A referendum in Ireland?

From late 2019 to early 2021, the Working Group on the Unification Referendums on the Island of Ireland considered how any future referendum on the constitutional status of Northern Ireland could best be designed and conducted. The group, comprised of scholars from Northern Ireland, Ireland, the UK and the US, did not take a view on whether a referendum would be desirable or what the outcome of a referendum should be. It focused only on technical and procedural questions.  

The group outlines three main conclusions in its final report: 

  • The need for a clear plan for the processes of decision-making that would follow: the group said it would be “unwise” for a referendum to be called without such a plan, which would need to be agreed by the governments of Northern Ireland and Ireland and the UK. It did not take a view on when planning should commence.  
  • There are several plausible configurations of referendums north and south: as part of the report, the group outlines the advantages and disadvantages of holding referendums before the details of a united Ireland had been worked out or waiting until later after a plan had been developed.  
  • Conduct rules for any referendum would be crucial: the group argues that rules regarding referendum and election campaigns are badly out of date in both Ireland and the UK. It particularly highlights the importance of voters’ access to high-quality information and the need for “rigorously impartial” administration services.   

Read the full article:

  • Working Group on the Unification Referendums on the Island of Ireland, Final ReportConstitution Unit, May 2021

‘Super Thursday’ elections

Reflecting on the recent UK elections, Catzeflis argues that the results indicate that “something profound is happening” in British politics, but “we cannot see where it leads yet”.  

The author first gives a summary of the results from “Super Thursday” (so-called after Super Tuesday in the US, in which many states hold their presidential primaries on the same day). He believes that whilst the results may seem straightforward, a more nuanced picture has emerged that shows British politics as more fragmented between London, the devolved nations, and the regions. He argues that if this trend continues it could lead to a more European style of politics in the UK, rooted in local activity and powerful local leaders. He points to strong national figures across the UK, such as Nicola Sturgeon, Mark Drakeford, and regional metro-mayors, such as Andy Burnham and Ben Houchen, as reviving the historical political landscape of “big personalities” and “political entrepreneurship in its purest form”.  

The author then considers the response of the Conservative government to the emergence of localism in the UK. He states that it has a “profound aversion” to handing more powers to regions and devolved nations. He argues that projects like HS2 and moving parts of the Treasury to the North of England will not solve the problem.  

To end, Catzeflis sets out his ideas for how the UK can regain stability, including: 

  • a proportional voting system;
  • greater devolution; and
  • a genuine commitment to help local communities shape their own lives.  

Read the full article:

The case for a strong parliament

In this blog, Ringen argues against the theory that a strong government makes for effective governance. He states that “Parliament should assert itself” in order to make better public policy. He points to two areas of UK politics that he believes are designed to create a strong government and a weak legislature: the electoral system and the parliamentary agenda.  

Turning first to the first past the post (FPTP) voting system, Ringen claims the system is designed largely to preserve a two-party system and to produce a majority of seats in Parliament for one of these parties. He highlights that, in 2019, there were 336,000 votes for every Liberal Democrat seat, compared to 38,000 votes for every Conservative seat. He argues that this system creates a Parliament which is poorly representative of its people.  

The article then briefly discusses how Parliament’s agenda is set by the Leader of the House, a member of the Prime Minister’s cabinet. Ringen argues that, in this system, “the sovereign Parliament is not in charge of its own work”. He says that the reason given for this arrangement is so that the Government can pursue its work without distraction from parliamentarians.  

After outlining how the UK system has been designed according to the “false theory” of strong governance, he highlights other countries which frequently have coalition or minority governments and are still “well-functioning”, such as those in Scandinavia and Germany. He states that, compared to these systems, the British way “does not stand out” in terms of its effectiveness.  

He ultimately calls for the UK to scrap FPTP and to introduce proportional representation for elections.  

Read the full article: