Britain voted to leave the EU in a simple majority referendum. Gordon Bannerman (University of Guelph-Humber) argues that it would have done better to follow Canada’s example. After Quebec narrowly voted to avoid separation in 1995, the country revisited its approach to referendums. Indeed, not all UK referendums have involved a simple majority.
Canada has often featured on the LSE Brexit pages in terms of its past and prospective trading relationship with Britain. But surprisingly little comment has been made on the constitutional precedents Canada provided for pre-Brexit Britain, especially arising from the 1995 Quebec referendum, which resulted in a narrow 50.58 per cent to 49.42 per cent majority rejecting separation.
Afterwards, alert to the potentially momentous implications of a simple majority popular vote, government set to work to provide a new legal framework for referendums. Mistakes had been made. The federal government had no input in drafting the question, with the impetus handed to pro-independence parties (Parti Québécois, Action démocratique du Québec, and Bloc Québécois) whose question asked if voters agreed Quebec “should become sovereign after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership”.
The convoluted, hedged language, described by the British High Commissioner to Canada Sir Anthony Goodenough as “gobbledygook”, concerning the future of Quebec/Canadian relations was not new. Even greater obfuscation had characterised the referendum of 1980, with a question consisting of 106 words, to grant Quebec’s government a mandate to negotiate “sovereignty-association” with Canada. In both cases, the language conveyed the impression of a smooth transition to independence amidst the willing cooperation and assistance of the federal government. The reality was that such a scenario could not be guaranteed. The Quebec nationalist parties had also threatened to make a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) should a vote for separation not be honoured within one year. The Canadian government of Jean Chrétien, acting largely on the ideas of Stéphane Dion, the Minister for Federal Provincial Relations, requested the country’s Supreme Court to rule on the legality of UDI, relative to international law and Canada’s constitution. Acting on the 1998 judgment Reference Re Secession of Quebec, Chrétien codified the Supreme Court’s recommendations in the Clarity Act (Bill C-20) in 2000. Any future referendum question had to be presented in the House of Commons and approved by both Houses. Section 1(4) stipulated that questions providing only a mandate for future negotiations with Canada would be considered unclear and invalid. The question had to be “clear”, and voted by an (unquantified) “clear majority” for the Federal Parliament, as arbiter, to recognise its validity. No longer would 50 per cent + 1 be deemed sufficient for far-reaching constitutional changes – in future, a stronger mandate would be required. There the question has rested, as no referendum has taken place since 1995.
As some Canadian commentators have argued, Britain should have learned from the Quebec experience.
Some diplomats and politicians, such as Sir Anthony Goodenough and Malcolm Rifkind (Foreign Secretary, 1995-1997), did see important lessons from the Canadian experience but these were more pointed towards drawing parallels between the nationalist movements in Quebec and Scotland. While lauding the Canadian government’s measures in undermining separatism, the example of the Clarity Act in strengthening central government did not seem to gain traction in Britain.
Yet examples existed closer at home. Since the 1970s, referendums – previously almost unknown in Britain – have been used in popular decision-making. There has been no fixed formula. In the 1975 EEC referendum a simple majority was required, but the 1979 devolution referendums in Scotland and Wales, preceded by legislative acts, were framed more cautiously. Parliament was firmly in control of the process, and an amendment (Section 58(2) of the 1978 Scotland Act) by the Labour MP George Cunningham, supported by Conservative and Labour anti-devolutionists, stipulated that for the Acts to become law, an affirmative vote of 40% of the total registered electorate would be required as well as a simple majority.
The amendment imposed a qualified majority, by making the vote of every registered voter count – meaning non-voters were counted as votes against. The electoral register used was based on a qualifying date of October 1978. There were over 500,000 “unavoidable non-voters” including prisoners, hospital patients, and those moving home. Most notoriously, the amendment meant those registered in October 1978 who had since died were counted as votes against. The grievances were not all on one side—some argued the 40% rule reduced the anti-devolution vote, since many voters, by equating abstention with casting a vote against, stayed at home. The 40 per cent threshold was not attained in either country but in Scotland a majority of votes cast (51.6 per cent) voted for devolution but on a 63.72 percent turnout, the total amounted to only 32.9 per cent of registered voters. While making no difference in Wales, the amendment negated the simple majority achieved in Scotland.
