On 28 September, Switzerland will hold yet another referendum on crucial federal and cantonal decisions. The Swiss do this every three months, often on technical issues, such as solar energy or parking garages, about which they are not particularly knowledgeable. Or they pass judgement on passionate themes, such as last February’s initiative on curbing mass migration, which can make or break the country economically.
This month’s federal vote will decide whether to introduce a public health insurance, as Pamela Taylor writes, and whether restaurants should continue paying VAT. Local initiatives vary. Geneva will be voting on a proposal to build a tunnel across the Rhone, while Vaud has no changes on the table.
Another key referendum is next week’s Scottish independence vote, notably, the right to break away from the United Kingdom with which they have been associated for more than 300 years. The most recent polls suggest a very close “yes” win for the nationalists.
French-dominant Quebec has tried twice to vote on independence from Canada. The first was in 1980, when it lost significantly, and the second in 1995 where the initiative was defeated. Barely. Now, nearly 20 years later, the Quebec nationalists are on the out. Many Québécois, particularly young people, are coming to realize that independence would only be shooting themselves in the foot economically and that union is preferable.
How democratic are these referenda? Do they really represent the public will? In Switzerland, participation is usually high, but a referendum can be decided by a 50.3% majority as happened with the migration vote. This means that nearly half the voting population does not agree. But at least every Swiss citizen is allowed to vote, regardless whether in Lausanne, Los Angeles or Lagos.
The Scottish referendum only allows current residents to participate. Scots living elsewhere in the UK or abroad cannot, even if they pay taxes for properties they own in Scotland. Some UK citizens argue that they, too, should be able to vote as the decision will affect them.
Both Scotland and Quebec can have their futures decided by a 50.1% local vote. US citizens, who can vote from abroad, can propose change, but both Houses need a two-thirds majority. So at least, that’s arguably more democratic. But what happens when people realize – only much later – that devolution with union is perhaps better than independence with borders?
Edward Girardet, Editor@lenews.ch