May 2017

We should "do" referendum better! Other countries are ahead of us.

We should "do" referendum better!

After the damp squib of the Alternative Vote referendum (2011) and the misleading or dishonest campaigns prior to the "brexit" ballot (June 2016) it must be very clear to most people that our way of conducting democracy should be brought up to scratch.

Examples of good democratic practice in other places may help to stimulate reforms in the UK, our countries and smaller political units. Here is a very recent case.

An Optional Veto Referendum, also known as the Facultative Referendum

Parliament passed an Energy Law to put into effect a newly developed "Energy Strategy 2050". This aims to reduce energy use, to improve efficiency and to publicly support regenerative ("clean") energy such as hydropower, solar, wind, geothermic and biomass (fuel derived from organic materials). Nuclear power is to be phased out. Existing stations will be closed as they reach the end of their "lifespan", no new nuclear power stations or replacements will be built.

Opponents of this law included powerful lobbies of the fossil fuel (coal, oil, gas) and nuclear industries. Some citizens feared that domestic energy prices would rise and were unconvinced by the "pro" arguments e.g. that more alternative energy would bring the country cleaner air, more prosperity and employment.

The democratic system allows that a law in parliament "on demand" by many voters may be put to the people in a referendum ballot, this is the "Optional Veto Referendum". Soon after a new parliamentary law has been announced then a small group of citizens may register their intention to collect endorsements for a proposal to put the law before the whole electorate in a referendum-ballot. In order to succeed,  within three months they must collect fifty thousand endorsements, which must be validated by an office similar to our Electoral Commission.

In this case of the Energy Law the hurdle of 50,000 endorsements was easily cleared and the campaigns "for" and "against" could begin. A date for the country-wide referendum was announced.

Public information and debate about the Energy Law were extensive. By law there must be official information presenting content of the disputed law and summarising the arguments for and against. This is available both on paper as a "little book" and on-line. Printed press and electronic mass media covered in detail. Numerous web sites, some for, some against, some neutral, provided additional detail and views.

In short, the level of public debate and (in the main) the arguments published looked more serious and honest than, say, in the case of brexit.

Referendum result: Over 58 percent of voters were in favour of the new Energy Law and so the veto proposal was firmly rejected. In a government press conference the result was warmly welcomed and some detail of plans to enact the law was revealed.

Campaign for direct democracy in Britain
Citizens' Initiative and Referendum I&R ~ GB Link to site index
Voters' Guide for Election 2017