A better direct democracy idea


Above: Ostraka from 482 BC recovered from a well near the Acropolis.

Colin Craig has told his party faithful that binding referenda will be a bottom line in any post-election coalition deal.

Let’s assume for a moment that National ends up needing the Conservatives, and that Colin Craig becomes the kingmaker after the election. Sure, it’s a leap, but let’s pretend that the last round of polls didn’t happen. Let’s say for the sake of argument that Colin Craig manages to get around the whole parliamentary-supremacy problem, turning our constitutional arrangements on their head, and revealing to the world his true genius as a constitutional law expert.

How would it work in practice? Would anyone be able to come up with a referendum question? Because I have the ultimate referendum question:

Should all citizens referenda be non-binding?

Look, I’m all for direct democracy, but why stop with binding referenda? There are so many other ways we can empower our citizens and give then a direct say in how our country runs.

The ancient Athenians were big on direct democracy. They had this thing called ostracism, which allowed the city state to rid itself of unpopular public figures.  Each year the citizens of Athens would be asked if they wanted to hold an ostracism, and if they voted yes they would then scratch on pottery sherds (called ostraka, hence the term ostracism) the name of a public figure they disliked.  Unlike in our modern day democracy, the person with the most votes was very much the loser, because they would then be exiled for ten years.

I like the idea, but I can see some practical difficulties with carrying out a modern day ostracism. We can’t force other countries to take our unwanted citizens, so would we just put them in a dinghy and have the Navy tow them out of our territorial waters? And can Colin Craig even handle a boat?