Scottish referendum was a good idea done badly

So, the people have spoken.  Which is a good thing.  Except that it isn’t, or at least not the way it was done.

There seems to be a view that for really big decisions what is needed is a one person one vote decision for that topic – a referendum.  It seems to be held out as a kind of gold standard for good representative decision making, for example demanded and offered for European changes.But, people are bad decision makers, especially when they are not used to seeing that type of problem through and learning from how they turn out.  And the bigger and more unfamiliar the problem the worse they get.  You can see it in the recent financial crisis – lots of hand wringing from many many people, but the ones who were useful were the ones who had got experience in smaller crises.  They weren’t perfect – far from it – but they were much better prepared than those who had no experience of what apparently counter-intuitive moves were required.  When to be tough and when not.

So the problem with Referenda? Its that these are kept for really big decisions, with most smaller decisions taken by representatives elected for the purpose.  For those, you get to see the outcome of the decisions, but there is a huge difference between observing and doing.  It’s like cooking only beans on toast, easting in Pizza Express from time to time and thinking a little bit about how it was made, but then being expected to rustle up a three star Michelin starred  meal for 20.

So, whilst it is really good to see the focus people have made on this vote, and the discussion of various elements, the tough reality is that you just cant go straight to these decisions and judge them well.  Desire and focus is not enough, even if the cat posters would have you believe it is.  And the way the information has been made available to people is just positively unhelpful – from both no and yes sides.  The adversarial system used in courts and politics is a rubbish way to educate people, never mind that they don’t have the experience.

In my mind, a better way would be to vote for representatives to properly consider the topic, spending enough time on it.  Representative democracy in other words.  If it is OK for most decision, why is it not enough for major ones?  In other situations, it is exactly what is asked for, for example a judicially chaired enquiry.

So, whilst I would have voted for Scotland to stay part of the UK, and believe I am moderately well grounded, I know it is only moderate.  And I know many people who did have a vote wouldn’t be that good.  For the future of the UK to be put in the hands of such a poor process is irresponsible.

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