There was an intriguing suggestion on the TV last night re the Greek situation to the effect that some matters are too important to be trusted to a referendum. What an incredibly arrogant and undemocratic suggestion. I would say that some matters are so important that a referendum must be held! What is an election if not a weak form of referendum – weak in that we are asked to vote on a whole range of measures in a manifesto that may or may not actually be implemented. A referendum on a specific subject is a very strong form of democratic practice.
The arguments against holding referendums tend to concentrate on the cost and the potential for delay. I rather suspect that it has more to do with politicians not trusting the public to come up with the answer they want! But politicians really should be capable of arguing the merits of a given case. As it is the suggestion made implies the public cannot be relied upon to make a true judgement on a given case.
Of course referenda should not sought on every issue that arises but there must be a case for canvassing public opinion on key issues to judge whether a referendum should be held. I would go as far as to suggest that a referendum must be sought on any major issue – short of national security – that arises but was not contained in the governments election manifesto! That would sort out some of the nonsense we have as a result of the current coalition government. Failing that, I rather like the Swiss model where referendums must be held in certain situations or if demanded by enough petitioners. There’s a good article on Referendums in Wikipedia.