There’s an established liberal critique of the referendum: these things bypass the orderly representative institutions; they’re unstable, it’s mob rule, an unstable excess of democracy. But the reality is in many ways precisely the reverse: the referendum is not at all democratic, but far too stable and too orderly. Democracy is rule by the people, and the referendum doesn’t give sovereignty to the people, but to the abstract principle of number.
If we are to have any conception of the people as a collective subject, it’s something that brings itself into being through communal struggles. Ten thousand people sitting at home and bickering about politics with their families are just the public, a low, undulating field of opinion and indifference. Bring them all together in a central square to fight for the same thing, and they might plausibly lay claim to being the people.
In a referendum, struggles usually don’t emerge out of people’s actual experiences of life and oppression — they’re ordained by the state. Governments rarely call a referendum unless they expect to win: it’s the invention of a plastic and prosthetic collective subject, and victory is simply a matter of having the biggest number. Instead of the urgency of the demand for justice, you get a glorified census, a math problem.
In case of those referendum’s voters were clearly saying ‘NO’ but NO for what??. Take the case of BREXIT in which voters are expected to give complex answers to a number of issues which simply cannot be incorporated in a simple ‘ Yes or No’ answers, not to mention the political Manipulation that parties do.