Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Referendum 5 May - a summary of the issues

In-person voting opens soon for the UK's second fully-national referendum, which has been characterised by campaigns by both sides which generally avoid the real advantages and disadvantages of their preferred options. If you have a vote, but aren't completely decided how to use it, here's a quick summary of the major reasons I've found to vote for 'Yes' or 'No'.

Voting is open from 7am until 10pm on Thursday 5 May (including elections to local councils and/or devolved administrations in many parts of the country), and the votes in the referendum will be counted starting at 4pm on Friday (with verification beginning at 1pm). Results will probably therefore be known late on Friday evening. There is no minimum turnout threshold; the result will be binding on the government however many or few votes are cast.

I'm sure I've missed some reasons - feel free to add your own, or ask for more explanation of these, in comments.

I've broken the most important reasons as I see them for each side into rough categories, excluding reasons which are false or irrelevant.

There are many more arguments for and against Alternative Vote and First Past The Post, which I go into more detail in other posts - see below for a few links.

On technical issues...

If you want to vote based on which is the 'better' voting system for an electoral structure such as the UK Parliament, based on the criteria such a voting system should fulfil.

Vote 'Yes' (to use Alternative Vote for future general elections) if:

  • You dislike the idea that similar candidates can split the vote allowing a generally unpopular candidate to win.
  • You want to encourage honest voting rather than requiring tactical voting.

Vote 'No' (to keep First Past The Post for future general elections) if:

  • You think non-monotonicity is a serious problem with AV, and the likely rate of around 1% of constituencies potentially being affected is too high for you.
  • You don't believe that sufficient work will be done to make preferential ballot papers at least as accessible as the current ones.

On party-political issues...

If you want to vote based on which political parties will be helped or hindered by the voting system in use.

Vote 'Yes' if:

  • You want the Lib Dems and other generally centrist parties to improve their share of seats, and/or in Scotland or Wales you want the SNP or Plaid Cymru to improve their share of seats
  • You want non-centrist parties such as the Greens and UKIP to have a better chance at winning seats in the long-term
  • You want to shake up the political system in a way that is not predictable from the currently available information.

Vote 'No' if:

  • You are happy with the current political system, and the shares of seats it generally results in.
  • You would like both the Labour and Conservative parties to maintain their share of seats if their share of votes falls.

On campaign related issues...

If you want to vote based on which official campaign is better - and I don't recommend it - then...

Vote Yes if:

  • You prefer mostly-honest incompetence

Vote No if:

  • You prefer mostly-competent dishonesty

Scribble "I hate you all" all over your ballot paper if:

  • You were holding out for competent honesty and are still determined to vote on these grounds

In more detail

If you find that you're agreeing with at least some statements on both sides, then I go into arguments for and arguments against in more detail, including reasons why some of the common official arguments for both sides are actually wrong. Some of the more complex questions have supplementary articles, linked from those summaries, where I've looked into the issue in much more detail.

If you're wondering what the short-term impact of Alternative Vote might be, the Swingometer will let you try out various scenarios. Remember that it involves, by necessity, by the lack of reliable polling data, and by the inherent problems of asking people how they would vote in completely different circumstances, a lot of assumptions and simplifications.

Think of it more as "What might happen if...?" rather than "What will happen when...", and remember that it can't account for any long-term impacts on the political system regarding which parties are electorally viable, how parties change their campaigning or policies to adjust, and so on.

(Re-)Declaration of Interest

I will be voting 'Yes' on Thursday. I'm doing so in the hope that this is also the result of the referendum. Therefore, I would obviously prefer you to vote 'Yes'.

However, I would prefer it more if you cast an informed vote. Successful democracy depends on - among other things - people having ready access to good quality information.

There are good reasons to vote 'Yes'. There are also good reasons to vote 'No'. Though I personally believe those reasons to be less compelling, I'd rather you voted 'No' for good reasons than 'Yes' for bad reasons (and I'd certainly rather you vote 'Yes' for good reasons than 'No' for bad reasons).

Obviously, of course, if you have a vote, it's your own, and you can use it - or abstain - for whatever reasons you choose (and you may well disagree with me over what counts as a 'good' reason, too). Happy voting or not, as you wish!