The result of the AV referendum has been widely argued, most obviously by opponents of change, to have ‘settled the issue’ of electoral reform. With a few notable exceptions, includingChris Huhne, prominent supporters of a ‘Yes’ vote have done relatively little to challenge this argument. The consensus appears to be that the issue of electoral reform will not be returned to again ‘for at least a generation’.
Yet, past experience tells us that referendums are, in fact, remarkably ineffectual in drawing major constitutional debates to a close. The table below summarises the results of the 11 referendums held in the UK to date on UK constitutional issues (excluding local referendums). With the possible exception of the vote on the creation of a Greater London Assembly and Office of the Mayor of London, few of these matters would now be considered ‘settled’. Take the subject of the only previous UK-wide referendum, on the UK’s membership of the EEC. Would anyone seriously want to suggest that this has resolved the question of the UK’s relationship to the process of European integration? Continue reading