Yes, as already discussed, the UK can hold a Referendum. So why should we have one or more of these? Also, what interest groups are involved, and what do they seek to gain? And why do the issues under discussion need to be decided in this way, rather than as part of a General Election campaign?
Let’s take the last point first. Normally, any kind of change for which Parliament will seek to legislate is put to the electorate as part of a Party’s General Election manifesto. The Party will then campaign on that manifesto. This was certainly the case with the Heath Government of 1970, which made a manifesto commitment to the then EEC, and then took the UK into Europe in 1973.
So that’s that, then? Well, no, because as mentioned earlier, the lack of any UK written constitution does not rule out putting questions to the electorate in a Referendum, even when the original commitment – as with Europe – was made as part of a General Election campaign. Neither is there any rule, or even guidance, as to how momentous or important an issue has to be in order to require putting to the electorate in a Referendum. So no issue is ruled in or out – therefore the reason why we should have one is, at best, some kind of balance between the public mood and the willingness of the Government of the day to offer the option.
So who’s interested? Ah well. Here we encounter a truly dubious media convocation: News Corporation, whose head man Rupert Murdoch will seemingly do whatever it takes to undermine the EU (because it won’t do what he wants) is in the vanguard. Along for the ride is the Maily Telegraph, wedded to a delusional view of the UK, and the Rothermere press, in the vocal form of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, who may or may not be anti-EU, but whose rationale is to feed the Daily Mail’s readers with the diet he perceives they crave – and that means putting the boot in to those rotten foreigners, while offering bargain trips to romantic Paris by Eurostar on the next page.
And what is the issue that they deem so significant that it can only be decided by Referendum? Well, anything remotely EU related, it seems: there was an attempt to define the Maastricht Treaty as such an issue, but “Shagger” Major, to his credit, saw this off by arguing that the UK had secured a variety of “opt-outs”. More recently, the proposed EU Constitution was a prime Referendum target, until it was dropped, but the “Amending Treaty” that followed soon found itself in the crosshairs.
The clamour was made all the louder by the commitment by Tony Blair to put the original Constitution to the electorate in a Referendum. Why? Only he can answer that one. Rather like Pa Broon’s “British Jobs for British Workers”, he may come to wish he’d never said it. The pressure continues, especially as the Irish are having one. Yes, let’s look at how the Irish do things European – that comes next.