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Robert L.
Politics, IR and history tutor with 7 years experience
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Political Science
TutorMe
Question:

Appraise the benefits and risks of the use of referenda, using the example of one country, eg Britain.

Robert L.
Answer:

Following the 2015 Conservative victory in Britain’s general election Eurosceptics in the country finally had their way with a promised “in-out” referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. Referenda are a poor means of implementing democracy. They sound appealing, a mechanism to decide big questions that transcend party political lines and let the people have their say in a way general elections do not. Moreover they represent direct democracy in the Athenian tradition and can circumvent the business-as-usual politics that traditional parties often exercise to defend the existing conventions. They are only conclusive, however, if they alter the status quo - and few do - which means the questions return again and again. They are no more definite – or secure - than parties winning mandates at general elections. Direct Democracy of this sort can be disastrous, and even faintly ridiculous. Faced with a number of single questions, particularly populist ones can lead to outcomes that are hard to reconcile. For instance in California a number of “propositions” have almost bankrupted the state. As The Economist has documented “More than 100 of the initiatives of the past two decades promised something for nothing, such as cutting a tax or expanding a service. Of those initiatives, about two-thirds passed. Who could be against better mental-health care, or against locking up criminals longer to keep the streets safe?” The only slight problem being that Californian voters also passed “Proposition 13” in 1978, which limits the state government’s ability to increase taxes. The result has been a ballooning deficit and an army of lobbyists trying to push referenda. The balanced Party programme or manifesto suddenly gains a hitherto underappreciated appeal. Most plebiscites, however, choose the status quo over change. Britain voted on membership in 1975 and 67% chose to stay in the (then) European Community. There was also a referendum on Britain’s “first past the post” electoral system in 2011, 68% decided to keep that too. Quebec had a referendum in 1980 on independence from Canada with 60% no-vote and last year Scotland voted on independence and 55% said no, which is the same proportion of Australians who said no to becoming a republic in 1999. When asked whether they wanted a new EU Constitution in 2005 a number of European countries said yes before no votes in France and the Netherlands derailed the process. Voting in favour of the status quo, however, does not settle an issue and therefore makes a referendum only a temporary measure. Quebec waited a mere 15 years before asking the voters again about independence and no sooner had they lost last year’s vote the SNP was agitating for another plebiscite in Scotland. The British electorate voted for Edward Heath’s Conservative Party in 1970. The manifesto said: “we believe that it would be in the long-term interest of the British people for Britain to join the European Economic Community, and that it would make a major contribution to both the prosperity and the security of our country.” It was the central plank of Heath’s programme and he duly delivered. Returned to government in 1974 Labour’s Prime Minister Harold Wilson felt obliged to ask the electorate whether this was really what they wanted, and incidentally claimed he had renegotiated Britain’s terms within the Community. Now 40 years later we have the same process, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said that “this generation had been denied its say” on the issue, so by that logic we can expect another referendum in 2055. Offering the electorate a direct choice of this kind, however, may demonstrate fragility – to quote former Conservative minister Chris Patten – “On the whole, governments only concede them when governments are weak.”

International Relations
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Question:

Briefly summarise the main tenets of 'Offensive' and 'Defensive' realism

Robert L.
Answer:

Offensive realism interprets state interests, broadly speaking, as a zero-sum quest for power. Hans Morgenthau, for instance, writing in 1948, was clear that ideals had no place in international relations: “Realism maintains that universal principles cannot be applied to the actions of states.” John Mearsheimer wrote how, in an anarchical system without central authority, “the international system creates powerful incentives for states to look for opportunities to gain power at the expense of rivals, and to take advantage of those situations when the benefits outweigh the costs.” The South Caucaus appears to be a good example of this paradigm. Thomas De Waal has written on this zero-sum dynamic in the region, which also includes Armenia’s troubled relationship with Turkey. If offensive realism provides one interpretation of the international relations of states and powers the variant known either as defensive realism, neorealism or structural realism may offer a more nuanced view of International Relations. The work of Kenneth Waltz sets out his view that states attempt to gain or consolidate their security and interests. For Waltz, power is a useful means of achieving security but too much, or too little, power may illicit uncertainty and potentially aggression from other actors. It is clear that a country that suffers from a high level of insecurity is important when appraising its international relations.

European History
TutorMe
Question:

Outline the causes of the 1968 'Croatian Spring' in the former Yugoslavia?

Robert L.
Answer:

The history of Yugoslavia is littered with crises, splits and power struggles. One such divide occurred in the mid-1960s over the issues of centralisation and greater autonomy for the republics, as well as liberal reform. In 1965, liberal, decentralising reforms were proposed to give the republics more independence and orientate the economy, albeit vaguely, towards market-based policies. Aleksandar Ranković, head of the secret police and vice president - and who favoured centralisation of power in Belgrade - was disgraced in 1966, for, among other charges, of spying on Tito. Ranković was considered an advocate of Serb hegemony within Yugoslavia and his ousting represented a power struggle at the top of the communist party. Tito would struggle to maintain the state’s unity, as well as his own authority, over the next decade. 1968 was the year of widespread unrest in Europe. In Yugoslavia protests erupted in early June at the University of Belgrade. Predating this, however, were rumblings of cultural assertiveness in Croatia. There has been debate over whether the catalyst for the Croatian Spring was the change in the economic situation or underlying national grievances. What was clear, however, was that dissent against the ruling elites increased after the economic and political environment was liberalised. John Lampe has written that the 1965 reforms increased tourism - and revenue - into the Dalmatian Coast, meaning Croatia was developing more rapidly than most of the other republics. British diplomats – implausibly – said the 1965 reforms meant that the Yugoslav economy was being left to the ‘impersonal judgement of the market’, but even if that was an exaggeration they were correct in predicting that economic differences caused by the reforms could ‘lead to a resurgence of nationalist feelings’. There were protests in Croatia in 1967 over the implementation of the 1954 Novi Sad agreement, which sought to promote a Serbo-Croat language. Croat linguists demonstrated against the changes, saying that the Serb element was being favoured over its brother language. Meanwhile, future Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, who in the 1960s was director of Croatia’s Institute for the History of the Workers Movement, produced findings that the wartime Ustaše fascist government in Croatia, which had committed countless atrocities against the Serb population and was essentially a puppet of the Nazis, was not as brutal as the communists had proclaimed. Tudjman - who was asked to resign from his government and communist party posts in 1967 for his association with the ‘Declaration Concerning the Name and Position of the Croatian Literary Language’ - also served on the executive of Matica Hrvaska, Croatia’s best known cultural organisation, which was to become a focal point of the Croatian Spring. The catalyst for broader protests, however, was triggered by student protests elsewhere. Unrest in Yugoslavia in 1968 began with university students in Belgrade, initially focused on leftists groups and caught up in the wave of protest that swept Europe that year. Discord began on 2 June 1968 when students complained there was insufficient audience space to watch a concert at the university. This most minor of pretexts erupted into widespread disturbances, firstly in Belgrade and subsequently in Niš, Novi Sad, Zagreb and Ljubljana.

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