Clause 1 — Referendum on the alternative vote system

Part of Royal Commission (London) – in the House of Commons at 5:53 pm on 12th October 2010.

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Photo of Angus MacNeil Angus MacNeil Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitutional Reform), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland) 5:53 pm, 12th October 2010

I am glad that I may speak to our amendment on the date of the referendum on the voting system.

The current proposed date makes the referendum a squatter in another's house, perhaps even a parasite. It is quite unbelievable that, of all possible days, one has been chosen that means the concerns of parts of the current UK are completely overlooked and disregarded. It is almost as though the Bill were intended to find opponents, and it has been successful in that end. It has created a coalition of opponents.

The handling of the referendum's timing has been at best insensitive and insulting and at worst high-handed and cack-handed. In Scotland, we have already moved our council elections by a year so that they do not interfere with the parliamentary elections and vice versa. We have shown respect for others and each other. I have heard about the respect agenda, and I am now seeing its substance. I have also heard about the Liberal-Tory big society, and I wonder whether that is as vacuous, but that is another debate.

The fact that the Electoral Commission has sent guidance to Scotland's 32 local authorities informing them that the referendum will be "the senior poll" is bad news for all of us who respect what happens in the Scottish Parliament. The counting of ballots for the Scottish Parliament will come second, which could delay some Scottish parliamentarians' results until the next day, or perhaps even later given Scottish geography or, as I can testify from the experience of the 2007 election, weather. The same could apply in Northern Ireland. Wales has already seen the problem coming and moved its elections, because there are to be two referendums, a council election and an Assembly election in 2011.

For all parties in Scotland, the question is why Scottish issues should be put on the back burner for a referendum for which there appears to be little real public appetite. There has been surprisingly honest input on that question-hostile, some might call it, although we might call it sensible. There has been sensible input from Jim Tolson, who happens to be the Liberal Democrat MSP for Dunfermline West. He has supported us, saying that he is very much against having a referendum on the same day as the Scottish election. Oh, that the Liberal Democrats south of the border could show the same sense.