Thursday, 8 July 2010

Cardiff & Edinburgh

Apologies for the hiatus, I've been in Cardiff awhile, with no real internet to speak off (or time for that matter) doing some academic research for my thesis.  And I seem to have missed out on a fair bit whilst away.

Take, for example, the UK Con-LD Government's decision to schedule the AV referendum on 5 May, the same day of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and English local government elections, ostensibly for reasons of saving the public money (£17m was the estimate I heard).  Cue outcry from MSPs, AMs and, well, anyone who isn't a Tory or Lib Dem MP to be honest.  

Their argument - it'll overshadow the devolved elections.  And that, I think, has merit.  Because - and this is more of an issue in Wales I think, than in Scotland, where our media is a little more focused on what happens at Holyrood - the media, generally speaking, sets the terms of reference for elections.  You can quibble with my hypothesis if you like, but look at recently passed General Election - without the TV debates and the presence of the now Deputy PM Clegg, where would the Lib Dems have been?  Answer: probably out of government, most likely with fewer seats.  So the media matters - and if they are focused on the AV referendum then the devolved institutions will lose out. 

Another argument, and one that has merit in Scotland after the fiasco of the 2007 Scottish Parliament election, is that we might confuse people. I know, it sounds patronising - trust members of the public to put a cross on two different bits of paper?  But with that experience here - and the resulting democratic stooshie - I wouldn't be too willing to bet that people won't make a hash of it.  So that one I think, has some merit - but just a little.

There is a case that it may actually help - by combining both votes you may drive the turnout up a little.  This I'm more sceptical of.  If people feel so strongly about changing the method of electing their MPs, they'll show up to vote on the day anyway.

But really, I think, what it comes down to is money - and a distinct lack of it.  Parties are fresh from fighting a UK General Election.  In Wales they have the added complication of holding a referendum to decide on the speed of extending the powers of the Assembly, probably in March, followed by the AV referendum and the Assembly election, both on May 5.  The latter has a month's wiggle room and so could be held in June, but that's at the discretion of the Secretary of State... and if her government has decided to hold the AV vote on May 5 to save money, I doubt they'll shift the Assembly election to June, however valid their reason for doing so it.

No, money is the kicker - and political parties are lacking in it at the moment.  So while in public they will whinge and moan about the AV vote being on the same day as the devolved elections, privately they are probably a little more pleased that campaigning for both can take place at the same time, thus saving them time and energy - and, more importantly, money - in the campaigns.  Or maybe I'm just being cynical.


Caron 9 July 2010 at 13:33  

There's a public money issue as well - it costs to ask everyone in the UK to turn up at the ballot box. I don't think that this is a sufficiently complex issue to merit a day all on its own, especially given the pressure on public finances.

You can bet your life Labour would be on their high horse saying it cost too much if the dates were different.

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