Referendums Rarely Ask Right Questions
Byline: By Mario Basini Western Mail
There are places where the referendum has become as much a part of the political process as elections; Italy, for example. There, referendums are called to decide on anything from law reform to the membership rules of a particular trade union. Sometimes, the public is asked to vote on several at the same time.
But, as the Italians know only too well, referendums are far from being the perfect democratic tool.
To begin with, they are expensive for both the state and the individual who has to make a special journey to the polls, and may have to take time off work to register his or her vote.
Hold too many of them and you merely breed indifference or contempt for the political system in voters constantly asked to vote on things which do not impinge on their lives. And far from producing precise votes on precise subjects, the questions referendums contain are so often amorphously phrased they make party manifestos appear models of clarity.
Despite these difficulties, it seems that the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is bent on making referendums an increasingly important part of the British political system. His decision to make a dizzying U-turn and hold one on the proposed European constitution astonished his supporters and enemies alike.
Now comes the notion that we should hold a referendum on Lord Richard's plans for extra powers for the National Assembly.
It should surprise no-one that the call for such a referendum comes from the Labour Party's group of Welsh MPs at Westminster. And it is even less startling to find that many of the 18 politicians are planning to vote 'No' if the referendum is held.
To be blunt, this is an issue on which their views should be treated with the utmost circumspection. Their powers at Westminster and their status have already been diminished by the arrival of the National Assembly. Granting the extra powers the Assembly needs, will further jeopardise their jobs. …