The Positives of Having a Referendum – By Samuel Hughes
A referendum is a general vote by the electorate on a single political question which has been referred to them for a direct decision. Recent referendums in the UK decided that Scotland would remain part of the United Kingdom, the UK would leave the EU and the UK would keep its current voting system, therefore rejecting Alternative Voting.
One positive aspect of a referendum is direct democracy. In a referendum the public’s view is clearly articulated and not distorted by those who represent them. For example, in 2016 only 160 members of parliament voted to leave the EU whilst 486 members of parliament voted to remain. However, 406 constituencies voted to leave with only 242 voting to remain. This shows that the majority MPs did not vote the same way as the people they represent voted, highlighting why direct democracy through a referendum was a far more successful than leaving it to the house of commons to decide. In all, a referendum allows the public to represent themselves through direct democracy.
Another positive that comes from a referendum is political education. Referendums tend create a more politically educated electorate, who may have stronger incentive to think and act politically, especially those who only vote for one party at every election. This was exaggerated for the EU referendum in 2016 when MPs from the same party were split, for example Prime Minister David Cameron was remain, however Boris Johnson, also a Conservative, was one of the lead campaigners for Leave. This political education that came from a referendum may be the answer to the increased turnout from the 2015 election (66.2%) to the 2016 EU referendum (72.2%). In all, a referendum encourages political education and increased interest in political matters, especially for one party voters.
Furthermore, referendums encourage a more responsive government. In comparison to General Elections, referendums show a clearer public opinion on matters as it is them speaking and not their representatives. Therefore, a government is much more likely to act on referendum results to satisfy the electorate in an attempt to secure another term in office. This may have been a contributor to Conservative success in the 2019 General Election as they said they were going to honour the 2016 referendum results and do what the people voted for, in contrast to the Liberal Democrats who would keep the country in the EU or Labour who would have another referendum. By being responsive to the peoples wishes, the Conservative party achieved another term, therefore showing the incentive for a party to respond to referendum results. In all, a referendum forces a responsive government as they have added incentive to deliver what the people want.
To conclude, by having a referendum, there is a large increase in direct democracy and therefore a clearer view on the public’s view without being distorted by their representatives in parliament. Furthermore, there is an increase in political education and a more responsive government wanting to honour public opinion.