Plebiscites are the problem

I know one of our cherished colleagues currently resting in NW America would have us use referenda to run the country – like a township in God’s own country. Democracy at its purest.

Unfortunately last year’s vote on Britain’s EU membership has caused psephologists (and normal folk too) to question their real value. I mean, why not have another go if you don’t like result of the first? One particular guru who was one of our Dave’s teachers has written about it:

His justification is that the voters may have seen the error of their ways! Yeah, right! (Which being translated is ‘now agree with him’.) In fact that’s precisely the problem with the whole idea of asking people to vote on issues. They will change their minds and change them back again (etc. ad nauseam) – which ain’t no way to run a railroad. That’s why we have a Parliament, to even out the bumps in the road to decision-making. Or to try another analogy: videos provide more evidence than snapshots.

I’m afraid I can hardly credit the principle that if you don’t like an answer, you can always ask the question again!

Author: janus

I'm back......and front - in sunny Sussex-by-the-sea

30 thoughts on “Plebiscites are the problem”

  1. Maybe referendums should be held on an extended basis via mobile phone app. You register and then have to vote every day for say a month. The technology then plots out the result to arrive at a result.
    That should even out a few bumps. It would also provide a great deal of interest as the graph develops.

  2. Plebiscites in the United States are reserved for local and state matters.There has never been a national plebiscite. It’s not unheard of for state politicians and/or pressure groups to put the same proposal to voters at election after election until they either get the “right” answer or voters are so sick of seeing the same proposition on a ballot that they vote against it overwhelmingly. The British would, at this point, vote to leave the EU overwhelmingly as that was the decision. This is also why the UK’s political establishment was so reluctant to put EU treaties to a vote. The Irish could be bludgeoned into submission, the Dutch could be ignored and the Danes could be placates — but the British are too big and too bloody minded.

  3. We would not need referendums if the pollies did what they were supposed to do and represent the needs and wishes of hoi polloi rather than what the pollies think they should want or need. We would never have escaped from the EU without the latest referendum and Wavey Davey only called that because he though he could win.

    Actually government by referendum would not be so bad as it would mean a severe limitation on the amount of legislation generated and that legislation would be much simpler to understand and enforce.

  4. FEEG, the jury is still out on whether we will escape!

    I’m afraid the public would soon get bored with constant voting and turnouts would plummet to unrepresentative levels.

  5. Janus: One reason why plebiscites are viable in the US is that there are fixed elections every two years. It takes at least 12-18 months to prepare an issue for election. That is, finding legal experts to write the text, putting it to review, filing the proper paperwork, gathering signatures, etc. In Australia there are very few because people tend to vote “no” on everything making failure a very costly issue.

    If you mean escaping the EU, that’s a given. The hope was that a Canada + agreement could be reached. It seems as if now a Switzerland + agreement is the most likely outcome. No government could hope to survive a complete back-pedal. The UK would have absolutely no credibility left, either in Brussels or globally as far too many countries have invested time in starting informal trade talks with the British.

  6. Never ever let it be forgotten (particularly by Remoaners and Grauniad journos) that in 1997 Bliar and New Liebour imposed devolution on the Welsh people having gained an overwhelming majority in favour of 0.6% in the referendum.


  7. FEEG – I couldn’t agree more – if the wretched pollies did what they were put in Parliament to do – represent their electorates – there would be no need for referenda. I get particularly angry about that here where, on the public entrance into the lower house, there is a big, shiny, brass plate that says “House of Representatives”… but we all know that the members read that as representing their own interests…

    Referenda / ums are part of the Ozzie Constitution – which cannot be changed without the ‘usually ignored’ having their say. Other issues can also be put to a referendum. But, in general, as Christopher says, referendums are rejected. But the ‘pass’ bar is set pretty high – it’s not just a majority of the population – 4 out of the six States must agree (the two Territories the NT and the ACT don’t count) and I think that what is defined as a ‘majority’ is over 60% rather than just over 50%.

    Very few constitutional amendments have been agreed – 8 out of 44 proposals. As far as I can see (not being an Ozzie historian) the only question that got overwhelming support was the 1967 referendum that Aboriginals should be able to vote.

    There is no question here about what is ‘binding’ and what is ‘advisory’. A referendum is ‘binding’; a plebiscite is not, It is compulsory to participate in a referendum – but not in a plebiscite.

    Our present government has got itself into a bit of a tangle – the previous mob of the same persuasion promised that ‘we the people’ should be asked for our views on same-sex marriage. But both Houses have to agree to hold a referendum – and they didn’t – so Turnbull has decided on a non-compulsory voting, non-binding, postal plebiscite costing some many millions of dollars. He has agreed to abide by the result…

    … as far as I’m concerned, it’s an absolute waste of my money since the opposition has promised to legislate for same-sex marriage regardless of what the outcome is.

    Why do Governments bother to ask, if they are not going to be bound by the results?

