What does the word "representative" mean? Go on, look it up. I'll wait.

All right.

For those of you who don't know, one of the greatest topics of conversation in the U.K. is (and has been for decades now) whether or not to join Europe. Well, actually, given that we have already joined the union and are part of the economic bloc, I suppose the question is really how much further into Europe we want to go.

The terror that many people have is that our Great Sovereign Island Nation will be diluted and dissolved into a faceless grey imperial province of the autocratic United States of Europe, whose de facto power is in the EU institutions centered around France and Germany.

This is just nonsense, of course. None of the other member states are culturally even slightly worse off than they were before. I can confirm that Spanish people still eat paella and bocadillos and have cañas. They even still televise bullfights and have the bull run in Pamplona. These last are rather extreme things to allow in the modern world-view, but because they are part of the nation's cultural heritage, they are granted a dispensation. The same would be true for any nation. Our heritage is actually a positive and necessary thing, because it encourages trade and travel - precisely the things the economic bloc was created to promote.

On a similar note, this is why the U.K. should never (and will never, actually) abolish the royal family. It is one of the things people associate with us, that they view as quaint and worth visiting to see.

But my central point about this is the referendum thing. People are always clamouring for a referendum on the proposed EU constitution before agreeing to allow it to govern our lives. It might seem obvious - it is something that will affect everyone in the nation, so why shouldn't everyone get to decide on it? Is that not what happens in a democracy?

No. No, it doesn't. Anyone who holds the view that the general public needs to be consulted on any matter in this way is clearly fundamentally ignorant about the system under which they live their lives. We live in a representative democracy. We are represented by people for whom we vote. This should be obvious, as it's the reason we have elections. We are allowed to choose from a set of candidates who will take these decisions for us.

The main reason a referendum would be disastrous is that the general public is generally rather stupid. The general public is in favour of the death penalty. Moreover, 99.9% of the general public would not read the constitution before voting it, and of those who did bother to read it, only a fraction of a fraction would be sufficiently versed in international law to actually know what it meant. To allow a referendum is to take the decision out of the hands of the few people who are briefed properly on such things (politicians) and put it into the hands of those who are not. How can this result in a better decision?

I agree, by the way, that not all politicians would be sufficiently briefed. The system isn't perfect, and nor are politicians. But in percentage terms, there are fewer of them than there are of us, so it'd be an improvement over the general public even if only half of them understood it.

Finally, the whole referendum process is essentially a vote of no confidence in the entire system of governance. It is bypassing the way we have set up the country. We can rule by popular vote or we can rule by representatives. We can't have it both ways, unless the issue at hand is something so simple that everyone who votes can be guaranteed to actually know what they are voting for. In this case, they can't, because it's not, so we can't.

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