Letter:Referendums are a sign of maturity

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The Independent Online
From Professor Rodney Brazier Sir: If the only objections to referendums on basic constitutional questions are the ones advanced by Stephen Ward ("A referendum is no cure-all", 19 December), then the case for such expressions of opinion is overwhelming.

The future direction of the British constitution raises issues in which all citizens have a legitimate interest. When the two main parties are divided internally about, for example, Britain's role in Europe, the only systematic method of testing the electorate's opinion is through a consultative referendum.

Mr Ward grudgingly concedes that it "is arguably good for democracy if a question that bears on something so fundamental as sovereignty is put directly to the people". Indeed so; and why should voters care if referendums don't resolve all the internal debates about policy within the political parties?

No Cabinet agrees on everything all the time. To try to pretend otherwise does absolutely nothing to underpin the doctrine of collective responsibility.

It is a sign of constitutional maturity when Cabinets occasionally acknowledge that they are divided on constitutional matters, and when they invite the nation (which will itself also be divided) to help resolve things through a referendum.

Yours faithfully, RODNEY BRAZIER Professor Faculty of Law University of Manchester Manchester 20 December