Clause 1 — Referendum on the alternative vote system

Part of Royal Commission (London) – in the House of Commons at 6:15 pm on 12th October 2010.

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Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin Chair, Public Administration Committee 6:15 pm, 12th October 2010

The date of 5 May 2011 is losing friends very quickly.

The Electoral Commission argues that the environment in which voters live may influence voting patterns. Voters in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales would be

"subject to more intensive and varied campaigning than the electorate in England (in a nationwide referendum)...Certain parts of the electorate may feel that they are less well informed about the referendum issue than in other parts of the country. Conversely, they may feel that they are not as well informed about the national and/or local elections."

Those are all reasons why confusion could be generated in a referendum.

Perhaps the most important consideration is broadcasting transparency. The Electoral Commission also recognised that

"the requirement to present balanced reporting of elections and a referendum is an especially difficult issue to manage when holding combined polls. Distinguishing between election and referendum campaign activities will be extremely difficult, if not impossible in some instances...These issues may have a negative effect on voter awareness; it will also make the monitoring of broadcasting (and campaign expenses) more difficult."

The then BBC chief political advisor said in February 2002 that she had met Helen Liddell, the then Secretary of State for Scotland, and Jack McConnell, the then First Minister, and that she had

"made my views very clear to the politicians and the BBC...it was a bad move...condescending to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland...it would put broadcasters in an impossible position".

It is not difficult to see why. How many parties in the Scottish elections will broadly support changing the voting system? It may be two, three, four or even none. But how many will be on the other side of the argument? How can a programme that has a panel of guests to talk about the election and the referendum possibly be balanced? How can the BBC achieve balance and transparency on the referendum issue at the same time as it does so on the Scottish elections?

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Nicky Davis
Posted on 19 Oct 2010 4:36 pm (Report this annotation)

Much has been made of the referendum being planned fior the same day as the Scottish elections. I strongly agree with all the arguments against having the referendum on the same day as the Scottish elections. But I would also like to point out for information, that there are places in England such as Stoke-on-Trent where I live where the local elections also fall on that day. In the case of Stoke-on-Trent these are all-out local elections imposed undemocratically on our city by the previous labour government, contrary to a properly democratic council vote which would have retained the existing system of thirds. Now that our rights to a local vote have been unreasonably reduced from three opportunities in four years to only one, it is even more important that the local vote and referendum vote do not cross-contaminate each other. We need to be able to focus on one issue at a time. They are both important and each need our full attention as voters for as democratic an outcome as possible, whatever our individual views.