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Sunday, March 03, 2013

Constitutional Amendments 17 - Binding Referendum On Any Issue

UKIP's 2010 manifesto offered

· Introduce ‘Direct Democracy’ whereby 5% of the national or local electorate can demand a binding referendum on any issue. At national level, people will have to sign up for the referendum within six months, at local level, within three months

 This is pretty much what happens in Switzerland and california among other places.

   It appears to be an overwhelmingly popular issue, indeed I see nobody anywhere, from any party, broadcaster or paper willing to say why they disagree with it. It is also one of the issues which disprove the assertion that UKIP is in any meaningful way simply a "right wing" party.

   In the traditional way of politics the only thing to do with an issue where you are clearly in the wrong is to ignore it - something that works fairly well when the state control the media, but by definition cannot where they don't.

    Clearly if our opponents don't want to discuss it we should.

     However as somebody who puts liberty even ahead of democracy I would like to suggest a slight refinement. Democracy is desirable partly because, usually, people as a whole, value their freedom. However there are circumstances where it is possible to get a majority to say that it is all the fault of some minority (Jews, bankers, socialists, Serbs, Moslems, Christians, the rich, single mothers, youngsters) and to vote for government to have more power in a way that will affect that group particularly.

     For that reason I would suggest that any referendum for some change which will increase state power and which will affect a minority in a strongly disproportionate way, should require not merely a majority of votes cast but a majority of the electorate.

    In an age where government seizes ever more powers but governing parties represent an ever smaller proportion of voters (Tony Blair was elected by barely over 20% of the registered electors and the Pseudo-Liberals won Eastleigh with 17% of the registered vote) it is hardly "democracy" when a democratically elected government legislate. The vast majority of people in Britain clearly have no interest in most parties but if you want government not to take an interest in you, you have to vote for somebody.

 It does not matter if you take an interest in politics, politics will take an interest in you. -Pericles.

     This is a minor refinement which would slightly restrain the ability of politics to take an interest in ordinary people's doings without forcing them to be politically active for purely defensive purposes. Once that is done there is less incentive for them to continue that interest by seeking to do down some minority they are not part of, thuis making everybody more liberal minded

    I would be prepared to lower that to 45% bearing in mind that electoral registers are always out of date and probably 10% wrong.

    The 1979 Scottish Devolution referendum had a 40% rule of this sort and though 51.6% voted for it failed on that basis. Probably correctly because it was to use a first past the post system which would have produced a Scottish Parliament even more incompetent, inbred and corrupt than the current lot. In any case if such a popular referendum system had been in place a better devolution proposal would have quickly been offered and voted through.

    Such a restriction on the popular opinion of the moment would apply producing the smoking ban (which affects smokers) but not its removal; to increasing supertax, but not to increasing income tax generally (since that affects the majority), to any proposal to make burning of witches lawful (since it disproportionately affects witches) but not to increasing the electricity levy to support "renewables" (since everybody uses electricity).

   This is a much more moderate version of a suggestion by Heinlein - "If a bill is so poor that it cannot command 2/3rds of your consents is it not likely to make a poor law? And if a law is disliked by as many as 1/3rd is it not likely that you would be better off without it?" - since in fact it still requires a 50%+1 majority to repeal restrictive legislation imposed by Parliament, it merely makes it more difficult for popular initiatives to roll back liberty.

  "What I fear most are affirmative actions of sober and well-intentioned men, granting to government power to do something that appears to need doing."  Heinlein again from the same speech.


   Most constitutions leave it up to a named person, often the Speaker, to determine whether a Bill fits a particular classification (eg whether it is a finance Bill) and they could easily rule on whether a proposal enhances state power over a minority as well.

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