Referendums

Author: Faris Nejad

REFERENDUMS have little, if anything, to do with democracy. 

Next time a Brexiter claims that it is undemocratic to be against the outcome of our referendum remind them of Hitler, Mussolini, Napoleon, Khomaini, Putin and more. These dictators have all used referendums to impose their own point of view on their subjects using one of the most undemocratic tools of our modern democracies namely referendums.

The way referendums work is in fact very simple; Complex, multi-layered and multidimensional decisions that require much analysis, contemplation and interaction are reduced to questions that require a yes or no answer. The questions are also designed to get the required answer for the dictators. For example after the Iranian revolution of 1979, Khomeini, in order to solidify his position and the sway of his religion, in a snap referendum, offered the Iranian people two choices: Either the Shah or an Islamic Republic, and people who had dethroned the Shah and had sacrificed for the success of the revolution voted for the only other choice. More recently Putin put a similar question in front of the Crimean people of Ukraine. 

Referendums are also extremely dishonest and devious, instead of helping the public they confuse them more but still get the same desired result for the politicians. Imagine what the outcome would be if the question in our referendum for EU had been, ‘Should Britain be more involved with the EU to influence necessary changes in the EU or less involved. 

Now, more examples: If there would be a referendum in Britain tomorrow on whether people want higher inflation or not, we can most certainly predict that the British people would say no to higher prices. The next day, though, if in a referendum we ask people if they want lower taxes or not, again we can be sure that everyone will ask for lower taxes. Notice that, here, lower taxes cause higher inflation. The fact that ordinary people do not notice this contradiction does not necessarily mean that they are naïve. The truth is that, yes and no answers are not for the public and that is why we have a parliamentary democracy based on representation, the very pillar of our democracy that Ms. May is trying to bypass in order to “preserve our democracy.” The British people deserve more than this and they will prevail. 

TIMING is also one of the most important and decisive elements of referendums entirely in the hands of politicians. For instance if a leader wants to attack a neighboring country and start a war, s/he does not call a referendum on this issue randomly and awaits for an excuse, even an accident helps the results. Even a robbery by an individual from the neighboring country, if publicized well, can help to get the result the leader wants from a planned referendum. One of the main issues for the British Leavers was the immigrants, by chance or planning we happened to have the referendum at the height of the refugee’s crisis for Europe. Although we are not talking about the same immigrants here the sensitivity of the British public at that time is obvious. Britain, as mentioned in comment for this article was also doing badly in the European football league at the time of the referendum. When ordinary people are asked to make national decision’s, it is amazing to analyze what matters influences them. It would be a shame if the British politicians and the current government manages to change our future for the generations of British people just because of the timing of the refugee crisis in 2016 and sports results. Referendums are not democratic, are not the solution to our problems, are not the way forward and most importantly, do not necessarily represent our interests.

Faris Nejad (British political scientist & political novelist)