I hadn’t spotted this until just now, but about a month ago a Swiss referendum rejected a proposal from a pressure group with far right links to put all new international treaties or treaty amendments to a referendum. It was a thrashing, really, as no canton voted in favour and the national vote was less than 25% in favour (referendums need a majority of both cantons and votes).
It’s interesting in the UK context, partly because people rather lazily assume that the Swiss love referendums on everything, but also because proposing referendums has become our new national sport. We have already had one on AV, and new ones are promised/threatened on Scottish independence, transfers of sovereignty, Lords reform, the EU itself, and even (today) gay marriage rights.
If you want a reminder that referendums don’t mean that Switzerland is Happy Democracy Land, look at the turnout – a typically anaemic 39% across the three referendums held that day. The general referendum average is 40% or so, and federal elections are little better, with the 2007 and 2011 editions attracting under 50% of voters. Compare that with – to take two unloved electoral contests – the AV referendum in the UK (42%) and the last European Parliament election (43%).
There is much to learn from Switzerland’s model of democracy, but it isn’t “referendums make it all better”.