A Paralegal and Litigation Assistant by day, and Freelance Writer/Poet by night and weekend, Tina loves history, social studies and biographies, and enjoys writing about almost anything.She lives in London and travels in the UK and abroad whenever she can, and can usually be found wandering around crumbling ruins.
Every five years, United Kingdom elects a new parliament. This is called a General Election and it’s pretty complicated. If you’ve ever wondered how a country decides who is going to run things, this is how! We asked our contributor Tina Price-Johnson to write an explanation of the General Election for kids.
When I was in Year 9, my school ran a mock general election, so we could learn how an election works. I was chosen to be the Liberal Democrat candidate, and two other students were chosen to represent the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. We didn’t have any other parties at that time!
We had to pretend we were running to be elected as a Member of Parliament (MP), and the other students in the school were the voters. We created posters and learned what each party stood for, so we could debate in front of the whole school and give our speeches. We spoke to students in the hallway, and each of us had a team of other students to help us out. This is exactly what all the candidates for MP in your local area will be doing. More or less!
Have you ever heard this term and wondered what is separation of powers exactly, and why is it so important? If so, then read on because we are going to explain it!
Brandon Mowinkel / Unsplash
Separation of powers isn’t a new idea – in fact, even the Ancient Greeks had a version of this political system, as did the Romans. There are variations in place across the world.
Each country has a slightly different setup, so we’ll use the system in place in the United States to explain the concept.
What is Separation of Powers?
The idea behind it is to have a system in place that prevents one person or group having all the power over an entire country. If you think back to the days when countries were ruled by a king or queen, who made decisions that affected the lives of everyone who lived in their kingdom – sometimes that went well, but often it didn’t. Instead of one person having all the power, a democracy splits the power between different people or groups of people.
When you think of the person who runs the country, you probably think of the President. The President represents the EXECUTIVE branch of the government.
In the USA, that means that the President executes the instructions of Congress, signs Executive Orders, selects judges to be approved by Congress, and is in charge of the armed forces (the navy, army and airforce).
By the way – don’t get confused by the word ‘execute’, which can mean ‘to put to death, to murder’ but can also mean ‘to carry out, to accomplish’. The President carries out the instructions from Congress, he doesn’t kill them all!
The voting system in the US election often confuses people. What is an Electoral College, and what is the difference between the ‘popular vote’ and the ‘electoral college vote’? Who are the people who work in Congress, and what is the difference between the Senate and the House of Representatives? We take a closer look and answer these and other questions, in a kid-friendly way.
We asked some of our readers what questions they had about BREXIT. These questions are difficult to answer right now because even the experts don’t know exactly what will happen, but here’s what we know so far. If you have any questions, comment on this post and we’ll try to find the answers for you.
What this means is that voters are called to say yes or no to a question. You might think that this sounds perfectly reasonable; why shouldn’t everyone have a say in what our country is doing? But it is not as simple as that.
Most questions are decided by votes in Parliament; after all, this is why we elect them to represent us, and in practical terms, we cannot all expect to be experts on all the subjects that must be covered by the government. So this doesn’t happen very often.
Referendums in the UK
In fact, in the UK there have only been twelve, yes, just 12 referendums since 1973. Twelve referendums over the course of 43 years, of which only two have covered the entire country. You can see that this is not a large number.
You might be surprised to learn that the first to cover the whole country was in 1975, and it was on membership of the European Economic Community (EEC), which is what the European Union was then known as. The second was in 2011, and related to a reform in the voting system known as Alternative Vote.
All the other major referendums in the UK have been related to questions of devolving power – or the governing of the distinct regions of England, Wales Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Origins of the Word Referendum
The word came into use in English in 1847. But at that time, it was mostly about Switzerland, whose system of direct democracy involved (and continues to involve) a large number of referendums. The word was coined, or created, from Latin referendum, which means “thing to be referred”. This is because, in a referendum, the decision is referred to the people.
The word referendum in Latin is from the verb referre. This verb means “to bring back, to take back’, which is the very essence of a referendum: a question is being brought back to the people who will be affected by it.
What is the Plural of Referendum?
A lot of people think that the plural of referendum is ‘referenda’, but is it really?
Referendum is logically preferable as a plural form meaning ballots on one issue (as a Latin gerund referendum has no plural). The Latin plural gerundive referenda, meaning ‘things to be referred’, necessarily connotes a plurality of issues.
What does that mean?
A gerund is a grammar term used in Latin and other languages. In Latin, ‘referenda’ would mean ‘more than one thing to be considered’, whereas a referendum as a vote tends to be on one single issue.
We can use ‘referendum’ as a plural if we wish, but ‘referendums’ has also become normalised in English, as the word has been accepted in popular use in English, and of course the usual way to make a plural in English is to add ‘s’.
You can find out more about the British political system in these posts.