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Referendums: a tool for democratic engagement or division? Lessons from the EU referendums in 1975 and 2016

  • House of Commons, Committee Room 10 London SW1A 0AA UK (map)

Referendums have become a regular feature of democracy in the UK but do the promote democratic engagement or division? Unlock Democracy has joined with History and Policy to see what lessons we can learn from the referendums on the EU in 1975 and 2016.

The recent  EU referendum campaign was widely considered to have been divisive, splitting the country in half and polarizing opinion. Days before the referendum 28% of people said they felt poorly informed and a plurality of voters thought leave and remain were negative campaigns. So how could we have done it better?

In the lead up to the referendum Unlock Democracy ran a campaign to help people get behind the soundbites and understand the issues. We ran two workshops to help people decide how to vote, focusing on facilitating deliberative discussion and debate. We did not take a position on the outcome of the referendum.

In our final event Unlock Democracy will explore how, if used correctly, referendums can be powerful tools for democratic engagement.


Frances Foley -  Unlock Democracy Europe Project Coordinator

Lindsay Aqui - PHD candidate,  Queen Mary University of London, author of ‘Understanding Britain's 'Yes' to Europe: The Official Public Information Campaign, January - June 1975’

Later Event: November 4
Glasgow Open Space