Let’s curb this unbridled incompetence with a direct democracy à la Suisse

The Swiss vote on legislation, not the day-to-day government. Some will say the public doesn’t care or aren’t smart enough for all of this. What they mean is that the audience can make the wrong choice (sounds familiar?). Yet treating people as responsible citizens makes them more responsible, not less.

Critics would say Switzerland is so different from Britain, but is it really? It is in the same part of the world and has a common history of democratic freedom. It is a bit of a stretch to say that out of some 200 countries on earth, only one or two could incorporate direct democracy. Switzerland may be a pioneer, but that doesn’t make it an outlier.

Britain has e-petitions, some recall power, and an occasional referendum. Although e-petitions have little ability to force change, the premise is correct. For Britain, direct democracy would be revolutionary, but it would not be unprecedented.

As for the population, if representative democracies can exist from a few thousand to over a billion people, why can’t they be direct (or semi-direct) democracies? Where is the crowd rule either? Far from undermining the rights of minorities, direct democracy helps Switzerland navigate inter-ethnic relations. Double majorities – where an idea must win a majority of voters and cantons – also protect minority rights. Meanwhile, popular initiatives must deal with one subject at a time and not infringe on fundamental rights.

Britain would have the advantage of the second engine if it incorporated direct democracy, learning from the Swiss system. The UK could use qualified majorities – as well as double majorities or conditions for participation – as needed. Yes, in Switzerland participation can sometimes be low. Participation can be low in a representative democracy. Is that a reason to abandon it? Maybe the Swiss have gotten used to a good thing, but they don’t want to lose it. Consider what damage would have been avoided since 1997 had the UK had direct democracy. Consider what damage will be done by 2024 without it. By then it may be too late.

People’s lives are threatened by total incompetence. The government should focus on the next generation, not just the next election. Unfortunately, our policy encourages short-term horizons and allows many politicians to break their promises at will, relying on people’s short memories. It doesn’t have to be like that. Switzerland has tested an alternative on the road.

Remember, every argument made against direct democracy was against refusing to vote for women, minorities and working class men. It is time for the muzzled majority to regain power. Now is not the time to waste time.


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