Referenda are 'no magic bullet' for effective decision making

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Dr Andrew Blick last night delved into the complexities that surround the result – whatever that may be – of the Scottish bid for independence. Speaking at a King’s Ipsos MORI event to mark 200 days to go to the vote, Dr Blick said referenda are ‘no magic bullet’ in decision-making.

 

Questioning the store put by such methods to decide constitutional issues, Dr Blick drew a parallel with the 1975 referendum on whether we should stay in the then European Community. ‘On paper, it looked like a decisive ‘yes’, a large turnout and yes votes in nearly every part of the country but as history shows, what followed was anything but decisive, with the issue certainly not settled by the early 1980s and it can hardly be said that the issue has settled since. Can these referenda work legitimately to sort out the issues?’

 

Dr Blick, a constitutional historian at King’s, addressed the debate from the perspective of the UK and ‘scratched the surface’ of the myriad issues that the referendum exposes. He spoke of the complexities around the legitimacy of the decision given the tool and questioned whether it was better to have a big turnout, with a tight margin or a lower turnout but with a clear majority decision.

 

‘It’s not just about yes or no,’ he said. ‘A narrow ‘no’ leaves the door ajar for trying again at some point in the future; a narrow ‘yes’ is still a ‘yes’ and you only need to say yes once. A narrow yes vote still provides a challenging basis for constructing a new state.’ He said the debate pushed the UK towards the likelihood of a written constitution to deal with the issues that arose after the result, whichever way it goes.

 

Addressing the thorny issue of Europe, Dr Blick highlighted that both sides of the debate hailed Europe as a good organisation, noting that this is very different to the discourse around the EU in the UK. Looking to the future, he said that there would be even more devolution for Scotland, on top of that expected in 2016, and said there would be a pressing need to address the West Lothian question (the debate in the UK over whether members of parliament from outside England can vote on matters that affect only England.)

 

Dr Blick shared the panel with Stewart Hosie MP, Rt Hon Jim Murphy MP, Sue Cameron from the Daily Telegraph and Mark Diffley, Research Director at Ipsos MORI Scotland, who presented latest Ipsos MORI polling that revealed 45% of the voters - around 2million people - are still ‘up for grabs’.

 

Dr Blick said that whatever the result, this current debate is just another part of the constitutional flux that the UK has been going though since at least the 1960s. ‘All sorts of processes of reform that affect the whole of the UK have been ongoing over the last 50 years. It will keep happening. This latest challenge is a big deal though, because it will impact on the remaining parts of the UK.’

 

Concluding he said: ‘It is highly likely that the UK will move to some sort of written constitution as a result and, I suspect, a federal system of government which was, ironically, what most people in Scotland wanted all along in 1706!’

Notes to editors

Dr Andrew Blick is available for media interviews. For more information please contact Anna Mitchell (PR Manager, Arts & Sciences) on 0207 848 3092 or anna.i.mitchell@kcl.ac.uk

For further information about King's visit our 'King's in Brief' page.

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