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Choose to be Wrong

December 13, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

The referendum on asset sales is done and, depending on whom you listen to, it is either a conclusive vote against the sales or a mediocre result capable of being interpreted either way. There is one thing it isn’t though: a vote in favour of the sales. But it probably isn’t really conclusive enough to affect any future actions, especially since the government has already said it will ignore it.

So is a 67% vote involving about 44% of eligible voters a decisive demonstration of the rejection of the idea or not? Given that this was just a non-binding referendum which the prime minister had already said he would ignore it this does seem like a moderately strong result. Many people probably didn’t participate because of the non-binding nature and the rejection of the result before it was even announced.

It’s unfortunate that there wasn’t just a slightly stronger result though, because if just a slightly higher percentage of people had voted the magic one million votes (the same number who voted for the government at the last election) would probably have been reached. Then the government really would have had a clear indication that its policy wasn’t supported.

Surely if everyone had voted according to their beliefs there would have been a clear rejection of these sales because they make no sense at all. Even the government must realise that by now, but they cannot back down because that would be an admission that their whole political philosophy is wrong.

So should the referendum have been binding? Well maybe… but maybe not. Considering this was a less than overwhelming condemnation of the sales you might say that it would be dangerous to use the result to make policy. But equally almost as many people voted against the sales as voted for the current government and they claim to have a mandate. Also, I’m fairly confident that if the referendum was binding there would have been a much bigger participation rate.

Of course the majority aren’t always right so a case could be made against referenda on that point alone. But a case could also be made against democracy on that same point. So it’s hard ro reject one without also rejecting the other.

I think a compromise on referenda should be made. We should make calling a referendum quite difficult, as it is now, so that we don’t have too many on frivolous issues. And we should make the requirements for success quite high. For example to make the outcome compulsory there should be a two thirds majority of a two thirds turnout, or something similar. The exact numbers would need to be debated.

If we had this system in place the last two referenda would probably have been successful. One result (the current “anti-asset sales” one) I would have agreed with and the other (the “anti-anti-smacking law” one from a few years back) I would have disagreed with. As I said, the majority aren’t always right, but at least they should choose what they want to be wrong about!

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