Monday, 22 September 2014

Referendum, Pressure Release Valve or Pressure Cooker?

I've written before that direct democracy could be a useful pressure release valve for political activists who would be better persuading other voters than engaging in violent protest. On the other hand some commentators have lamented the animosity evident in the recent Scottish independence referendum. So what provokes aggression?
It could be that some people just can't consider that others have different values. Some are traditionalists, others progressives. Some narrowly nationalistic, others not.
Or it could be that people feel that they are being lied to, deceived or manipulated by leaders, politicians and campaigners. Maybe sometimes by design, sometimes by accident or misinterpretation. (Scotland can't have the pound, some said. Of course they can, they have pounds in their bank accounts and pockets. How're you going to stop them? What was meant was that the Bank of England would refuse to be lender of last resort to Scottish banks.)
Then there's the matter of forecasting the future benefits of a decision, and all the assumptions that that entails. Is it rosy or grey? Who knows? There's nothing true about forecasts, they are usually inaccurate, unless by luck, and often wildly wrong.
Maybe we can introduce systems that help to reduce some of these provocations. Laws against lying in public life would be a start. Discussion of the limits of forecasting would be useful. Appreciation of differences in values and respect for others opinions may be a cultural thing that could be learnt. Maybe doing direct democracy, and losing, builds a bit of humility that makes things less fraught next time. And maybe having a system of direct democracy that allows future corrections and amendments to recent decisions takes the edge off disappointment. If Switzerland changes its constitution by referendum then the system is already in place to change it back again, if demanded.
But when I sit back and consider the referendum for Scottish Independence and the state of Eastern Ukraine it's pretty obvious what's best!

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