Should we hold more referendums in the UK? Ideas for discussion with your students

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1 Should we hold more referendums in the UK? Ideas for discussion with your students Here are some ideas for classroom activities on the subject of referendums. Some are brief and could be used as starters or plenaries; others are more in-depth and will require development or extension work. The referendum on the alternative vote on 5 May 2011 was only the second national referendum held in the UK. The first took place on 5 June 1975 and asked voters: Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)? Are referendums beneficial to democracy in the UK? Should there be more of them? Here are some suggestions for activities based around these questions, using the prompt cards below. Ask the students to define or research the political terms on the cards, such as legitimacy, parliamentary sovereignty, and direct democracy, and feed back to the class. Pair students and give each pair a yes and no card. Ask them to discuss the arguments in their pairs and decide which one is more convincing and why. Join each pair with another so they can discuss all four cards and agree whether they are persuaded by the yes or no arguments (allow them a split response if necessary!). Each group should feed back to the class. To extend the activity, hold a debate in class between those groups that favour the yes arguments and those that favour the no side. Using the blank set of cards, ask the students to come up with some for/against arguments of their own. These could be used in addition to or instead of the completed cards. Give pairs of students a complete set of yes/no cards. Ask them to look for directly opposing points that provide two sides of a balanced argument, and pair them. Some of the cards won t make a natural pair; where this is the case, can they think of arguments to oppose the point made on the card? Select the cards that you feel raise the most important issues in the referendum debate. Put the students in small groups and give each group a card to think about in more detail. Ask them to do a presentation on their issue. For higher ability students, ask them to find examples of direct democracy in action in other systems to back up their arguments eg. Switzerland or California. Using the cards as a starting point, ask the groups to design a campaign for or against holding more referendums. They should think about their message, slogans, key points, modes of communication, audience, and who they are trying to influence. Present the campaigns in class.

2 They strengthen democracy by allowing the public to speak for themselves They increase participation in democratic action They educate and inform the public on a particular issue They allow governments to consult the public other than at election time They give a popular legitimacy to a new law They act as a check on the power of governments in the 4-5 years between elections They allow the public to express their view on a specific issue They provide a clear answer to an important question They can help make a decision when there is division in the government They are a strong form of direct democracy

3 They simplify and reduce complex issues into a single question Wording and language can be biased They may not reflect the views of the majority if turnout is low They cost money to hold They give too much power to the media and other nonelected influences like lobbyists They provide only a snapshot of public opinion at one point in time They allow politicians to avoid making difficult decisions and having to take responsibility for them The public, not politicians, should decide what is a referendum issue They undermine the authority of MPs, who have been elected to represent us They undermine Parliamentary sovereignty

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