Monday, 4 April 2011

Would AV be Legitimate?

David Cameron has made a rather belated and, I thought, rather panicked outburst regarding the forthcoming Alternative Vote referendum today - see here.

Dave said, 'The danger is Britain sleepwalking into a Yes vote. At the moment it’s close. I don’t want us sleepwalking into a voting system that will make our democracy less strong.'

I quite agree. There is a real danger that we may well throw away our voting system on May 5th and will reap a whirlwind of political consequences for years to come as a result. It's the consequence of a rushed compromise cobbled together by the Coalition in the frantic days of May 2010. In trying to save the day they may have damned the future.

I suspect that the No campaign are fighting an uphill battle.

First they are having to argue positively for a No... This was a massive mistake. Any advertising or marketing person worth their salt could have pointed out that trying to convince people to do something negative is far more difficult than to ask them to take a positive action. The Anti-Abortionists never really got going until they re-branded as 'Pro-Life'.

And second asking people to take an action (vote No) to maintain the political status quo is very difficult indeed. All the Yes campaign have to do is to connect the desire to see change in the discredited political system with a Yes vote - almost everyone wants to see change in politics.

But the thing that really concerns me about the whole thing, not just the campaign, but the entire referendum, is that I don't feel that it has the degree of democratic legitimacy that it should have.

Typically, local elections turn-outs are around 35% so it's likely that only this number of people will vote in the referendum. If either the Yes or the No campaign won with say, 60% of the vote, that would mean that a vote by only 21% of voters would decide to either stick with the current system or cast away a system that has been used for hundreds of years.. Surely not enough to justify a wholesale change or to satisfy a serious question about retaining the system.

Australia is often cited as being one of the successful countries that use AV for General Elections (very few do) yet what is not mentioned is that voting is compulsory. In Australia voting is not just your right, but also your obligation.

Seems like a good idea to me, particularly when voting on issues that affect the entire way in which democracy is exercised.


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