Lesson video

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Hi, everybody, and welcome to year nine citizenship.

My name is Miss Elmi, and I'll be your teacher for today, and over the next few weeks, we are exploring democracy.

Last lesson, we looked at what democracy is and in today's lesson, we're going to be exploring direct democracy.

We're going to look at the difference between direct and representative democracy and by the end of this lesson, I want you to be able to explain the advantages and disadvantages of both, and come to an overall judgement as to which you think is better.

Is direct democracy better? Okay, before we start, just make sure you have everything in front of you that you need.

You have a pen, paper, and also, you are in a quiet environment where you can concentrate.

Okay, so let's get started.

I'm going to start with a recap of last lesson.

So last lesson, we looked at what a democracy is and we defined what democracy means, and we defined democracy, essentially, to being ruled by the people, where power is vested in the hands of the people, and that power's executed through voting.

We also explored the aims of democracy, what democracy aims to achieve, and there were six, there were several key aims, one of which being equality, freedom, justice, also peace.

And then we looked at the key features of democracy.

So what makes a country democratic? And there were six key features that we explored, and how well those features are implemented determines how strong a democracy is.

And essentially, those six features were free and fair elections, multi-party system, protection of human rights, the rule of law, active participation of citizens, and separation of powers.

So how well those six things are implemented will show whether there is a strong democracy or a flawed democracy.

So those are the key things that we explored last lesson, and so the focus of this lesson is really just to look at the concept of direct democracy, and before we go into detail about that, I want us to explore two key ideas, and those ideas come from two very contrasting philosophers, Socrates, and Rousseau.

Both of them thought very differently about democracy and how it should be implemented, and had very different views about democracy.

Socrates, in particular, was very critical about democracy.

He believed that democracy essentially was flawed, and the reason he gives is based on this analogy, and he uses this analogy and ask this question.

If you are heading out on a journey by sea, who would you want to decide and was in charge of the vessel? Would you want just anyone in charge of that vessel, or would you want people educated in the rules and demands of seafaring? Now, if the answer is that you would want people educated in the rules and demands of seafaring, then he would, Socrates argues, why then would you want people that aren't educated or aren't as skillful to decide on the people that should rule the country? So, what is the point that Socrates is making here? Socrates is arguing essentially that voting is a skill, and like any skill, it needs to be taught systematically to people, and if people are educated in that process of voting and how they should think about voting, then it's like as if you are allowing people to be in charge of their vessel, to charter that vessel across the sea and in the middle of a storm, and essentially what he's saying is that can be really damaging, that can be really dangerous and can be really damaging.

What Socrates is not saying is that only a few people should be allowed to vote, that only the educated or the elite should be allowed to vote.

Rather, he is saying that voting is extremely important, that actually, when deciding who should be the, who should rule or what laws should be in place, that person needs to think deeply and rationally about it, and in order to do that, that requires a skill, and that outcome, if you don't have that, is that it can lead to something called demagoguery, where they're, actually, people, where that is the practise whereby people are led by their desire, rather, desire or are influenced by prejudice.

So that in itself can also be damaging.

Rousseau had a completely different viewpoint and argued that, actually, the general rule of people should be decided by the people, and actually, elected representatives were not good at reflecting the will of the people.

Rousseau believed in a pure form of democracy.

He believed in a direct form of democracy.

He believed that it was important for people, regardless of education and background, it was important for them to decide on the laws that govern them.

So you have two very contrasting views, and I wanted to use those examples because it's important, when we're exploring direct democracy, to understand some of the challenges to allowing the public to vote and some of the reasons why it's also important to have people make decisions and express their own will.

So, what is the key difference between direct democracy and indirect democracy? Direct democracy is a form of democracy in which people decide policy initiatives directly.

A good example of this is the EU referendum.

So in the EU referendum, you had people deciding whether or not they should remain in the European Union.

Okay, so they did, they got to decide directly on that particular issue.

In a indirect democracy, also known as a representative form of democracy, people elect government officials to make decisions on their behalf.

