It is true that in a referendum, the people speak. But they don't say much. Just a "yes" or a "no." That's why the important part of a referendum isn't the answer. It's the question.
When the Scottish were asked to vote in a referendum on whether they wanted independence from the United Kingdom, the question was not vague. The same applied when the Italians were asked to respond with a yes or a no to whether they wanted to legalize divorce, which was forbidden by the Catholic Church. But what are we, the Greeks who are going to vote on Sunday, if the referendum actually takes place, to answer with our "yes" or "no"?
The question that the declaration of the referendum -- to reject or approve a bad working proposal, a non-paper which was given out on Thursday, changed on Friday and is probably not on the table any longer -- obviously is pointless. It is an exercise in political surrealism. Therefore, the "yes" or "no" on Sunday will have to take on a meaning after the fact, as an answer to a question that will be posed later. "No" to the particular proposal (which doesn't exist anymore) but "yes" to another, better proposal that may come? "No" in general, to any proposal that guarantees us remaining in the euro with more austerity measures? "No" to staying in the euro? The answer will be there, clear and unchanging, a "yes" or a "no." But the question will be clearly posed afterwards, depending on the interpretation that will be given, not by us, who send the message, but by those who will receive it, meaning German Chancellor Merkel, EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker, the markets...
That is, in my opinion, an important reason for the government to rethink this and withdraw its decision. Because, beyond the heavy consequences of stopping negotiations and going to a referendum, beyond the dangers that are now evident to all, the pending question which we have to answer cancels out the reason to have the referendum: democratic authenticity.
This post originally appeared on HuffPost Greece and was translated into English.