As part of their citizenship lessons, a school in Manchester explained to their 6 year old pupils what a referendum is and how it works.
The Pankhurst School designed a referendum that required a simple “Yes” or “No” vote. The teacher asked the class “Should children get presents for their birthdays?” “Yes” shouted most of the children, including John. Emily Gandee, the most popular child in class, said ‘No’. Emily and John were told to use the break as a time to persuade their classmates to vote like them. The vote would take place after break.
After break, John said that he hadn’t been able to speak to many children because Emily was handing out candy and he didn’t have any to give out himself.
John’s collected reasons for voting “Yes” were:
1. “My mum and dad show how much they love me with birthday presents”.
2. “if you don’t get presents on your birthday, then you only get presents once a year at Christmas”
3. “Because that’s the way it’s always been and it’s not fair to stop now”
Emily strode up to the front of the class and confidently gave her collected reasons for the ‘No’ vote:
1. “Mr Howell [the Headmaster] goes to the Kingdom Hall down the street. He’s a Jehovah’s Witness and he says he doesn’t celebrate birthdays because it’s a pagan thing.”
2. “I have a party on my birthday and we all dance. My family sing me happy birthday and we have a special cake. We make memories, not presents.”
3. “I get presents from my dad because he wants my affection. I’d rather have his time”
The result of the vote was 14 ‘No’ and 10 ‘Yes’. 6 children didn’t vote because they were in the toilet.
The teacher asked why some of the children had changed their minds during break. Reasons given were that Emily was their friend and she had asked them to vote with her. The sweets helped. Emily was also more enthusiastic about the vote than John. And she gave better reasons than John. If Mr Howard doesn’t get presents on his birthday then it’s not right that I do.
This shows that while a referendum allows everyone to vote to provide a clear answer to a political question, providing a mandate for controversial policies, it can be driven by strong personalities and money spent on campaigns (Emily and her sweets). John’s campaign was not financed at all.
The low ‘turnout’ for the vote distorted results. This clearly favoured the ‘No’ supporters. There were still significant ‘Yes’ votes, but who knows how their wishes will be safeguarded.