People's Referendum

Because politicians tend to be out of touch with the average person with politicians having their own agenda, I would put in the Constitution a concept called "initiative and referendum", in which if a specified number of adult persons sign/e-sign a petition on an issue, then that issue is placed on the ballot for vote (most likely on Election Day).  If that public vote obtains a specified percent of the total vote, then that issue will become law.

This is different from the current e-petition format in which if there are 100,000 signatures on an issue, then Parliament could discuss the issue.  Merely discussing the issue and then tabling it defeats the purpose of the public having a real voice in government. 

With "initiative and eferendum", the public's voice will be forced upon the politicans, and it is healthy for democracy.

Also, I would add that a referendum voted upon by the people that passes is not subject to being repealed or amended by Parliament.

edited on Mar 14, 2015 by John Z

John Z Apr 5, 2015

As far as this proposal, my thought process is as follows:

+  a specified number of signatures OR a specified percent of signatures for each England, Scotland, Wales, and North Ireland to form a referendum;  this will likely be a small number or percent (perhaps 10% of registered voters).  Also, I'd prefer it be based on a percentage (as opposed to a fixed number) due to the difference in population numbers between the 4 nations, AND, due to population shifts the fixed number may become meaningless in the future.

+  once the referendum makes it on the ballot, then a higher number OR percent of the votes cast for each England, Scotland, Wales, and North Ireland will be required to become law (perhaps 3/5 or 2/3).

The wording of the referendum will be as it is proposed by the initiators of the referendum.  If however there happen to be competing referendums on the same topic, then a 3rd party body/person (perhaps the President of the UK Supreme Court) will write the proposal (with consultation from the initiators of the referendum). 

Any thoughts?

Christine Farquharson Apr 7, 2015

In order to help drive discussion forward, here's a summary of some of the things that were discussed in phase 1. Please remember to keep commenting and voting so that the original idea authors know what to include in their modified proposals!

- Boadicea: Referenda can be skewed if one side spends much more than the other. They are costly to put on. (1 up, 2 down)

- John from Jersey's clarification: Wording can be decided by the initiator of the referendum or by independent academics. (1 up) It could also be written by the Supreme Court in consultation with the initiator (2 up, 1 down)

- robg8: Let the Electoral Commission, which currently decides whether referendum questions are meaningful and neutral, write the question.

- GavinRuss: Referenda could be subject to mandatory voting. The trigger mechanism must be more robust than the current petitioning system.

- Alan Ray-Jones: Referenda could be binding on local authorities but not national governments. It would be enough to require national governments to debate and vote on the idea.

- Debra Storr: Referenda should be required for substantive changes to the constitution. For ordinary statutes, the ballot should specify how a new service is to be paid for/where the savings for a tax cut come from. A better alternative for citizen control would be substantial devolution. (1 down)

- Alastair Bruton: Referenda should be required for changes to the constitution, but not used for any other purpose, since subsidiarity is a better way to maximise voter control over governance (3 up, 1 down). If there is substantial devolution, referenda will become less important. However, in the status quo with parliamentary sovereignty, referenda have an important role. (no votes) There are very few issues that are clear-cut and without ramifications, and it's hard to hold a referendum if these conditions don't apply (1 down) 

- John from Jersey: There are at least two issues: in-or-out of the European Court of Human Rights, and yes or no to an elected head of state. Further, votes in Parliament come down to a yes or a no anyway.

- robg8: Referenda systems don't allow for a lot of moving parts - they encourage people to view policies in isolation. (1 up, 1 down) Votes in parliament aren't just yes/no, there is a series of votes and proposals are amended and re-voted on. With a referendum, you are stuck with the results of one vote. (1 down) It would be better to enhance the existing petition process by requiring the Commons to debate (rather than consider debating) any petition that gains more signatures than the threshold. This could be 'a staggered system - 100,000 in a defined period gets you a debate in Westminster Hall, 250,000 in the Commons chamber. Maybe with similar provisions for the devolved nations' and England.

- John from Jersey: Requiring the Commons to debate the proposal is not enough, since they can debate it quickly then drop the issue. There are some files where politicians' interests are too entrenched (e.g. term limits) to trust them with making even popular changes. (1 up)

- GavinRuss: In order to prevent voter overload, there should be limits as to which topics can be brought to referendum (e.g. changes to the European Court of Human Rights, but not questions about whether there should be national security forces)

- mart-arch: Some topics should not be subject to referenda (e.g. removing human rights), while others are in a grey area (e.g. taxes)

- John from Jersey: Only things that can be voted on (legislation, constitutional amendments) would be subject to referenda. Some topics might not be popular but that's not a reason to avoid the debate. (1 up)

- cosimomontagu: Not only should there be a right to referendum, there should be a right to citizen engagement and direct democracy (2 up)

- LibertyscottUK: Referenda cannot repeal or limit fundamental rights. The threshold should be 5% of registered voters. (1 up)

- Titus Alexander: Looking at the types of proposals that pass in other jurisdictions with citizens' initiative, it seems like there is often not enough deliberation. Reforming the electoral system would be a better way to address problems of remote politicians.

