The new EU treaty is causing the Tories to try and get a referendum about it, while the LibDems have decided it doesn’t need a referendum, although they were strongly in favour of one for the original EU constitution.
Interestingly, the LibDems are also strongly opposed to a referendum on Scottish independence, although I don’t understand why that should be such a bad thing even for union supporters if they’re certain the people are pro-UK, too.
Having grown up in a country with lots of EU referenda, it’s a topic I’ve thought about a bit.
I think one should never have a referendum on a question where one cannot live with either outcome. It doesn’t make sense to have a referendum on, say, an EU treaty if there’s no consensus on what one would do if the answer from the people was No. When Denmark voted No in 1992, the politicians were wildly confused about the reasons for the No. In the end, they picked four areas that had been mentioned frequently in the debate, got opt-outs on these areas and then arranged a new referendum (which is why Denmark hasn’t introduced the euro yet).
On the other hand, I think a referendum can be a good solution if the politicians can live with either outcome and want to make sure that the outcome isn’t disputed for years afterwards.
A prime example of such a question is Scottish independence. It’s clear that Scotland can feasibly remain in the UK, and that Scotland would also be a viable independent country. However, the politicians clearly don’t agree on what the best solution is, and it’s not clear that they represent their voters well on this question (because people might have voted for a party because of some other policies they agree with).
I therefore strongly think we should not have referenda on EU treaties, but we should have one on Scottish independence!