The need for a Referendums Act

I Want a Referendum is holding a private ballot in 10 constituencies across the UK to determine how many people think the UK should hold a national referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and whether people think the UK should agree to the treaty or reject it. One of the constituencies chosen for the private ballot is the Aberconwy constituency where I live*

I received my ballot paper this morning. I was disappointed to discover that the ballot paper and leaflet giving both sides of the argument are only in English, especially as Guto Bebb stated on yesterday's the Politics Show opt out that he had been busy translating all the material.

The ballot paper has two questions

1 Should the United Kingdom hold a national referendum on the EU's Lisbon Treaty Yes/No
2. Should the United Kingdom approve the EU's Lisbon Treaty Yes/No

I will be voting NO to the second question. Since the UK joined the European Community in the 1970's, gradualist reforming treaties have changed the institution out of all proportion and these gradual reforms seem to be leading inevitably towards an United States of Europe, a new European Empire. An European Superstate which will result in Wales having even less of a voice in the economic and social debates that will effect the country than it currently has in the British Union.

I am uncertain about the first question. I will probably vote yes, in favour of a referendum but I will do so with some doubts. The reason why this government is refusing to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty is quite simply that it strongly suspects that it knows that the result will not be the result that it wants. Exactly the same reason why Margaret Thatcher and John Major's Governments didn't call referendums on the Single European Act and the Mastricht Treaty.

If referendums are to be used as part of the democratic process then calling them at the whim of a government only when it knows what the result will be is an abuse of the democratic process. If referendums are to be used as part of the democratic decision making process then they should be triggered "automatically" by circumstances laid out by a Referendums Act whether the government likes it or not.

Many of those who are calling for a referendum on Lisbon are the same people who wanted a referendum on the SEA and Mastricht. So why haven't those (especially the MPs amongst them) who have been calling for referendums for the past 21 years used that period to campaign for a Referendum's Act? Because they are as guilty as the present government of only wanting a referendum when they think the result will be the one that they want; because they are frightened that a democratic system that triggers referendums according to circumstances rather than whim might cause a referendum to be forced upon them when the result isn't likely to go their way. The unsavoury truth is that many politicians on both sides of the argument over a referendum on Lisbon are opportunists rather than democrats.

*As the constituency is in the process of boundary changes, it could be the Conwy constituency that is being balloted.

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