On Referendums Essay

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a) What is a referendum? A referendum or plebiscite is a general vote by the electorate on a single political question that has been put to them for a direct decision. Referendums usually consist of a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question, the result of the referendum decided by the majority result. The questions may be multiple however, requiring the electorate to list their preferences, or the referendum may be a ‘qualified referendum’ – in that a certain condition has been placed on it that it has to meet for it be valid, such as a bench-mark turnout requirement. It is one of the few forms of direct democracy in representative democracies like the UK. Everyone of voting age has the right to take part. b) Outline three examples of the use of referendums in the UK. In 1975 a referendum was undertaken regarding continuing membership of the E.C. The question put to the electorate was “do you think the U.K. should stay in the E.C.?” The government argued that such an important decision, with such major constitutional repercussions, should on principle be put to the general populace for a decision. However, undermining this, the government had previously joined the European Community in 1973 without a referendum. This referendum is more generally seen therefore as a device to avoid a split in a labour government on the issue of the E.C. than as being motivated by principles of direct democracy. At the time the labour party was very divided on the issue, causing the prime minister the problem of a divided cabinet, a problem contained through the use of a referendum as members of the cabinet would agree to the outcome of a referendum. In 1975 electorate voted roughly 2 to 1 ‘Yes’ in favour of remaining in the E.C. on a turnout of just under 65%. This was the first ever nationwide referendum. Criticisms of this referendum are that the ‘Yes’ campaign was far better funded than
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