Today, we can build a better referendum debate

Katie Ghose, former Chief Executive

Posted on the 25th May 2016

Let’s be frank: the EU debate so far has been fairly dire.

Dominated by personality politics, party spats and contradictory statistics, it has failed to inspire – or properly inform – the public. But it doesn’t have to be like this.

So we decided to do something about it.

Today we’re proud to launch a new online toolkit to create a more informed EU referendum debate.

A Better Referendum’ is our free online resource on the EU referendum with contributions from senior figures in both official campaigns, and from leading EU experts from across the UK.

We’ve worked with three major universities – Sheffield, Southampton and Westminster [1] – to create a first-of-its-kind primer on the referendum and the real issues that affect people.

In your own meetups, you pick the issues you want to discuss with the time you have available, and we take you through the facts with the academics, and then the arguments of both campaigns, with time for discussion and debate (and tea).

What we’re showing through the toolkit is that we don’t have to settle for a second-rate referendum debate: we can have a vibrant and lively national conversation, looking at the real issues: from health and education to the economy and immigration.

This isn’t a pipe dream – the Scottish referendum showed that these ballots don’t have to be boring: we can turn them into festivals of democracy. They can be genuinely engaging national conversations that bring in every community.

We’ve already found that A Better Referendum works – on Monday we trialled it in Sheffield at a public event involving around 30 local people. And it was a huge success – 26 of the 31 citizens there said they felt more informed by the end of the event, and the response from feedback was beaming.

Those who went to our launch used the site, watched the videos, and heard in-person contributions from campaigners, while having deep conversations about the EU in groups. It was grassroots democratic engagement in action – not the Westminster parlour games that we’ve seen up to now.

Now it’s your turn to help build a better referendum. Check out the site and use our toolkit. Organise a referendum ‘meetup’. And share this blog – and the Better Referendum site – with your family, colleagues and friends.

Let’s get past the personality politics and dull discourse of the EU referendum debate so far to take the real debate into every home, workplace and public space in the UK.

[1] Better Referendum is being launched by Democracy Matters, a collaboration between the Electoral Reform Society, the Crick Centre for the Understanding of Politics (University of Sheffield), Centre of the Study of Democracy (University of Westminster), and the Centre for Citizenship, Globalisation and Governance (University of Southampton). 

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