The historical and political context was crucial in establishing the framework for the respective referendums. The 1974 Labour government, lukewarm on devolution but needing SNP parliamentary votes, reluctantly acted on the 1973 Kilbrandon Report’s recommendations, but readily accepted the Cunningham amendment as a safeguard. By contrast, the 1997 referendums for a Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly promoted by the pro-devolution Blair Government imposed no qualified majority rule. Despite the establishment of the Electoral Commission (EC) with referendum management, via the Political Parties, Elections, and Referendums Act (PPERA) of 2000 being statutory acknowledgment of referendums as a fixture in the UK’s political landscape, little has changed. In 2014 and 2016 the EC played a key role in ensuring intelligible wording of questions but it neither drafts original questions nor decides what constitutes a majority vote – those decisions are made by Parliament, and subject to the vicissitudes of party politics.
The simple majority formula used in the 2011 AV vote, Scottish independence vote of 2014 and the EU referendum of 2016 followed the format of 1975 and 1997 rather than the more cautious provisions of 1979. The assumption that the policy preferences of the main Westminster parties were shared by a majority of the electorate was reckless and dangerous. While validated in 2011 and 2014 (though for Scotland, as with Quebec, the result was perhaps closer than it should have been) the gamble did not pay off in 2016.
The Cameron government was remarkably complacent not only in setting the referendum terms but in failing to make any contingency plans (unlike in 1975) in the event of an EU exit – an extraordinary dereliction of duty, which, as the 2017 House of Commons report ‘Lessons Learned from the EU Referendum’ stated, led to unnecessary political instability: “Such preparation would negate the need for the Prime Minister to resign … It should be reasonable to presume that the sitting Prime Minister and his/her administration will continue in office and take responsibility for the referendum result in either eventuality”.
How far David Cameron was genuinely committed to the referendum promised in 2013 remains unknown. If a “bluff-call”, it clearly failed but in having to deliver a referendum it would have been wise to have considered the format more carefully. Qualified majorities are often used in the public and private sectors (not least in the EU), and in an electoral system underpinned by majoritarian principles, it is questionable how difficult it would have been to impose. While the proposal would probably have met with opposition from Eurosceptics within the Conservative Party, that doesn’t seem like a good reason for adopting a hazardous simple majority formula, lending credence to the view that Cameron was guilty of putting party before country.
Leading political scientists, including Vernon Bogdanor and Peter Hennessy, have expressed grave misgivings over using referendums, and the lesson for post-Brexit British governments seems to be to tread carefully. Before the 2016 referendum, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard was one of the few who found the absence of a threshold “constitutionally quite surprising for a decision as big as this”. Afterwards, of course, many Remainers concurred.
Britain’s non-codified constitution ensures referendums are considered legally advisory rather than politically binding but in practice, no government has been prepared to ignore the outcome of a referendum. Given these customary pressures, it makes sense to ensure a proper balance between expressions of the popular will while minimising the chances of a fierce populist outburst.
How different things looked in 1817, when George Canning stated:
“When I am told that the House of Commons is not sufficiently identified with the people, to catch their every nascent wish and to act upon their every transient impression,—that it is not the immediate, passive, unreasoning organ of popular volition,—I answer, thank God that it is not! I answer, that according to no principle of our constitution, was it ever meant to be so;—and that it never pretended to be so, nor ever can pretend to be so, without bringing ruin and misery upon the kingdom.”
By using referendums, we have moved far from Canning’s deliberative assembly model, but the Canadian example indicates that referendums can be – and should be – more closely managed. Canada’s Clarity Act might have been a useful reference point for British policy-makers, for protecting territorial integrity and promoting political stability are fundamental elements of responsible government. Imposing more rigorous conditions may seem Machiavellian to some, but it is far from incompatible with maintaining democratic legitimacy – in many ways it may ensure more mature and measured decision-making in the contemplation of far-reaching constitutional issues. The alternative can be decisions made on a transitory and/or ill-informed basis.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor LSE.
Gordon Bannerman is a professor at the University of Guelph-Humber.
There is a presumption behind this article that, apart from the undesirability of simple referendum, it is a bad thing for people to be able to vote to allow their secession from a larger polity. The assumptions behind this are never supplied (and if they were would be almost inevitably biased towards the status quo).
Time we had some justification for this. How about another article, Mr Bannerman?
