The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill committee starts today in the House of Commons. The first day's debate is centered on the date is set as the 5th May 2011, the same day as local elections in England, and Assembly elections in Scotland and Wales. There are many arguments over whether holding these on the same dates will create confusion and mean that either the Assembly elections are minimised by the publicity, or vice versa.
There are also counter arguments which are that not only will it save a lot of money by holding the referendum on the same day, it will increase turn out for local and Assembly elections. Which of these is true is impossible to tell until, or unless, the referendum is held. The Electoral Commission has asked for the question to be altered to make it clearer, for those not as well versed in politics.
However, it is not these arguments I intend to address here, but to clear up some confusion. There are a lot of people, who seem unable to understand that the referendum, although included with the proposals to change constituency boundaries, they are separate issues.
The Labour Party leader Ed Miliband has committed himself to campaigning for the alternative vote in the referendum. However, they will possibly, still vote against the bill. This is because we do not support the way the coalition seeks to go about the process of boundary changes. They intend to impose a shortened period, which means that local people will have no say in the changes, and they will ignore historic and geographical boundaries. This process is designed purely and simply to ensure it is as difficult as possible for any party other than the Conservatives to be the biggest party.
In the end, if the Liberal Democrats support the bill it will pass, which will mean that the boundary changes will go ahead. This will not be affected by whether people support changing the electoral system or not.
The confusion seems to be, that people think that by voting no in the referendum they will stop the boundary review. This will not be the case, when the bill passes, that will be a fait accompli, so AV supporters who vote against thinking they can stop this, will be, to use a well worn cliche, 'cutting off their noses to spite their faces.'
If you wish to vote no in the referendum, because you either wish to keep the first past the post system, or like Douglas Carswell, believe in a more proportional system, but aren't convinced that AV is a step on the road, then that is your prerogative, and both are perfectly legitimate.
So the important thing is education, and this is, to my mind, the strongest argument against holding the referendum on the same day as the various elections. Both sides will want to be able to put their case as clearly as possible, and both could well lose if the arguments cannot be clearly made.
The Yes camp because they will want to explain clearly the reasons why they think a change is important, if only on the path to a more proportional system. But the NO camp will also want the opportunity to explain their reasoning. The public mood seems to be for change, even if they aren't always clear what that means, and may be tempted to vote for a new system, because they hope it will lead to changes in politics.
Education is therefore the key, and one of the reasons why I support the teaching of politics at secondary schools. The political process is a complicated one, but the better the voting public understand it, the better the judgements will be as they will be able to understand the arguments.