26. June 2016

Interview als Basis für einen späteren Artikel

The direct democracy is one of its
biggest integrative factors

Some questions concerning the Post-Brexit-weekend from an Abu-Dhabi Journalist based in Scotland

Switzerland is known throughout the world for its direct democracy, in­clu­ding its many yearly referendums. Why is it important, in your view that the Swiss people are entrusted with such a direct level of responsibility?

The Swiss people were the only ones in Europe who 150 years ago could experience the shortcomings of a representative democracy dominated by one big party. Because these liberal representatives ignored many existential needs of many simple citizens (farmers, artists and workers) these people created in many cantons oppositional democratic people’s movements who mobilised more than 20 percent of the electorate in protest meetings, imposed constitutional reforms and transformed the dominant representative Swiss democracy between 1870 and 1890 in a direct democracy.

That meant a much finer distribution of political power between Govern­ment, Parliament and citizens. Latter got the possibility to challenge any parliamentary decision and to propose to the Parliament and each other any constitutional or legislative reform. One of the great basic products of this kind of direct, very participatory democracy is that the society learns to learn politics. You get a much more knowledgeable citizenry that in a democracy where the citizens are only once in four years included in political decision-making.

Since 50 years, the use of direct democracy intensified itself very much. Swiss citizens are used to it, appreciate it in general very much and learned to make use of it in a most of the time quite reasonable way. Today direct democracy became a part of the Swiss political identity. There it is very important und you could never retransform it in an only representative, rather exclusive democratic system.

Do the Swiss people never get tired or bored of constant political de­cision-making?

The ‘Swiss people’ are not a homogeneous group of about six and a half million of women and men. They are very very diverse – and today direct democracy is paradoxically one of its biggest integrative factors. Al­though they are very different, they like to stay together because they are today invited every four months to think and discuss their differen­ces. So some of them might sometimes be tired of the need to partici­pate. And some others do indeed sometimes renounce to parti­ci­pa­te, when they don’t feel an interest or a concern in the questions and pro­positions they face. That is why never the same part of the people participates; those who do differ from referendum to referendum. But bored nearly nobody thinks he or she is. And the clear majority neverthe­less would never like to miss it. The real problem is more, that the poor and less educated one, the feel quicker tired than the well-educated and well off – and this makes those who participate not always very repre­sen­ta­tive for all those who are concerned by a decision, and this is democratically a real problem.

Whatever the result of today's EU referendum in Britain, many are anti­cipating that the EU issue will continue to be incredibly divisive for the country for weeks, months and even years to come.

This will certainly be the case. Because it will also generate more ‘re­fe­rendums’, the one about the future of Scotland at least. And who knows, perhaps there will once ne a second referendum on reintegration of Bri­tain in the Eurozone or the EU without the Euro or even a in a common market sense only like the Norwegians and the Swiss do live it. It’s part of Democracy that you can always come back to an old decision and try to make a new one. But in some issues this is more difficult than in others …

In Scotland, and nearly two years after the September 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the issue of Scottish independence is still very divisive and volatile.

Correct, we have similar examples in Switzerland too. But this is also true for parliamentary decisions. And now the conditions changed fun­da­mentally so that the Scots will get there second chance to vote on their independence which would allow them to join the EU without England and Wales.

So, how does Switzerland deal with the aftermath of their referendums?

The most important difference is that we do vote often and it is in the power of the citizens and even the minority of the Parliament to propose legal reforms. So we vote often on proposals who are reactions on older decisions and redefine the compromise done in the interest of those who lost before. When direct democracy is a process and not just a very rare event, that you can fine tune older decisions when you think the suffering of the losers require some adjustments. Not to think about the possibility how to do this belongs to the real responsibilities of those who provoked this plebiscite on Brexit; they are also not aware that plebiscites are always expressions of very autocratic systems and democracies and in most cases not very democratic in itself.

Is there never public anger about a particular referendum result in Switzerland that lasts for weeks, months or even years?

Of course there is. Recently it was even often the case. But in a very dra­matic example of the vote against the immigration, which put in dan­ger the whole set of treaties with the EU, those who do not want to ac­cept the result of the February 2014 referendum launched a new initiative to take back the old decision entirely. And they got the 100’000 signa­tu­res required to try this and now the Parliament and the Government are discussion further, perhaps less drastic corrections of the old decision to put to a new people’s vote.

What advice would you give to the people of Britain or Scotland when it comes to dealing with the results and the aftermath of referendums?

My main advice would be to allow more referendums and not just ple­bis­cites who can only be decided by the PM or the majority of the Parlia­ment. Perhaps you have to realise this in the making of a written British constitution. If such citizen referendum rights would have existed before I am sure that one of the main purposes of the leave people, the wish to control better the amount of immigration, would have been subject of a one, more precise and less general vote which perhaps could have even prevented the Brexit plebiscite to happen. Scotland I advise to make a direct democratic constitution together with the Scottish people after they have decided in a second referendum to leave Great Britain and to con­sti­tu­te an independent Scotland, which will join the European community.

Is there any way to stop such popular decision making from becoming very divisive and angry?

When you establish a well-balanced, fine-tuned direct democracy, you will decide very rarely on super big issues, which have such deep, large and dramatic consequences like Brexit. You would instead vote on im­mi­gration, decentralisation, a more inclusive regional and rural policy, the increase of the social state, a more workers friendly economy, a more citizen friendly tax policy – all policy elements who went wrong in the eyes of many British people and united them to vote for a Brexit. When those policies before would have been improved in the interest of many citizens together with them those who just wanted to get out of the EU would not have made the majority of the voters. And of course we also have to radically democratise the EU so there are less critics of the EU in the EU – another deficit of the reuling political classes in Europe.

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