Thanks for your astute comments James. You are right about not commenting on that issue. However, I do believe citizens have a right to a say on seceding from a larger polity. After all, representative democracy means that the people possess the sovereign authority which is delegated to parliamentary institutions. Within that though I think there is scope for negotiation as to rules, threshold etc. That is where I see a little dereliction of duty by David Cameron & co. I’m not arguing against the democratic exercise of holding referendums per se.
QUEBEC RECEIVES VAST SUMS OF MONEY FROM THE OTHER CANADIAN PROVINCES AND HAVE DONE SO FOR MANYMANY YEARS, THAT IS WHY THEY VOTED TO STAY – SUBSIDIES. HAD THEY LEFT THEY WOULD HAVE GONE INTO RAPIDE ECONOMIC DECLINE. I SPEAK AS A CANADIAN.
THE EU IS STRUCTURED IN A FASCISTIC MANNER, THE PARLIAMENT DOES NOT PRODUCE LEGSLATION, THAT IS DONE BY THE APPOINTED COMMISSION, YOU CANNOT SACK A COMMISSIONERS, YOU HAVE TO SACK THEM ALL, AND AS IT IS A SINECURE IT IS A REWARD DISHED BY STATES TO TER NFAVOURITES, E.G. LORD MANDELSON, GO LOOK AT HIS HISTORY PRE EU COMMISSIONER. THE WHOLE EDIFICE IS CORRUPT AND ANTI DEMOCRATIC AND THAT IS WHY WE SHOULD LEAVE..
Thanks for your comment Philip. Well, I wasn’t really taking sides on the question of Remain or Leave but more so the mechanics of the referendum which, in the light of previous experiences in the UK and Canada, appears odd.
You are certainly correct about Quebec though it was a close run thing in 95 and the Federal government wisely reformed the constitutional framework in its aftermath. There is most certainly a democratic deficit in the EU encompassing patronage and cronyism as well as a problem with representative governance and institutions.
This article addresses a hobby-horse of mine. I think it’s difficult to back up my opinions, or indeed the opinions expressed in the article, by argument. The problem is that, while we all agree that, in some sense, sovereignty lies with the people, we disagree about how that should be expressed. So I will state my own opinions without much argument. If you agree with me that they are coherent and fair, that’s fine. If not, that’s fine too. Sorry for the long post.
1. The EU 2016 referendum was a failure because for various reasons the losers generally did not accept the result. Before the UK conducts any more referenda we need a broad open discussion about how referenda can be improved. So I’m grateful to the author of the article for starting this discussion.
2. However I don’t understand what in practice would change if the UK were to learn from Canada.
3. I don’t like the idea of imposing a turnout threshold as in the first Scottish devolution referendum, a. because I have no sympathy with those who can’t be bothered to vote; b. a turnout threshold means those against the measure have a tactical voting dilemma because, by voting against, they can in fact cause the measure to pass.
4. I also don’t like requiring a super-majority. If, say, 51% of qualified Scottish voters who vote genuinely want Scottish independence, I think it would be unjust for 49% to be able to block it.
5. However, to make the system more stable, I suggest that if a referendum is held to decide a major change to the status quo, the result should only take immediate effect if the measure is rejected (votes for = 60%, say). If changing the status quo wins, but only narrowly, there should be a second referendum, say 12 months later. The result of that referendum should then be decisive, however narrow.
6. The article doesn’t address at all the question of campaign financing. Rules and enforcement must be changed so that whatever rules there are can be enforced with effective penalties. Fines imposed two years after the vote are not going to deter. Since it is virtually impossible to stop collaboration between groups on the same side, I suggest such collaboration be permitted. However there must be an absolute ceiling on how much is spent in total on either side. The details of this will not be easy but it has to be sorted out before the next referendum.
7. Although there was a lot wrong with the EU 2016 referendum, I don’t think we can fix it retroactively. In particular, having another bad referendum, which a so-called “People’s Vote” would be, would not fix anything, because there would be no losers’ consent. If MPs are determined to disregard the referendum result, they should vote to revoke Article 50, not pretend that a second rushed referendum would deliver a more authoritative result.
Thank you very much for taking the time to make such excellent and thoughtful comments. In the main I agree with your points. We can’t go back now but I think we both agree that for the future we need to think about clearer rules for referendums including campaign finance (I didn’t have enough space to cover that really and perhaps a blog focused on the Electoral Commission would fit the bill) as we seem to run them on the basis of the political predilections of the government in power.
