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Referendums and liberal democracy

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1 Referendums and liberal democracy
DO NOW What could explain falling voter turnout at UK general elections? List at least three factors and explain their potential impact on voting behaviour.

2 Three persistent criticisms of UK democracy
Limits to the representative nature of the electoral system The persistence of undemocratic institutions Low levels of political education and participation

3 Homework The Cabinet Manual (2011) provides a succinct and precise overview of the institutions of government and their operations. Download a copy and read it on chapter at a time.

4 Homework – research task
In groups, research a major UK political party. You will need to produce a summary of the party’s: Core ideology and flagship policies Traditional sources of support Record in office (1992-present) Party leadership (1992-present)

5 Homework – research groups
The Conservative Party Loretta Hanah Ellis Humza The Labour Party Abigail Dale Abdi Clinton The Liberal Democratic Party Tolu Shaquille Tanique Allan UKIP and the Green Party Loshell Troy Tyreek Daniel DRAFT presentations are due on THURSDAY. I will provide feedback and we will begin delivering presentations on Friday.

6 Learning objectives To explain what role referendums can play in liberal democracy To evaluate the case for and against the greater use of referendums in the UK

7 Referendums vs. elections
Why vote? To decide a specific policy or constitutional issue, e.g. Scottish Independence, EU membership To elect a representative, e.g. MP, or public executive, e.g. Mayor, Police & Crime Commissioner Who votes? Registered voters in the affected area Registered voters in a specific constituency When do they vote? Occasionally To a fixed timetable Voting system Simple majority Various – plurality, majority, proportional, hybrid, etc. Must politics take note? Not necessarily, but usually yes Yes

8 Referendums are common
La Costituzione Italiana si include tre tipi di referendum: Abrogativo Consultivo Confermativo Ci sono stato settante referendums nel’ultima cinquant’ anni.

9 UK referendums, 2014 – Scottish Independence

10 Arguments in favour They are a very real form of direct democracy
They increase  political participation They can be a check on "elective dictatorships" during a government's five year span. They provide a clear answer to a question the government might be 'asking'. They build public approval and support for a specific policy They can unite a divided party. Referenda can provide a clear mandate for controversial policies. Referenda legitimise important constitutional issues such as devolution.

11 Arguments against Referendums are inconsistent with the belief in parliamentary sovereignty. Issues might be too complex for a simple ‘yes’/’no’ vote or for the public to understand. The regular use of referendums could lead to voter apathy. Low turnout can distort results, e.g. Only 34% of those eligible to vote for the office of London mayor actually did vote. 72% of these voted 'yes‘ (i.e. 24.5% of the electorate). The results of a referendum might not be decisive. For Welsh devolution there was a 51/49 split. Funding differences can affect results as government money can pour into a referendum and the group on the other side may well be not so well financed. Referendums might result in "the tyranny of the majority". What about the wishes of the minority ? How are these safeguarded ?

12 Key questions ‘The UK would benefit greatly from the wider use of referendums.’ Discuss. ‘The wider use of referendums would pose a threat to the form of representative democracy traditionally practised in the UK.’ Discuss. ‘The use of referendums in the UK since 1997 has done little to strengthen democracy.’ Discuss. (25 marks) Read pp-64-69

13 Scottish Independence referendum (2014)
‘The use of referendums in the UK since 1997 has done little to strengthen democracy.’ Discuss. Scottish Independence referendum (2014) Referendum on electoral reform (2011) Referendum on London devolution (1997) / mayors for major cities (2012) Scottish and Welsh devolution (1998)

14 ‘The use of referendums in the UK since 1997 has done little to strengthen democracy.’ Discuss.
The Scottish Independence Referendum (2014) strengthened democracy in the sense that it gave Scottish electors a direct say in the future of their country. The fact that turnout was a record for a major UK referendum (85%) is an indication of high levels of voter engagement. The intensity of political debate also strengthened the sense of a distinct political culture in Scotland. It is true that many Scottish voters quickly grew disillusioned with the outcome of the referendum; however, this was less a failing of the referendum process or a reflection of the margin by which Scottish Independence was decided. The sour taste left in Scottish voters’ mouths was a result of subsequent bad faith at Westminster. Politicians of all three major parties clearly won over Scottish voters with promises of ‘Devo Max. But Cameron’s pledge, on the morning of the referendum’s result, to reform the entire UK voting system, has delayed further devolution. Therefore the use of the referendum to decide Scotland’s future has arguably strengthened democracy in the UK, but this gain is at risk so long as the promise of devolution remains unfulfilled.

15 ‘The use of referendums in the UK since 1997 has done little to strengthen democracy.’ Discuss.
In conclusion, the use of referendums in the UK since 1997 has strengthened democracy in the UK. Individual referendums have always beenbeen imperfect, and often messy and the gains perhaps modest in practice. But they have been far-reaching. In particular, it now seems a matter of political consensus that major constitutional questions can only be settled by a direct appeal to the population.

16 Key questions ‘While referendums are useful for resolving constitutional issues, they are an unsatisfactory means of deciding social issues.’ Discuss.

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