the interviewer/ editor has to make it look like  a 50-50 opinion.
4. Nothing to do with referendums, but true proportional representation might wean people away from seeing everything as a black or white issue.
 

Add new comment

118 Comments