  8. Boadicea: On five occasions referendums received the majority of the popular vote, but did not secure majorities in enough states so they were not carried. A few referendums passed by large margins, but they were technical changes that had limited impacts on daily life. For example, the dates of Senate elections (1906), state debts (1928) and the retirement of judges (1977). Of course, there was the 1967 vote on Indigenous Australians. The only country with a constitution harder to amend is Canada. Any change must be agreed upon by all ten provinces. As it’s a given that at least two to three provinces will vote “no” just to vote “no”, Ottawa doesn’t even try.

    The problem, I think, is with the Waffling Wanka of Wentworth. He’s a dismal PM. Watching him lead the opposition after Howard’s political demise was truly painful. One would have thought that the Liberals ought to have learnt their lesson… He either bottles it, or he insists on positively throwing himself into every single trap Labour (rot, King O’Malley!) set for him. The Senate were never going to make it easy for him. For those of a more British persuasion, the Australian Senate has less power than its US counterpart, but more than the Canadian or its spiritual ancestor, the Lords. It has the power to block legislation rather than merely amend it. Although it would have been easier to leave it for the next Parliament, there is an argument to be made that any act passed by an LNP-dominated government would be more sympathetic to those with religious and other personal opposition than anything that Rapey Bill’s Labour (rot, King O’Malley!) would promulgate.

  9. FEEG, Perhaps a solution to the “non representation” (I was tempted to call it mis- representation) of their local electorate by an MP once they have been elected, could be relatively simply acheived by varying the system in a manner that could be accomplished without having to get “permission” from the parties . A simple contract of employment could be issued by the local party that would have to be signed by any person who wishes to be considered as a potential candidate for their particular seat. The contract would state (in simplified terms) that the way you vote on the day to day questions in the house is, as now, up to your political party beliefs or your conscience. However, the local electorate retains the right to require you to vote a particular way on any specific topic should they request it. On the first occasion that you fail to comply, you will be issued with a verbal warning. On the second occasion a written warning and on the third you will be dismissed. By signing this document you agree to be legally bound by it’s terms and conditions. Don’t sign it and you don’t get on the list.

  10. There is no absolute solution to the MP representation problem but it would be a step in the right direction if the selection of candidates was entirely down to the constituency party with no interference from central office.
    Secondarily James’s idea of an employment contract is a good one the MP would have to vote as the constituency directs (if they so chose) failure to comply could lead to recall.

  11. Because it can be instigated by the party at a local level without “central” permission to do so is why I think it could actually work Janus. If just they went ahead and started issuing the candidates with contracts it would take a brave or foolish party leader to take on his own party association and not allow any of the candidates to be recognized as”official” especially in the run up to an election . One realizes of course that oblique references of potential inclusion in the honours list and other such inducements might come into play or that some vague potential threats would be employed by the parties in trying to maintain the staus quo but. can you imagine what headlines the rag trade (aka the tabloids) come up with? “Their (not our) party leader is trying to stop your MP representing YOU, vote for us” etc.

    Having said all that, I’m not going to hold my breath. 🙂

  12. Yesterday’s (non-)referendum in Catalonia has raised all the same issues. In particular, is a 42% turnout representative?

    (And maybe another post should ask ‘whose’ police force should ensure law and order in this case?)

  13. Janus: The illegal Catalan fiasco also raises another question. Kurdistan had a similar vote with a high turnout and over 92pc of voters supporting independence. There was little media coverage and little international support. Iraq has blocked flights and is isolating Kurdistan. Where is the news about that? The Catalan government had not authority to call that vote, ignored Spanish and Catalan courts’ orders blocking it as illegal and then wondered why it descended into violent chaos while playing victim. The injuries were unfortunate, but similar casualties are par for the course in mass uprisings — even “peaceful”.

  14. I may be wrong, but I suspect we have seen how the EU reacts and will react when their citizens do not follow ‘the project’. In short, democracy is fine as long as you toe the line. On the other Remainer hand, it may be said that 90% of Catalan voters obviously did not know what they were voting for and therefore the result is void.


  15. On your second point, OZ, isn’t that a universal problem – that a large no. of people don’t understand what they are being asked to do?

  16. The state using force against its own people, whether the vote was lawful or not, is not a position any self respecting elected government should endorse. The newsclips I saw of the paramilitary thugs would result in dismissals and criminal charges if our thin blue line had done the same.
    To then blame the courts rather than take responsibility is even worse and the Central Government should hang their head in shame that they let this situation arise. Let the vote happen – what’s the harm?

    Mrs Cuprum and I have a dear friend who is Catalunian and his views of the rest of Spain is now irrevocably damaged. He would have voted ‘No’, but not now.

    I sincerely hope the violence ends and common sense breaks out soon (on both sides). They’re making Wee Missy Sturgeon seem quite reasonable.
    (Independence for the SE of England now – we’re fed up with paying for the rest of the useless wastelands in the rest of the UK (smiley face thingy))

    CT: The election in Kurdistan received quite considerable coverage from my sofa viewing – they managed it without violence…….so much for the ‘uncivilized’ Muslims…….

