Saturday, July 3, 2010

Respect agenda, RIP

I must take issue with one or two of the things Jeff has said in relation to the coalition's (frankly outrageous) decision to hold the AV referendum on the same day as the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections next May. Firstly, AV is categorically not a "more proportional voting system". In some circumstances, it might produce a slightly more proportional outcome, in other circumstances a slightly less proportional outcome - that's all totally random chance. AV is every bit as much a non-proportional, majoritarian voting system as the one we currently have. I'll probably still hold my nose and vote for it, though, because it does at least remove one of the other problems thrown up by first-past-the-post - namely the tyranny of having to choose between a tactical vote for a candidate you don't support, and an honest vote for your favoured candidate that might prove catastrophically counter-productive. The classic example is the support for Ralph Nader in 2000 that effectively handed George W Bush the US presidency - under AV, those voters could simply have ranked Nader 1st, Gore 2nd, and all would have been right with the world.

As for the referendum date itself, the problem is not so much that there was insufficient consultation (ie. none at all), it's that the coalition would even contemplate such an unjustifiable move in the first place. The Liberal Democrats have already ridden roughshod over the central findings of the Gould Report by agreeing to schedule the next Westminster general election for the same day as the 2015 Holyrood poll, and now the 2011 election is to be compromised in much the same way. Remember Gould's words? The interests of the voters were at every stage "treated as an afterthought". Funny how history repeats itself with such depressing rapidity. The first sign of a potential electoral advantage for the Liberal Democrats and the integrity of the electoral process is instantly deemed disposable yet again.

Presumably the calculation is that Scottish and Welsh voters are particularly likely to vote for AV, and therefore an especially high turnout in those countries will assist the cause. The price will be that the devolved elections become hopelessly muddled up with a UK-wide issue, with the London parties receiving far more than their fair share of coverage during the campaign period. And what do you want to bet that the broadcasters are already itching to hold a series of ninety-minute UK-wide "Referendum Debates" in the run-up to polling, with perhaps Nick Clegg and David Miliband being pitted against David Cameron and A N Other? Back in April, Lady Smith said one of the problems with the SNP's legal challenge was that it came too late. I suggest they lodge their papers very, very early this time.


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  2. Yes it’s shocking how quickly the Lib Dems abandon the finding of commissions they were very keen on before getting cabinet seats. Remember the Jenkins Commission that recommended AV+ as the minimum that was acceptable. Now seems that the Lib Dems are happy to accept AV alone with no proportional list to ameliorate the worst excesses of a majoritarian system. The safest seats in the land, the sinecures for lazy MPs, will not be in anyway effected by AV as they already get over 50% of the votes cast. And in the marginals where candidates are neck and neck there are a whole raft of tactics they can employ to chase second votes to the detriment of their core voters. So tactical voting is not eliminated.

    As for holding the referendum on the same day as the Scottish General election well that is political sophistry at its worst as is holding the next UK election on the same day in 2015. Amazing how quickly the so called respect agenda has transmogrified into a grubby race for political advantage.

  3. How the Liberals have been taken in, washed and pressed, and sent out as smart little Eton Boys.

    They have abandoned everything they stood for to get a red box and the title Minister.

    I trust that the voters see this and punish them suitably.

    Yes James, I'll vote for it too, although only ever as a step towards a proper grown up voting system suitable for a first world country.

  4. Tris, it's interesting that Lallands Peat Worrier is concerned that a successful AV referendum might actually "doom" the cause of PR. I hope that's not the case, although in Australia AV certainly hasn't proved a stepping-stone to PR, and neither has the run-off system in France.

    As far as proportionality goes AV is a sideways move to nowhere in particular, but at least it empowers the voter a bit more.