Columnist: referendum on EU membership a danger in the name of democracy

W26306H13OliPoole''Business Picture. Worthing Herald Business Reporter, Oli Poole. ENGSUS00120130620162236
W26306H13OliPoole''Business Picture. Worthing Herald Business Reporter, Oli Poole. ENGSUS00120130620162236

A REFERENDUM on our future relationship with the European Union may be a triumph for democracy but it could be a disaster waiting to happen.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s pledge to hold an in/out vote on UK membership by 2017 is likely to keep us political and business reporters busy in the coming months.

But so complex is this crucial issue I wonder if the majority will be knowledgeable enough to make a truly informed decision.

Residents interested in the debate are likely to be bombarded with a dizzying array of statistics and claims from both sides.

This will not come as a surprise, with the recent election a prime example.

Institute for Fiscal Studies director Paul Johnson, in a recent piece covered in the Herald and Gazette, cited how the Conservatives claimed families were £900 a year better off, while Labour claimed they were £1,600 worse off. Both were correct, depending on the method used.

The Worthing 20mph campaign saw rival lobbying groups clash over the validity of statistics.

It will be almost impossible for voters to sort the wheat of valid information from the chaff of political spin.

For this reason, placing the responsibility of deciding such an enormous issue in the hands of Joe Public is potentially dangerous.

And this is not to meant to demean the electorate – at this stage I firmly see myself in the ‘undecided’ camp.

If there was a referendum tomorrow, I would not feel comfortable expressing an opinion either way. Businesses which trade directly with Europe would, for example, be far better placed.

But would the majority be able to give a convincing argument, based on facts, either way? I have my reservations.

I would be far happier to see our democratically-elected representatives take ownership of the topic and make the right decision, based on carefully-studied and independent evidence.

For the politicians to put the issue in our hands may well be the right thing to do in terms of fairness but could it not also be seen as passing the buck?

With the referendum looking like a formality, I look forward to covering the issue and I hope through our pages, we can project an impartial and balanced debate.