Thursday, December 17, 2015

History of the symbols of state, and of referendums on them

In about fifty years, New Zealand may have exhibitions of all the funny flag designs they were debating in 2015.

Meanwhile this is the candidate to replace the Blue Ensign variant of Britain's Union Jack that New Zealand currently uses.  I'm not sure the black, blue and silver fern will challenge the Maple Leaf for best flag design, but it's distinctively New Zealand.  A binding referendum will be held in March 2016,

Speaking of symbols of state, Barbados has plans to abolish the monarchy, Jamaica is considering, and the newish Prime Minister of Australia, though a conservative, is a former head of the Australian Republican movement.

Speaking of referendums, it is notable that Canadian advocates of proportional representation insisted for a couple of decades that the question must be settled by referendum, at least partly because 1) they expected to win, and 2) they feared no incumbent government would support PR.  Now the referendum record has disillusioned them on #1 and there is a government that might support PR. Suddenly PR advocates insist that no referendum is necessary.

Meanwhile, many opponents of PR opposed putting the question to referendum, at least partly because (1) they feared losing, and (2) they trusted that incumbent governments would resist the change.

Now it's the PR sceptics who are insisting on the referendum that the advocates have abandoned. On both sides, principles seem to shift according to the odds.

I can see how changing the nature of the voting system is one of the limited number of topics that may have a special claim to be put directly to the voters.  But I've never been keen on putting big questions to referendum. I'm a parliamentary government guy, I don't like the divisive Yes/No situations a referendum sets up, or how the answers are often skewed by who gets to phrase the question.

It's increasingly clear that there are many strong arguments against electoral reform, and quite a few in favour. It should be an interesting discussion. It might even strengthen our parliamentary institutions if parliament were left to decide. Needing a referendum would be a symptom of parliamentary failure.

Referendum if necessary, but not necessarily a referendum?

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