I think we need to differentiate between referendums which can produce great constitutional change and those which are based on voting on a proposed government measure of great importance (for example, the Good Friday agreement). I’m not convinced that a simple majority and binary question approach is good policy for the former but in a majoritarian system I can see that it is the logical approach..
However, I like the idea of a confirmatory second referendum though as you suggest it would have to be within a given time-frame as it would potentially cause market instability and speculation. We’ve seen how the continuing uncertainty since 2016 has caused great financial instability.
I think the Canadian approach could be emulated in some way though I wasn’t talking about the measure they adopted as being in some ways transferable to the UK. It is really about the Federal Government taking control of the process by clear legislative means rather than by the informal and conventional approach adopted by the UK.
I was intrigued when I read the Hansard link for Lord Kerr’s speech.
He was worried about the constitutional validity of a narrow Leave vote, if any of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland voted Remain. This is precisely what in fact did happen.
English and Welsh voters are now taking Scottish and Northern Irish voters out of the EU against their will.
Thanks Friedrich. You are absolutely right. It was a powerful argument for a qualified majority but not many people seemed to take heed of it or see the dangers ahead.
@Frederich: “He was worried about the constitutional validity of a narrow Leave vote, if any of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland voted Remain.” Of course you can consistently argue that the four nations which make up the UK should have a veto on all major constitutional decisions. But then you could equally argue that every region of Scotland should have a veto on independence, which isn’t a principle I expect the SNP to concede. Nobody seems to worry about the Borders or Shetlands being taken out of the UK against their will.
In general of course democracy has the problem that if you are in the minority, you get overruled. There is no solution to this but Anarchy.
I don’t pretend everything is lovely. The disconnect between Scottish and Westminster politics is very worrying.
The Shetland issue was brought up marginally during the 2014 campaign. While there was some flippant comment about it, it raised serious issues over regional rights and how far devolved powers should be extended. Next week’s by-election should be interesting as the SNP are trying to make it all about independence. Not sure that is going to work in a micro-economy like Shetland where local concerns tend to trump everything else.
Ironically, given Kerr’s concern over the simple majority formula, he was a member of the Convention which drafted Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. If only he’d have known where that would end …
Democracy seems a fragile thing these days. No one can really deny that referendums are a legitimate facet of democracy and certainly have their place, but they have to be clear and on a defined question and answer.
That said, the 2016 referendum is the very antithesis of a democratic position. It was to give the electorate a choice which will fundamentally change the UK or keep it the same. Problem is everyone knows what keeping it the same means, no one knows what fundamentally changing it actually means. I also believe that no electorate has the capacity to directly make that choice, and certainly not with the cavalier attitude to truth and facts that the leave side showed during the campaign. They should not be given that choice..
As the referendum was, by law, an advisory vote it seems it was not necessary to look at mechanisms, consequences and veracity before and during the campaign. How can an electorate be expected to make an informed choice about something that requires a huge amount of knowledge. This is what representative democracy is for.
However, in fact, much of modern political structure is so complicated even the professional politicians don’t have a clue how they operate, that is left to the Civil Service and academics. Politicians make broad sweep decisions, Civil Servants provide the details. Brexit is a textbook case where, even with professional politicians, the mass of detail is so great that many are unable to foresee obvious consequences, yet plough ahead against the better judgement of their own Civil Service.
I guess my argument is that mere people are not fit to make such decisions, this is not to denigrate mere people but to recognise that in a very complicated world we need experts to make decisions. I would not expect someone I stopped in the street to be able to advise me on how to fix my computer, invest my money, plan the trajectory for a trip to Mars or any number of aspects of modern life – why would I expect them to know whether the UK should remain in the EU?
@David: “I guess my argument is that mere people are not fit to make such decisions” Unfortunately mere people are the only decision-makers available, unless you want to put a Googlebot in charge. Your faith in civil servants and academics is touching, but I think they will be the first to admit that they are also human and that increased technical knowledge often just means they can construct more sophisticated arguments for the side they would have supported anyway.
I certainly think we should listen to experts, otherwise I would not waste my time here, but there is no-one who understands Brexit or the European Union in all its detail.
I suppose we come back to the old line about democracy being worse than everything except all the alternatives.
