How many referendums has the United States initiated to make a political decision? None. How many will it have? None. They have no place in representative democracy and nor should they.
The idea of having a referendum is that the issue at stake is so profound that it isn't enough to have a strong majority in favour among the representatives in a parliament, but that it also goes to the people to endorse. This was so with the Scottish Referendum: the Scottish Nationalists achieved a majority in Scotland but it needed that extra endorsement in order to end the Union. It didn't happen.
This is not the case with the European Union referendum in the United Kingdom. We do not have a government that has been elected to take us out, for which that extra referendum is needed.
Instead we have a government that cannot quite make up its mind, indeed a problem of the Conservative Party. To make up its mind, a choreography of negotiations took place by which small changes will happen to apparently keep the UK in the slow lane regarding further integrating measures. On that basis the government isn't neutral but says we should stay in, and then there is remain and exit campaigning.
In other words, Cameron is gambling the future of this country in order so solve a political problem within his own party. This gamble is especially mad given how it is more necessary than ever that Europe keeps meeting to discuss the considerable crises that are ongoing, set against an aggressive Russian leader and a candidate for President of the USA who'd like to get on with Putin and whose foreign policy seems to be to exclude Muslim immigrants and build a wall against Mexico at Mexico's expense. In fact Trump could be anything from a crypto-fascist to a centrist who hasn't a clue and leaves it to advisors. He represents the rise of ignorance. The last thing Europe should be doing is gambling with the rupture of a major member leaving its structures.
I've not seen in any of the campaigning the notion that sharing sovereignty is a good thing; I've seen no explanations of how Europe makes its decisions. The Remain people employ economic arguments that are only part of the issue, rather than core political arguments about how the Council of Ministers works, how the Commission is limited in its role, and how the European Parliament is a corrective but little else. The whole drift has been UK-centric, and this is entirely negative.
I am confident that voters will, in sufficient numbers, realise the dangerous nature of the world at present. Europe needs more effective decision taking, with Britain contributing. It needs to reaffirm the value and place of liberal democracy.
Cameron needs punishing for this gamble to the world, just to solve a party problem.
Well, it seems it is coming along. If he loses the referendum, if the rupture begins, he will have to stand down. Populists and chancers, like Boris Johnson, will rise to the surface. I do give him more intelligence and with policy content than a Donald Trump, but the phenomenon has parallels.
However, should Cameron win and he defeats the persistent nut jobs on the right, the bad feeling from the defeated will be immense. They will have lost their prize except via a UKIP type build-up. Cameron will have no choice to manage the country other than to repeal the Fixed Term Parliament Act (assuming he can) and then go to the country, which will (on his own word) be with a new leader like Osborne or May or some such. Even having people like Ian Duncan Smith in the cabinet will be problematic (at the least) because he seems to have misunderstood that the government isn't neutral. He always was an incapable minister, way above his pay grade and has been in his job too long. He will have to go if we remain in the European Union. Every cloud has a silver lining.
The Tories will gamble on an election because they will perceive that Labour is weak itself. They will have to do it on the old constituencies and not the new ones that will benefit the Tories (it's not at all clear than even that reform will go through as many Tories will find their own seats disappearing). Labour needs to articulate an imaginative and radical manifesto to tackle a low wage low productivity economy, by extending the incentive for capital investment through denying cheap labour and getting people involved in firms. Paul Mason has some relevant ideas here, the chap who was at Channel 4 News for a short while. Corbyn might actually prove to be attractive and ethical, and sensible for sure when it comes to the European Union. His idea of its progress is itself both positive and attractive.
We should not be having this referendum; the risk is too great for the problem in a political party. Nevertheless, it will take more than the referendum to solve that problem: the gamble is not the solution. It will take an election as well, and lots of people moving here and there politically afterwards. We are where we are, and the camp to vote yes to stay in ought to be making a much better case than so far. It is not about Cameron's pathetic reforms for UK sidelining, but about being in and making Europe work as an entity in a time when global politics is highly unstable.