Monday, May 2, 2011

No Complacency For No Campaign As Turn Out Is Crucial
With the referendum a mere two days away many people are writing off the chances of Yes winning. Polls published on Sunday show No have a healthy lead over Yes. There's clearly no appetite in the country for this change but these polls and the constant talk of the no hope Yes campaign is probably the biggest threat that the No campaign faces.

The Yes campaign can easily muster its supporters, many of who have a vested interest in achieving the change. Those that don't and have come to the conclusion that AV is a good idea will still be more motivated to vote than your average voter on council election polling day. It's hard to get excited about voting against something, about maintaining the status quo. Especially when you know there are real problems with politics in this country but don't think the change on offer will do anything to address them. So, if there's one thing the No campaign needs to focus on this week, it's getting its vote out on Thursday.

Nick Clegg knew what he was doing when he insisted on the 5th May as the date for the referendum. He knew there were only local council elections in England, no elections at all in London while important Scottish and Welsh Parliament/Assembly elections would be held, meaning low turn out in England and higher turnouts in Scotland and Wales where he calculated support for AV would be highest. Polls bear this analysis out. Although not to the extent that the Yes camp must have hoped. The problem for the No camp is that failure to get their vote out in England could allow Yes a victory, even if the most populous region of the UK rejects the change. This would seriously damage the integrity of the United Kingdom and lead to even more dissatisfaction with politics in an England that would have had a system it didn't want foisted upon it.

Recent polls suggest there could be a turn out nationally of less than 40% for the referendum. That's not good and would seriously damage the credibility of a Yes decision should that be the outcome. If only 35% of the electorate turns out to vote and 51% of them back this constitutional reform, that leaves 82% of people who either don't want it or weren't convinced enough to go and vote for it. Personally, I don't have any sympathy for the non-voters in elections but I do believe that referendums that propose major constitutional change should require a minimum threshold on turnout to ensure solid popular backing for change. However, I think whoever loses on Thursday should accept the result and never darken our doorsteps again with talk of electoral reform or a return to FPTP. However, a low turnout will create deep unease amongst many and could lead to further expensive reviews, political establishment navel gazing at a time when there are much more important matters for them to be sorting out and even another referendum on an alternative to the Alternative Vote. And that's the last thing anybody wants to see (apart from most of the people behind the Yes campaign, of course, who actually want PR instead).

So, let's hope for a healthy turnout on Thursday, 5th May and a decisive, truly national result.

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