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Explain and analyze the British political system

Chapter 6

Referenda and Federalism

Bringing politics closer to the people

-The purpose of referenda and federalism is to bring politics closer to the people; referenda make possible for the people to vote directly on a parliamentary issue, and federalism “devolves” (transfers, delegates) political decision-making from the center to the regions, where decisions are made taking into account the specific context of a region.


-In a representative democracy, the voters elect their representatives who then make decisions on behalf of them. In a direct democracy, specific matters are decided by the voters themselves in referenda. Switzerland practices the referendum the most of all European countries. It often takes a long time to convince Swiss voters to accept a new idea. The best example is the introduction of female suffrage. In 1971, women won the right to vote at the national level, but it took until 1991 for woman to gain the right to vote on local issues on certain cantons.

-Referenda are often employed on highly charged, emotional political issues such as immigration, asylum seekers an others.

-The referendum in Switzerland has had an educating effect and has raised the level of political awareness, but the Swiss voter should not be viewed as idealistic and responsible when making decisions on certain issues.

– For a long time, Switzerland was the only European country practicing the referendum at a significant level. In recent years, there has been a trend all over Europe to refer political decisions more often to referenda. This trend has increased in number and importance in many European countries. For example, Sweden and Austria, settled the tricky issue of nuclear power in referenda. In Italy and Ireland, the controversial issue of divorce was submitted to referendum.

-As for Great Britain, the British doctrine is that in a referendum the voice of the people is expressed in raw form, where as in Parliamentary debate these various voices are integrated through negotiations into a more unified overall will. However, the reality of the House of Commons does not correspond to this doctrine since debates are often partisan and rancorous. Nevertheless, the doctrine still helps to justify the belief that a true democracy should be of a representative in nature.

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