Democracy in Action? – The Place of Referendums in Scotland and the UK

A Centre for Scottish Public Policy Event.  Kindly supported by Brodies LLP and the Democratic Society Scotland.

17:30 – 19:00, Brodies LLP, 110 Queen Street, Glasgow, G1 3BX, 13 September 2017

This event is free to attend, but ticketed. Please book your place below, or write to [email protected], stating your name and organisation.

Event Overview

This event responds to current debates on a future Scottish independence referendum and the interpretation of the UK’s referendum on its membership of the European Union. It aims to examine when and how referendums have been and should be used in parliamentary democracy in the UK and in Scotland.

The use of referendums raises multiple questions. What should the role of referendums be in the UK’s representative democracy? Following from IndyRef and Brexit, what are the democratic lessons on the organisation and use of referendums to make key decisions in society? Finally, in the context of discussions about both democratic accountability in the Brexit process and Scotland’s constitutional future, how should possible future referendums be triggered and organised?

This discussion will consider the role of referendums from a constitutional and democratic perspective, and enable a wider reflection on political engagement in representative democracy.

Hear from an expert panel and join the discussion on a central issue for our political system.


Event Chair: Amy Dalrymple, CSPP Co-Chair   

Guest Panel:

  • Charles Livingstone, Partner, Public Law and Regulatory Team, Brodies LLP
  • Rachel Ormston, Associate Director, Ipsos MORI Scotland
  • Alistair Stoddart, Network Manager, Democratic Society Scotland


  • 17:30              Registration and Networking
  • 18:00              Chair’s opening remarks: Amy Dalrymple, CSPP
  • 18:05              Charles Livingstone, Brodies LLP
  • 18:15              Rachel Ormston, Ipsos MORI Scotland
  • 18:25              Alistair Stoddart, Democratic Society Scotland
  • 18:35              Closing remarks from the chair, followed by Q&A
  • 19:00              End of the event


Since the financial and economic crisis, politics in Scotland and the UK have undergone a tumultuous period which has raised questions about traditional forms of political representation and decision-making.  

Previously a relatively rare mechanism of decision-making in UK politics, in the past few years referendums have been used increasingly to settle key questions in society: the planned creation of a Scottish Parliament (1997), the British electoral system for Westminster (2011), Scotland’s constitutional future (2014), and the UK’s membership of the European Union (2016). At a local or regional level, referendums have been employed in determining congestion charging in Edinburgh (2005), mayoral arrangements in various areas of England, and the proposed creation of a North Eastern Assembly (2004).

However, in the absence of a written constitution establishing set procedures around how and when referendums are triggered, the rules of these exercises in direct democracy have not been systematic or codified. Rather, they have been set by negotiated pieces of legislation, which arguably reflect compromises between different political groupings at a given juncture, but fall short of fully comprehending the complexity of voters’ motives and wishes.

With ongoing debate about both democratic accountability in the Brexit process and Scotland’s constitutional future, the question of the rules around any future referendums to resolve these – or any other – issues will likely return to the political agenda.

It is considered timely to discuss these questions from a democratic, and best-practice perspective.

We hope you can join us for what promises to be a stimulating and insightful discussion, which will help raise public understanding about these issues at a key time in both Scottish and UK politics.


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September 13, 2017 at 5:30pm - 7pm
Brodies LLP, Glasgow
Marine Furet ·

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Centre for Scottish Public Policy
c/o Digby Brown LLP
160 Causewayside
Causewayside House
Edinburgh EH9 1PR
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