For example, in a general election, we elect MPs, member of parliament, to represent us in Westminster.

So these are the two contrasting, two different forms of democracy that exist, and sometimes, and it's important just to make a quick note of this, sometimes, you might have a mixture of both.

Okay, so for example, in the UK, although we have a representative democracy, sometimes we do use direct forms of democracy, especially on important issues that will affect people for a very long time, and in those situations, the government may ask the people to decide directly, like they did with the European Union vote.

So, in a direct democracy, you can have either a kind of a mixture where you have a representative democracy, but also, you have elements of direct democracy, or you can have a governance system where direct forms of democracy happens quite regularly.

So you might find that in that type of system, there might be a lot of referendums done quite often to decide on laws and initiatives.

Now a good example of this is Switzerland.

Okay, so if we look at the Swiss model, the Swiss model does show a governance system where they use direct forms of democracy quite regularly, a lot more so and a lot more frequently than the UK.

And in the Swiss system, they use two forms of direct democracy.

They use referendums and they also use popular initiatives.

Now a referendum is essentially a vote on a particular law or initiative or policy.

In Switzerland, they get to vote on referendums up to four times a year, and they vote on local issues as well as federal issues, okay? Local issues within their cantons.

A canton is a local area or district, similar to a constituency, and federal refers to a federal system whereby you have a national government who share power regarding internal affairs with states, okay, with larger districts, larger areas.

A good example of that is the USA where you have the federal government, and then you have states, each of them sharing power or having distinct powers to govern their respective areas.

So, in Switzerland, you have regular referendums, but you also have something called popular initiatives.

Now popular initiatives are slightly different.

In a popular initiative, the public get to decide and change the constitution, okay? Now what is a constitution? A constitution essentially is a document that outlines the powers of the different branches of government and also the rights of citizens, and in a written constitution, they often last for a long period of time.

So, having people have the opportunity to change that constitution or amend that constitution can be a good thing.

Why, because if there is a document or a law that lasts for long periods of time, then people's views and values and ideas may change over that period of time.

So what we think today might not be the same thing we thought 50 years ago, and so having the opportunity for citizens to change based on their changing views and ideas can be really important 'cause then the laws reflect their will, similar to what Rousseau was saying.

Now, in a popular initiative, they need to get 100,000 signatures, so, that, it shows that, actually, this is a popular, this is a popular initiative, this is something that is popular with the public, they want this to happen, so if they get 100,000 signatures, they can show that this is something that is popular with the public.

So you have these two forms of democracies that are in place in direct democracies that are in place in Switzerland, and I just want you to make a list of the advantages and the disadvantages of this particular system, okay? So on your worksheet, just make a list of what you think might be the pluses of this particular way of governing and what might be the minuses, what might be the disadvantages, okay? So just pause this video and make your list and then come back and we'll go through some of the advantages and disadvantages of having direct forms of democracy.

Okay, and welcome back.

So, some of the points that you could have mentioned in terms of the advantages and disadvantages of democracy are as follows.

So for advantages, you could have discussed that decisions made by the public directly can make it more acceptable.

Now this isn't always the case.

So what do I mean make it more acceptable? Well, if people get to decide on the laws and policies, then the outcome of those decisions becomes more acceptable, and this is what you'll often see in Switzerland, but we don't always see that in a direct form of democracy.

So for example, in the UK, when we had the EU referendum, that was very divisive, okay? So that didn't always produce a popular, a public consensus, meaning not everybody agreed with the outcome, so it became really divisive.

Another advantage of direct democracy that you could have mentioned is that voting on specific issues can encourage more people to vote, so it can increase political engagement, and that means that, actually, if people are excited about what they are voting for, have an interest in it, it means that they are more likely to vote.

Now, in Switzerland, about 64%, and just make a note of that, 64% of the Swiss citizens are really happy with their voting system.

They're really happy with the amount of times they have to vote and make decisions, both in their local area and on national issues.

So they're quite satisfied with that, which shows that, actually, they seem to be encouraged to make, to take part in the political process, but one of the criticisms of their particular system is that actually it means, sometimes, people don't always vote.

