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Report on The Place of Referendums in Scotland and the UK



Democracy in Action? The Place of Referendums in Scotland and the UK

On Wednesday 13 September, the Centre for Scottish Public Policy hosted a debate on the role of referendums in Scotland and the UK in collaboration with Brodies LLP and the Democratic Society Scotland

The discussion sprang from rising concerns about the role of referendums, and the lack of clear rules defining the conditions in which they should be triggered, as the recent years have brought them to the fore. Cases such as the 2014 vote on Scotland's independence, and most recently, the UK's decision to leave the European Union, evidence the need for a discussion about the role of direct democracy in the UK's parliamentary system. Our June event on the future of EU citizens in the UK highlighted the impact of such decisions on the lives on individuals. What happens when voters are called upon to settle complex legislative matters? How do they engage in discussions about the future of the country? How should the choices expressed during referendums be implemented? were some of the questions this discussion aimed to raise.

  1. The conversation was generously hosted by Brodies LLPEnjoying the stunning view from @BrodiesLLP before our #PlaceofReferendums event! Looking forward to seeing you all! https://t.co/R6uJRxU6WeEnjoying the stunning view from @BrodiesLLP before our #PlaceofReferendums event! Looking forward to seeing you all! pic.twitter.com/R6uJRxU6We
  2. The chair for this evening was CSPP's own co-chair, and Alzheimer Scotland's head of policy, Amy Dalrymple. We were joined by Democratic Society's Scotland Network Manager, Alistair Stoddart, Brodies LLP's partner Charles Livingstone, and Ipsos MORI Scotland's Associate Director Rachel Ormston (from left to right on the picture below).
  3. CSPP co-chair @amy_dalrymple introduces our guest speakers tonight: @AliStoddart1, Charles Livingstone and @rachelormston https://t.co/1qs8a8X1ew
    CSPP co-chair @amy_dalrymple introduces our guest speakers tonight: @AliStoddart1, Charles Livingstone and @rachelormstonpic.twitter.com/1qs8a8X1ew
  4. Charles Livingstone opened the discussion with a talk that presented the legal basis of referendums in the UK. After outlining their general features, Charles went on to examine previous instances of referendums in the UK, all the way to their recent 'golden age', characterised by a very quick succession of referendums on some crucial legislative matters: North East England and Welsh devolution in 2004 and 2011, the British voting system (2011), Scottish independence (2014), and the UK's future relationship with the European Union (2016).
  5. Charles Livingstone of @BrodiesLLP next https://t.co/WGZLsl1QfT
    Charles Livingstone of @BrodiesLLP next pic.twitter.com/WGZLsl1QfT
  6. Here are Charles Livingstons' slides
  7. Imgur: The most awesome images on the Internet
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  23. Imgur: The most awesome images on the Internet
  24. Next to speak was Rachel Ormston, who analysed patterns of engagement with referendums. Rachel interpreted data obtained as part of a survey conducted by Ipsos MORI which aimed at gauging the levels of interest and participation in referendums, determining who was likely to vote and how informed the voters were with regards to the issues they were asked to to decide upon.
  25. 3 questions: are Referendums good for democracy? Does the public & politically disenfranchised engage with them & if so, in an informed way?
  26. Support of referendums is lower than it once was, and varies depending on the issue, @rachelormston points out https://t.co/O849Nekivd
    Support of referendums is lower than it once was, and varies depending on the issue, @rachelormston points out pic.twitter.com/O849Nekivd
  27. Political affiliation, age, qualifications are factors that can determine the support of referendums in the UK https://t.co/0msABepQMR
    Political affiliation, age, qualifications are factors that can determine the support of referendums in the UK pic.twitter.com/0msABepQMR
  28. Both IndyRef and EURef generated higher levels of engagement from parts of the population normally less likely to engage https://t.co/PYt76kSWMx
    Both IndyRef and EURef generated higher levels of engagement from parts of the population normally less likely to engage pic.twitter.com/PYt76kSWMx
  29. As @rachelormston observes, people feel that they now know more about the EU but still a lot of misconceptions among the public https://t.co/iL8mlZqa76
    As @rachelormston observes, people feel that they now know more about the EU but still a lot of misconceptions among the public pic.twitter.com/iL8mlZqa76
  30. Rachel has kindly agreed to share her presentation with participants or followers wishing to catch up on the discussion:  https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B7GitFs-xT8NLS1mb2RNdUdHOWM
  31. Our last speaker was Alistair Stoddart, who concluded the conversation by pointing to alternative forms of democratic engagement, and offered a critical perspective on referendums as polarizing modes of polititical decision-making.
  32. Our @AliStoddart1 on how we should be making democracy better by embedding public engagement & going beyond referendums https://t.co/MbaCAAG8nr
    Our @AliStoddart1 on how we should be making democracy better by embedding public engagement & going beyond referendums pic.twitter.com/MbaCAAG8nr
  33. So, are Referendums really the rule for the people, by the people? @AliStoddart1 asks
  34. For @AliStoddart1 Referendums are democratic but are used within a democratic culture that doesn't always generate democratic outcomes
  35. Risks of referendums: polarising effects, misstatements of facts, the public may overestimate how well informed they are about a given issue
  36. "Taking back control" is a more complicated process than a simple vote, @AliStoddart1 continues - and one that goes far beyond the ballot
  37. Citizens' assemblies and consultations are an incomplete solution: democratic engagement should take place on a day to basis
  38. It's time to turn the rhetorics of participation into a reality, @AliStoddart1 concludes
  39. At the end of the presentations, we opened the floor to questions from participants.
  40. @DemsocScotland @csppscotland @AliStoddart1 @BrodiesLLP "The public have spoken - but what have they said?" #Brexit in one line.
  41. Prof John Curtice at @csppscotland referendums event this eve, on EU one: "Just read @ShippersUnbound 's book, that tells you all of it"
  42. We would like to thank all speakers and participants for joining us in this conversation. Watch out for our next event, where we'll discuss the latest developments in the negotiations between the British government and the European Union. To enable us to continue to keep important issues at the forefront of discussion, please continue to support us.
  43. Imgur: The most awesome images on the Internet
       
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