@Alias You are right about the confirmation bias which emerges from increasing technical knowledge. The technocrats and bureaucrats may well make more informed decisions based on knowledge and experience but those decisions will still be influenced by bias interest, ideology, temperament, prejudice and any number of character attributes.
Confirmation bias is a tricky thing. The implication that an expert knows nothing about his field but has inbuilt biases so that when he learns enough to make him or her an expert, he/she will use the information learned to bolster their bias is a denial of the scientific process.
Before the referendum, I was completely for remaining in the EU. Since the referendum I have learned a lot more about the EU and the UK’s place in it. I am now more convinced that remaining is the correct course. Did I just learn things that confirmed my bias and reject those that went against it. I don’t think so. I cannot think of one tangible benefit of leaving the EU that I learned. However, I learned of a lot more benefits of being in the EU than I had originally been aware of.
Perhaps, some leavers could provide me with a list of tangible benefits of leaving the EU to humble me and make me admit my confirmation bias.
Interesting David. I am not saying it happens in all cases of course. It does happen though by selective use of evidence, information asymmetry, and unwillingness to hear all sides of the question. The Scottish referendum of 2014 was an eye-opener for me in that respect. Sadly, that included some academics clearly rejecting scientific methods of inquiry in this way. I don’t think it was quite so overt during the 2016 campaign but I wasn’t in the UK for the entire campaign so others would be better placed than me to comment on that. . .
@David: “Perhaps, some leavers could provide me with a list of tangible benefits of leaving the EU to humble me and make me admit my confirmation bias.” I wouldn’t classify myself as a Leaver. I have lived too long outside the UK to have been able to vote in the EU referendum, but I think had I been allowed, I would probably have voted Remain.
However I don’t think your challenge is an entirely fair one. In general terms, there is a trade-off between removing the inefficiency caused by borders and local accountability. Almost everyone believes this trade-off has to be made somewhere. I haven’t met many people who want a World Government or who want all government to be on the household level. Brexit is, so far as I can see, essentially about changing this trade-off to move power closer to UK residents at the cost of imposing extra border inefficiencies.
To give a similar example, I think most of us would agree that some powers should be devolved to local government, but we would have a hard time providing a list of the advantages of having, say, rubbish collection and parks managed by your local town-hall and not by Whitehall. Maybe Whitehall would do these things better? Who can tell?
I also don’t think we really know much more than we did before the referendum. So of course we haven’t seen the easiest trade negotiations in history and the German car-makers are not demanding that the EU capitulate on all the UK’s demands. Maybe some people believed that they would, but I suspect it was about as many as those who believed the Mexicans would pay for a border wall to the US, in other words not many. I can give you one pro-Remain argument before the referendum which has disappeared. The TTIP negotiations are effectively dead and it looks now as if the UK is a lot closer to the front of the queue for a trade deal with the US than the EU.
There was, of course, dishonesty on both sides in the EU referendum, but there are probably more people int the UK who believe in the tooth fairy than believe that political campaigning is always honest.
Thanks for your comment David. We definitely need more clarity in the future. I think the sub-text of my blog was really a critique of referendums with simple majorities being used for very big decisions where the mechanisms are not delineated and the consequences unclear. Intuitively, you would think that asking these kind of questions of an electorate might lead to a situation where there would be a Status Quo bias and no change would take place. In 2016 though, perhaps the advantages of staying in were not made sufficiently clear. That probably needs further research as to how the respective campaigns were A. funded and B. run.
So good to see the author of an article taking the trouble to reply to comments. Thanks Gordon.
Although I can understand others reluctance, as many comments are just moronic assertions of opinion.
@jams o’donnell Thank you for taking the time to comment! Well, I think it is right to follow up on any comments and this has been a good thread with may interesting observations and suggestions.
to reply to @Alias 24Oct reply to my comment.
Your rather gentle reply to perhaps understand, not justify the UK, leaving the EU frightens me. We are currently being brutally rushed out of the EU without a thought to immediate consequences or, indeed, long term ones. It is nothing like rubbish collections, leaving a golf club or any number of daft analogies people have come up with, either to support of decry Brexit. Our settled lives will have to turn on a dime to accommodate a drastic change in circumstances and it will be difficult for some, bad for many and catastrophic for a large number – jobs lost, businesses failed, mortgages unable to be met etc.
I don’t say Brexit can’t be done just that it has to be done with a plan, and over time. Cliff edges are bad news.
