Monday, December 05, 2016

History of referendums

Rules of grand strategy for democracies:

  • Don't get involved in a land war in Asia
  • Don't march on Moscow
  • Don't hold a referendum on anything
Paul Wells makes the case particularly on electoral reform in Canada, but it applies pretty much everywhere.  

Referendums are polarizing by their nature. They put people on opposite sides of some question they never even thought they cared about. They offer no incentive to compromise or to make reasoned arguments. Each side’s pride gets bound up in the outcome, then its very self-definition. National referendums in Canada are deeply emotional and divisive events.

Then there are the details, technical on their face, more hell when you think about them. Would a referendum be held under the same set of rules and the same federal law, from coast to coast?....
John Ralston Saul enlarges on the thought:
 A referendum is little more than a "rumour of choice." The idea behind the mechanism, ever since its first modern manifestations two centuries ago under Napoleon, has been to replace democracy with the sensation of democracy. That is: to replace the slow, complex, eternally unclear continuity of democracy, and all the awkwardness of citizen participation, with something clear and fast which allows those in power to impose their agenda. Through an apparently simple question with a one-syllable answer, those who ask can get a blank cheque from the citizenry; that is, if they choose their moment well and come up with a winning question." - Reflections of a Siamese Twin
Clearly referendums don't always work for those in power, but even if they lose, the results of the  whole process are equally bad.
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