Let me say, before I start, this article deals with my personal views and does not represent the views of any other lawyer nor yet of my own (unashamedly brilliant) law firm, Stapleton & Son.
Winston Churchill (allegedly) said "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others".
If you have not been living under a rock (probably on a different planet) you may have noticed there is a thing going on at the moment called BREXIT*.
The government ran a referendum to refer the difficult question of whether we should "Leave" the European Union or "Remain" a member of it. The result of this democratic process was that 16,141,241 people cast their votes to show they wanted to stay members of the EU but since 17,410,742 people voted to leave the EU all flavours of politicians have subordinated their personal views to "the will of the People".
The outcome looked like this:
My difficulty with this form of democracy is that with such a close vote, 52% to 48% in round terms, the deciding margin was less than 1.3 million people, changing the shape of our country (all the rest simply cancel each other out). Now 1.3 million people is a lot of people but our current population is about 66.02 million (last census figures from 2017) - and OK a lot of those people fall into categories who do not get a vote (too young, too imprisoned, too disenchanted with politics etc.) but it still seems to me to be wrong that less than 2% of the overall population is the deciding voting population that makes a change which is so fundamental and will affect the entire population of our country.
I have a few issues with politicians who stand behind the referendum vote insist on saying they are now, and must respect the "will of the people" - as a lawyer this should surely be "the will of a bare majority of the people", if for no other reason than to stay the right side of the trade descriptions act. If 17 plus million people want to leave the EU why is that such an important and to be respected mandate, when 16 million people voted to remain?
The underlying problem, of course, is the "first past the post" interpretation of democracy. Not "the will of the people", which implies a general will but the voice of the people - not necessarily the same thing at all. Given that the majority of centre votes for either side of a binary issue tend to cancel each other out - interestingly removing their direct democratic involvement in the outcome - the remainder tend to be from the shouty extremes, which, in my humble opinion, is not a great way to develop a strategy dictating the future of the country.
Referendums are peculiar animals. Even the definitions vary pretty widely between single issue matters being referred to an entire electorate for their opinion to a legally binding "decision of the people" - akin to a plebiscite. Whatever the process or intent the usual use of a referendum is to try and find a way forward when the "normal" political process either has, or would, stall if asked to decide the question through usual channels. For the record I am not impressed with the outcome of the last referendum - but I am not at all sure holding another one will do anything to improve matters - the simple God's honest truth is about half of us like to be European and the other half don't and our views are so strongly held and defended the country is busy tearing itself apart and I predict that whatever the outcome is - in, out or somewhere in between roughly half of the population will be unhappy with the result - unless of course we can achieve unity again by finding a solution which leaves both sides equally dissatisfied?
*[Which if you have missed it so far means "Brexit"]