As regards a trade deal with the US – TTIP was rejected by the EU because it was not a good trade deal and not wanted by the citizens including the UK who were instrumental in marshalling protests against it. In particular the tribunals to decide disputes which allowed corporations to sue governments for lost revenue by enacting such things as environmental restrictions, or access to the NHS. I have no confidence that our Government won’t agree these things with the USA over our heads. Wouldn’t that be the irony of ironies – the “democratic” UK government forcing upon its citizens a trade deal with the USA that the “undemocratic” EU had to abandon because its citizens (including UK citizens) wouldn’t have it.
@David Just on the point of the trade deal I think you are correct to be concerned. If you look at the detail of the current US/Canada/Mexico agreement (USMCA) and even further back with NAFTA, you will find the dispute mechanisms inserted in those treaties almost exclusively favor the largest country (the US) and the larger (mainly American) corporations who possess a great amount of power relative to lost revenue if countries refuse to allow investments into their country which they think damaging. Canada has been on the receiving end of many of these decisions. Unfortunately, trade deals largely reflect the strategic balance of forces and economic and financial power in the world.
So are you saying that if we crash out of the EU then we should only rejoin if there is a qualified majority in favour? I would be against that. Equally, I would have been against a qualified majority for the 2016 referendum. After all there was no qualified majority requirement for ratifying the Maastricht Treaty Indeed, there was no direct public voting on the matter.
@Teejay Thanks for your comment. No I’m not advocating a qualified majority for any vote to rejoin the EU. I think in the interest of consistency if there was to be a vote to rejoin it would have to be on the same terms as 2016. Looking beyond that though I think we need to look at where referendums fit in with representative democracy.
@Gordan Thanks for your response. Having agreed that we need consistency, then I can’t really see any conditions where a qualified majority might be appropriate.
If we look at the second all-UK referendum for example, then it would hardly be consistent to ask people if they favoured a first past the post system but to apply a qualifying majority to that vote.
The first EU referendum didn’t require a qualifying majority, so it would not have been consistent (if not politically impossible) to apply one to the second EU referendum in 2016. In any case, one must take account of the fact that the Maastricht Treaty was agreed without a public vote and was finally agreed in Parliament only on a second vote by the device of making it a Vote of Confidence.
Also it would not be appropriate to specify an additional barrier to Eurosceptic voters given the barriers that they had experienced from representative democracy. We can recall, for example, that over 98% of MPs were elected in 2015 on manifestos that advocated remaining in the EU, yet we now know that the voting public itself was equally split on the issue. Basically many voters do not live in a marginal constituency where their vote has some influence on the outcome. Their only chance to influence UK politics is when they vote in a referendum but you are now suggesting that these rare opportunities for a meaningful vote should be subject to a new restriction. Can I suggest that we should not consider qualified majorities for referenda until and unless we have a fully proportional voting system for regular elections? It is a major deficiency of your article that you did not even consider this issue.
The only circumstance I could see where we could apply a qualifying majority without being inconsistent with past history is if we were to remain in the EU. Under those circumstances, EU proposals which change our constitution are now mandated to require a referendum. We could make any vote on those constitutional changes subject to a qualifying majority, with a default of no constitutional change. I am guessing that you would not be in favour of that, just as you are not in favour a qualifying vote for rejoining the EU. I am guessing that in practice you want a qualifying majority for votes which prevent an outcome which you don’t like but not for votes where it would prevent an outcome which you favour.
@Teejay Apologies for the delay in replying. I’ve only just seen your post. Just for the record, I don’t have any ax to grind as far as the outcome of referenda are concerned, and I don’t support another referendum on EU membership. I was merely suggesting a way forward in the conduct of referendums.
I agree with your argument about a democratic deficit in non-marginal constituencies and there is a lot of evidence that referendums can harness that feeling of disfranchisement. I think you are right to make representative democracy stronger rather than using referendums as in some ways a corrective to deficiencies in that system.
I think there is no need to be beholden to history in setting the terms of referendums. I think the point I was making about the 1978 referendums on devolution was that (albeit by the default of a parliamentary amendment) simple majority was dispensed with and replaced by the the 40% of the total electorate rule. There is nothing in our constitutional arrangements which stipulates a simple majority though of course we do have a majoritarian system. Now we have the EC, we should manage to come up with a more robust rules-based process for the future.