Roles of party elites in independence referenda: using theory to demonstrate how parties subvert referenda




Jackson, Kort Everett

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In the past half-century, the literature regarding referenda and parties and party elites has begun to solidify. While this literature has been expanded on and the theories refined, certain gaps remain in the literature regarding the role of party elites and parties in referenda. One such gap is whether or not referenda are plebiscitary (people driven) by nature or if other forces are in control of referenda. The lack of specific literature bridging the gap leads to the questions that I address: "Is referenda plebiscitary in nature, or do parties (and party elites) subvert referenda, and what are their motivations?" I argue in this thesis that referenda are not purely plebiscitary in nature, and referenda are subverted by parties and party elites to accomplish strategic and rational goals. To prove the argument, two case studies in Westminster politics will be used, with both case studies being single-issue independence referenda for Quebec in 1995 and Scotland in 2014. This will be accomplished through a qualitative series of tests involving process tracing testing (namely "hoop" and "smoking gun" tests for each case study). The aforementioned tests will also include a range of time-specific and post-mortem literature in addition to relevant news reports, opinion editorials and interviews of particular party elites. In addition, because of this research, I press to review and extend existing literature to cover an extraordinary scenario through empirical means, and not just on presumption.


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Parties, Party Elites, Process Tracing, Referenda, Subversion, Theory



Political Science and Geography