  17. Cuprum: Spain is governed by Roman-Napoleonic Law. It is black and white with absolutely no room for interpretation and muddling. Under the Spanish Constitution, which Catalonia approved overwhelmingly, any decision that involves Spain’s territorial integrity must be made by Spain as a whole. All courts in Madrid and Barcelona ruled the same way. The regional government at Barcelona acknowledged that what they were doing was illegal but did it anyway because they’re special and they’re more equal than anyone else in Spain. I didn’t like the violent scenes. But… I remember living in Spain and I remember seeing how Spanish police behave. I once saw the Spanish Guardia Civil smash a man’s head into a police car because he wanted to say something.He was already restrained and wasn’t posing any threat or challenging the police in any way. None of this is actually new or surprising. Those who went to vote violated multiple court orders and willingly engaged in an illegal act. That’s how Europe in general operates. They couldn’t, shouldn’t have expected anything else. I maintain that the Catalan government ought to be arrested and charged with multiple crimes.

  18. Cuprum – I think many people have changed their view of the ‘rest’ of Spain after seeing those reports. Mind you, I had already changed my opinion after Spain’s reaction to Brexit.

    Our 7.30 Report tonight carried a small item from a Pro-Catalan Independence woman – speaking (thankfully!) in very good, clear and concise English. If half of what she said was true, I do not blame the Catalans from holding a referendum… even if it was not legal or binding. Sometimes Governments need to be told how people are thinking. Of course, I know I have only heard one side of the argument – but Bearsy does seems to have a fair understanding of the area. Whatever, no government should use the sort of force that the Spanish Government used against its own citizens.

    As for plebiscites, some of you may have heard that Oz is, at the moment, holding a postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage. The present Government promised that the Australian people would have a say in whether the law on marriage should be changed.

    But, they couldn’t get the requisite Act through Parliament. Dare I suggest that many Pollies weren’t too sure that a referendum would give the result they wanted? I am, as you all know, ever a confirmed sceptic!

    So a ‘Second Best Option’ was taken – a Postal Plebiscite (at the cost of somewhere around $122m) was proposed. This decision, which was taken to the High Court by those who do not want the Australian people to have their say, was eventually deemed to be Constitutional – and is now underway.

    The forms have dropped into our end-of-the-front-garden post boxes – with scant regard of who might eventually receive them… and there is already evidence that they have been ‘lost, stolen, strayed and, even, sold’.

    What a fiasco. The present Liberal Government has said that it will act on the results of this plebiscite. But everyone knows that even if this plebiscite ends up with a “No” vote – the next Labor Government will change the law regardless.

    I will add that there have been some pretty nasty incidents here – and most have come from the ‘Yes’ campaigners – it has not done their cause much good.

  19. I was able to access it and a clearer and more concise explanation of the facts I have yet to hear. Mediterranean police as a whole (and I include the Portuguese ones in that) are well know for their liking of shiny riding boots, Ray Bans, large sidearms and machismo. Señora Castro would get my vote any day.


  20. Boadicea: The problem is, under Spanish law, all Spaniards are equal and are entitled to equal — but not special — status. The Spanish high constitutional court ruled as much. Catalonia can’t claim to be a nation of Castille can’t. That implies a special status with a different sort of equality. Catalonia, like Scotland, even has special dispensation to use a different civil code. They have the right to use their own language and celebrate their own bank days and holidays. That is exactly the same as Madrid, Galicia, the Basque Country and Andalusia. No more, no less. Since they weren’t going to have their way, they decided to stamp their feet. This is how Spain operates. It’s the reason why I had enough and moved back to Stasireich for a year — even though I utterly despise the place.

  21. I’m asking myself why I wanted the SNP’s bid for separation to fail. It was because I didn’t want the UK to be broken up, for both historical and economic reasons. I imagine many Spaniards would agree with my reasoning? Spain would suffer economically if Catalonia defected and Spain has history too.

  22. Janus: Spain and the United Kingdom have a different experience of unity. Spain has a history of dynastic alliances forging a nation in a battle for their very civilisation. Castille is a very different centre, however, than England. The English centre could be patronising and aloof, but it didn’t have the inherent cruel streak of Castille. The United Kingdom as a political settlement is a masterpiece. Two ancient enemies united into the greatest union the world has ever seen. Spain’s unity in itself is its triumph. A Catholic kingdom born out of the Reconquista. Castille doesn’t understand Catalonia and Catalonia doesn’t understand Castille. Catalonia has a tremendous chip on its shoulder and a profound sense of entitlement. Yes, it is wealthier on average than most of Spain and it does, as a result, pay more into the national kitty than it gets back. At the same time, it isn’t an overwhelming amount — it’s hardly South East England or Bavaria. Catalan independence would achieve nothing. It would be an isolated country that would be outside the EU and face extreme economic shocks. Spain would suffer greatly and wouldn’t do anything to make Catalonia’s life easier. The Catalan government is willing to destroy Catalonia and Spain in order to make cheap, nationalistic points. They have this long-held obsession with being the second Portugal, an Iberian state that can defy Madrid by its very existence.

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