Just because they might be excited about an issue and gain more knowledge about it doesn't mean that's going to translate in them going out to vote, and remember from last lesson, we looked at the principle of participating citizens being an important feature of a democracy, and so when you have low participation, that's not always a good thing, so essentially, in Switzerland, in referendums, they have around less than 42% of citizens engaging in referendums, and that's not a positive aspect of democracy.

What we, what you want in a democracy is more people taking part, but if you have less people taking part in those decision-making process, it means, actually, power is then concentrated with those who are exercising their political power, their political will, so it can be damaging.

So you have advantages and disadvantages to that particular system.

So just make a note of that statistic, particularly, 'cause you can use this later on when you come into your own judgement and use it as an evidence to support or to challenge the argument.

And then the final advantage of a direct form of democracy is essentially that power is and can be just more widely dispersed.

If people are more actively taking part in decision-making process, it means that they are holding more power.

Some of the disadvantages, however, is something that I mentioned earlier with Socrates, and what Socrates was arguing is that actually, sometimes, this can generate more of an emotional response or rather than a rational response.

What that means essentially is that, sometimes, people may not fully think through their decisions when voting, and in a democracy, what you want is people not just to take part in the voting process, but also to do it from a place where they are informed as to what they are voting for.

And so having decisions that are well thought through is important so that, actually, the laws and initiatives that are put in place are fit for purpose, that are actually going to benefit everybody because they fully understand what it means and what impact it will have.

And then, sometimes, decisions, making those decisions can be difficult.

Being informed can be tricky 'cause there are, there is information that is complicated and that requires certain expertise.

For example, when the EU referendum took place, not a lot of people fully understood what that meant, and what you had is a lot of people doing Google searches as to what Brexit means, what certain terminology means, because they weren't fully informed of what that, what the vote was about and what impact it will have in society.

And so, on complicated issues, it can be difficult for people to truly understand the implications, and so direct democracy can be a disadvantage in this respect.

And then the last essential point you can make in terms of one of the disadvantages of direct democracy is that if you are regularly voting, similar to what we see in Switzerland on issues, it can create something called voter fatigue, meaning, voters can get really tired of voting, and as a result, can get bored of voting, become very apathetic, and once they become apathetic, they just don't bother to vote, and like I mentioned, part of the key features of a democracy, a strong democracy, is having active citizens, active participation in the electoral process.

So you want people to not be apathetic, but energised, when it comes to voting, and engaged in that process.

So those are some of the key advantages and disadvantages of direct forms of democracy.

What about representative forms of democracy? So in a representative form of democracy, there are some benefits and also some drawbacks in the same way.

So if we look at the benefits of representative form of democracy is that, actually, when you're voting for a representative, you're also voting for their experience and their knowledge, and that can put or take a lot of pressure off citizens.

So you are therefore voting for someone that actually has some knowledge about certain issues that can affect the community and society as a whole, and if they don't have that knowledge, by having a representative that is paid to be in a position to represent your views, your rules, and ideas, they have the time to find out in detail and work with experts to find out information to make informed decisions, and ordinary citizens don't always have that particular time on their hands, especially if we use a Swiss model of governing where there is more regular elections taking place.

And the third point, and the third advantage, is that in a representative form of democracy where you do have representatives that are educated, are knowledgeable, they can also educate the public on those matters.

And so, also, it's important to note that in that respect, representative forms of democracy can address some of the real challenges with direct democracy.

Another challenge that direct democracy poses and representative democracies don't is that it can be costly.

Having regular elections and regular opportunities for citizens to take part in things like referendums or popular initiatives is that it can become very expensive for the taxpayer and also time-consuming.

However, there are some challenges to those positions.

Some people would argue that representative democracy is not always the better form, okay? And one of the key things is, actually, representatives are not always knowledgeable.

Secondly, they may feel pressure from their own political party to vote a certain way.

For example, political parties often use a whipping system.

This is where they exert influence or pressure on MPs to vote along party lines.

