Bella Caledonia were kind enough to send me an email yesterday alerting me to their campaign to turn the AV referendum into an unofficial independence vote, and Eric Falconer also asked for my thoughts about it on a previous thread. I may as well put my cards on the table straight away - I signed up to the 'Yes to Fairer Votes' campaign a few weeks ago, and as things stand I intend to vote Yes in May. I will do so with minimal enthusiasm, because I think AV represents an absolutely trifling improvement on the current system. But I've been a supporter of electoral reform for as long as I've been a supporter of independence (slightly longer, come to think of it), and I've increasingly realised that I'd find it psychologically very difficult to stand on the sidelines in a vote like this, knowing - or at least strongly suspecting - the devastating effect a 'No' would have on hopes for future progress. Make no mistake, the Lib Dems have put us in the trap that ensures a rubbish majoritarian system is certain to "win" this referendum, and it's nothing short of outrageous that they've done so - but that just makes it all the more important that others get stuck into the campaign, and not merely win a Yes vote, but also win the 'battle of the narrative', ie. by defining in the public consciousness what a Yes vote would actually mean. We can't permit it to be said that AV represents - to coin a phrase - the settled will of the electorate. It must instead be clear that many people are consciously voting for a very small first step, which they're impatient to see built on as a matter of urgency.
There is, however, a 'but' here. Plainly independence is a far greater prize, so if I felt there was a chance that the spoilt ballot campign was likely to have a significant impact, I'd support it. The difficulty is that I simply can't think of a single campaign of this sort that has ever worked in the UK - it's almost impossibly difficult to persuade people to 'think outside the box' in sufficient numbers. And to make a serious impact, the numbers would have to be huge. It goes without saying that no mass-circulation newspaper is likely to back the campaign (or even to lend much coverage to it), so it seems to me the only hope is an official endorsement from the SNP. Without that, I think Jeff Breslin has hit the nail on the head in his comment at Bella - the likelihood is that only a tiny percentage of voters will spoil their ballot, and the whole exercise will have been futile. Indeed, even with an SNP endorsement, my guess is that the number of spoilt ballots will still not exceed the number of Yes votes or No votes, although they may well be great enough to claim a moral victory.
So for my money, the overwhelming focus of the campaign for now should be on lobbying MSPs and other leadership figures within the SNP. Without their help, I suspect the considerable enthusiasm the campaign is undoubtedly attracting from online supporters will not be anything like enough.