Friday, 24 June 2016

Brexit and the danger of direct democracy

The Brexit vote provides a clear example of why direct democracy is a poor form of democracy. The reasons against direct voting are well know.Irreversible and long lasting decisions are taken in the spur of the moment without due regard for its consequences, based on lateral issues.

For instance, the Brexit debate was decided mostly on issues related to emigration which are a minor issue compared with the consequences of Britain leaving the EU.

If the worst comes to the worst, the voters may find out that they voted to break up the United Kingdom, an issue that was never envisaged by most of them.

So, if referendum and other forms of direct democracy are acceptable to decide local or sectional issues they are not suitable to decide complex issues with many ramifications.

In particular, regime change decisions such as independence, constitutional changes or decisions on important international treaties should not be subject to popular vote based on a simple majority. Think for instance in voting for independence. If they are voted on a simple majority vote we would end up with a country deciding one day for independence a the following wishing to reverse its decision based on a change of mind by a few voters.

If such decisions require a popular consult then they should be based on a qualified majority that will not disappear easily overnight(e.g. a 2/3 or 10% majority).

So David Cameron’s assertion in his defeat speech that “There are times when it is right to ask the people themselves – and that is what we have done”, is not a convincing excuse for his fatal mistake of calling referendum on Scotland independence and European Union membership.

In conclusion, direct democracy has its place in a representative democracy but can endanger democracy itself if not limited in scope and quorum.

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