What that means is that sometimes a representative, as a member of parliament, may vote along what their party wants, but not necessarily what their constituency wants, so you might see a conflict between those two, but because of the whipping system, they may feel, they may be compelled to vote along party lines, and that's not a good representation of the will of the people.

Another key challenge of representative forms of democracy is that we have elections every five years in England, and in between elections, it can be hard to hold our representatives accountable, and so, if it's hard to hold them accountable over those periods of times, we have to resort to other aspects, other areas holding them accountable, like the media, and so, sometimes representatives may not be fully held accountable to its constituents, and the only time we can hold them accountable is when there's another election.

And finally, and I guess a strong point made here is that in a representative form of democracy, there can also be disagreements, there can also be divisions, and so, sometimes, those disagreements, those decisions, ultimately come back to the people in a direct form.

So, for example, when it came to the European Union, those arguments, there was division as to whether or not we should remain in the EU, and ultimately, that decision was then handed back to the people, and so direct forms of democracy may well be inevitable even if you have a representative model in reality.

So, we've looked at the arguments for and against direct forms of democracy, we've looked at the arguments for and against representative democracy, and now I want you just to pause this video, and I want you to answer this statement, okay? Direct democracy is the best form of democracy.

How far do you agree? Now in your response, I do want you to just pick one side.

You don't have to look at arguments, the arguments for or against.

I just want you to pick one side.

Because this question asks you, how far do you agree, I want you to state that in your opening sentence.

So do you agree to some extent? Do you agree to a greater extent, or do you not agree at all, okay? And so, in your opening sentence, make sure you kind of quantify your position.

How far along that, especially, do you fully agree, do you somewhat agree, do you not agree at all? And just quantify that in that opening statement, and then I want you to explain your position and provide some kind of evidence to support that position, okay? And once you've given that example or evidence to support that position, justify it, okay? Justify how that example supports your point and supports your position.

Once you've done that, just come over, come back over, and we'll go through the two different arguments, arguments for this statement and arguments against this statement.

Okay, welcome back.

I just want to go through now the possible response in agreement with this statement.

So direct democracy is the best form of democracy.

How far do you agree? So, agree.

To some extent, direct democracy is the best form of democracy.

It gives citizens more power to have influence over key issues and makes it more acceptable to the population.

For example, in Switzerland, direct democracy is a vital feature of the political landscape, and roughly 65% of Swiss citizens are satisfied with their government and the democratic process.

When citizens are happy and have significant power, direct democracy is a better form of democracy.

Now what's good about this response is, in the first opening sentence, it says how, it outlines how far they agree, so they agree to some extent.

It then outlines their position.

And what's good about, one, they outlined their position, is that they then go on to give an example.

And this example is supported with a concrete evidence and statistic, and then they go on to explain that example, explain why that strengthens their argument.

Okay, so let's have a look at the disagree point.

Direct democracy is not always the best form of democracy.

So them stating not always is quantifying how much disagreement they have.

Having representatives is much better because it ensures that decisions are well thought through, and based on reason rather than emotion.

Representatives have more time to become familiar with the issues that may impact their constituents and the wider public.

As a result, they are more responsive to the needs of citizens.

This is positive for a democratic society as a whole.

Now this is a good answer, but one thing that is missing from this answer, I would suggest is, to improve, would be to have an example to illustrate their point.

And that would add strength to that response.

So, I hope that you are clear on what you have learned today and just to kind of clarify and go through the key points we've learned today, is we looked at the, what the direct and indirect democracy is, we looked at the advantages and disadvantages, and I went through how you go about justifying your position and explaining your potential perspective on the statement.

So those are the key aspects we've gone through, and now we have come to the end of the lesson.

Well done for staying through this for this long.

I know it was some complex concepts that we went through, but I do hope you enjoyed it.

And if you got stuck at different points, just go back and go through some of the notes, and using the worksheet, just go through some of the key terms on the glossary that I've noted down for you, just to clarify some key terminology if you're stuck at certain points.

Okay, feel free to now go on and complete the exit quiz, and I will look forward to our next lesson.

Thank you.