David, at A Fistful of Euros, comments on referendums:

“I’m quite fond of representative democracy, and don’t think replicating the Swiss or Californian system would be a particularly good idea. I do however think that referendums are an occasionally vital and necessary part of democracy[…].”

While I agree with David that one of the problems with referendums is the desire of the people to give the Government a bloody nose, I don’t agree that referendums should therefore be infrequent. Quite the reverse – the key benefit of the Swiss, and to a lesser extent the Californian, systems is that they have referendums so frequently that no vote can be considered to be giving the Government a bloody nose, or retaliating for decisions taken 5 years ago.

Take Britain. If a referendum were held on the EU constitution were held tomorrow, it would probably be lost. Would that be because the British didn’t like Maastricht, or Amsterdam, or Nice? Or being members of the EU at all? Or Tony Blair? Or the Iraq War? Who could tell?

Now, in a country where at least most of the EU treaties had been put to a vote – say, Ireland – if the EU constitution were rejected, we would know it was the constitutional treaty that was being rejected, not some treaty from ten years back.