Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Does the left hand know what the right hand is doing?

Michael Moore writes a letter to Alex Salmond setting out options for a U-turn on the crazy plan in the coalition agreement to hold the 2015 Westminster general election on the same day as the long-scheduled Holyrood poll. Simultaneously, his party leader is introducing the idea of completely unnecessarily holding the AV referendum on the same day as next year's Holyrood poll. Yep, that makes perfect sense.

Meanwhile, Iain Dale says that the likes of his old friend David Davis who are complaining about the timing of the referendum "need to get a life". (Grim news, Iain - the 'sourfaced 15-year-old in a chatroom' persona really isn't a winner.) He also reminds us that referenda are frequently held in conjunction with other elections in countries like the US and New Zealand, adding "I'm not sure how they can argue that we should be any different". Well, if Dale thinks that "what most other countries do" is an unanswerable argument in favour of anything, clearly he should "get a life" and drop his objections to PR immediately. More substantively, while I'm not an expert on New Zealand elections, I'd certainly suggest that the experience in the US provides an overwhelmingly compelling argument for why, indeed, we should be different. Where does Dale think the endless queues round the block, and the need for elaborate electronic counting methods that have led to such controversy in that country come from? Quite simply from too many different elections/referenda held on the same day, with separate instructions that voters need to process for each ballot.

However, like Jeff I'm inclined to think that the particular combination of ballots being proposed for next May needn't necessarily lead to 2007-style confusion, simply because the instructions for the AV referendum will be relatively straightforward. But it doesn't follow that there is no problem and that we should simply accept the date. The real issue is the impact on the Scottish Parliament campaign. The TV coverage will be completely swamped by 'national' politicians talking about a 'national' issue, and the result could well be that the Scottish campaign has a profile roughly equivalent to that enjoyed (or rather suffered) by the Scottish dimension of the general election campaign we've just had. How can that possibly be in the interests of the democratic process?


  1. Absolutely James, it's no the actual votin that will cause the problem, fowk arenae that thick, but it's the certainty that the Scottish GE campaign will be sidelined by the British (and Scottish) media. Recent experience shows that tae be true.

    It's no even in the interests o' those advocatin reform tae hae a referendum wi such variable turnoot. Whit validity will it hae wi a 60% turnoot in Scotland an' a 30% in London, an' some variation atween in England, dependin oan whither or no they're electin cooncils at the same time? If the referendum's worth haein (an' ah'm no sure it is) then gie it its ain space, wi its ain campaign.

    Whit difference will a few weeks make?

  2. I suppose their answer might be that, even if the turnout is differential, a higher overall turnout will boost the chances of a Yes vote, and will boost the credibility of a Yes vote in the aftermath. But even if all that is true, it scarcely outweighs the huge harm that will be caused to the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish campaigns.