Christine Farquharson Apr 7, 2015

And some more tags...

John Z Apr 7, 2015

In reply to the above comments:

+  I would not have a referenda voting be mandatory.

+  It is not enough for Parliament merely to debtate/discuss an issue

+  due to Debra Storr's concern about budgetary issues for a referendum, perhaps the referendum would not apply to tax or spend issues (as this requires economic forecasting).

+  to prevent voter overload on referendum, the most important variable is a responsive Parliament so a referenda would be unnecessary;  otherwise, my statement above as to the requirements for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland should suffice to prevent voter/issue overload.  

+  as for Titus' concern for lack of deliberation, perhaps there can be a "cool off period" (I would have a more proper term though) for any issue that is the subject of a referenda, so there is ample time for the issue to be debated/discussed/analyzed.

Any thoughts?

Scott Wilson Apr 8, 2015

I'd reaffirm that whatever is put forward as a referendum, it cannot amend rights under the Constitution.  Fundamental rights should not be up to the vote.  

It strikes me that the Electoral Commission should have some administrative role with this, to ensure wording of referenda are clear and to govern an orderly process for referenda.

There is an issue about what threshold of votes should pass a referendum, should it be a majority of those who vote, or a majority of registered voters?  The latter would ensure a pure mandate, the former appears to replicate the mandate of representative democracy and be more open to challenge.

The one step that is missing from this is translating referendum into legislation, which in some cases may be easy (if it is a repeal), but for others may be much more difficult.  A referendum is unlikely to be accessible if it is drafted in the form of a Bill, but a useful compromise would be, if a referendum is passed, then a Bill is drafted and must be considered by Parliament to implement the proposal and go through the Committee stages.  

The obvious question is what happens if Parliament doesn't pass it, as the Committee stage would be bound to find a way to advance the principles and objectives of the proposal.  My view is that MPs reject the policy at their peril, and the referendum may be held again eventually.  This raises yet another issue, as to whether you can have perpetual referenda for the same proposal.  Should there be a gap (say 10 years or longer) between identical referenda?

Finally, I agree with the point about supply (tax and spending).  Referenda that seeks more or less to be spent or for taxes to be introduced or cut, or abolished, could be granted a lower status, and be similar to the status quo for Parliament to discuss.  One alternative would be for any such proposals to be "double-ended".  i.e. a proposal for new spending should correspond with a proposal for cutting spending or increasing taxation, and vice versa, and such a proposal should be checked by the OBR for its robustness before going to referendum.

John Z Apr 8, 2015

In reply to your reply:

+  the provision may forbid limiting fundamental rights

+ I am neutral to whether the Electoral Commission OR the UK Supreme Court write the wording of a referenda

+  as for votes, my thought is a majority of the votes actually cast

+  as for the drafting of the legislation, that will be done by the UK Supreme Court (not Parliament), as a cause of the need for the referenda was due to the non-action of Parliament, thus I would not want them involved in the drafting of the statute 

+  it is not up to Parliament to pass it;  the people passed it, it is law;  a statutory provision for this is entered into the statute books

+  I would avoid budget items, because an economic prediction within the referenda may be wrong (imagine that), thus there would be a budgetary shortflal 

View all replies (4)

Christine Farquharson Apr 17, 2015

With one day left in the refining phase, let's focus on nailing down a specific proposition to bring forward to the convention. There's a related post in the Elections topic ( https://constitutionuk.com/post/79966 ) that has been extensively discussed - perhaps the best thing to do is to focus on commenting on/voting on that proposal, which incorporates the idea of citizens' initiative. Unless someone wants to propose wording here for the community to discuss/vote on?

Malcolm Ramsay Apr 17, 2015

I agree that discussing it in the other thread would be best but you need to separate the link from the surrounding brackets!

John Z Apr 17, 2015

Please see the draft:

"The people shall have the right to initiate a referendum on legislation and Constitutional amendments;  the only limitation will be regarding budgetary matters and those limiting fundamental human rights.   

There will be a requirement of 10% of the registered voters in each England, Scotland, Wales, and North Ireland to initiate a referendum for an issue on the ballot.   Thereafter, once the referendum makes it on the ballot, then there will be a requirement of 2/3 in each England, Scotland, Wales, and North Ireland for the referendum to pass.  

The wording of the referendum for the ballot will be written by the initiators of the referendum, with consultation of the President of the UK Supreme Court and the Electoral Commission."   

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