Lord Rooker, a former Labour Minister, has had an amendment to the AV referendum bill passed in the Lords. The amendment states that if the turn out in the referendum is less than 40% the referendum result should not be binding on the government. The amendment was passed by 1 vote.
The wording of his amendment A1 is
“If less than 40% of the electorate vote in the referendum, the result shall not be binding”
This doesn’t mean that if the Yes campaign win on a 39% turnout the result is void, it’s still a Yes. It’s just not legally binding on the government.
We certainly don’t have to get 40% of the electorate to vote Yes.
It’s not quite like 1979.
The implications are that either we have the referendum with the 40% turnout clause on 5th May or the bill does some more to-ing and fro-ing and we potentially miss the 16th February deadline for Royal Assent and the referendum date is delayed.
After initially spilling my tea when I heard the news I’m pretty relaxed about it. I think that the combination of a Yes vote being both morally and politically difficult to side step means that the situation hasn’t changed much.
I’m a little concerned about an unelected Peer telling the electorate how much turn out the People have to have in order to change the voting system on the first time the People have ever been asked about it. I could accept the argument that, if we had in the past actually voted for First Past the Post we should demonstrate broad popular determination to change our mind.
As I point out here, this is as much a referendum on First Past the Post. We’ve never been asked what voting system we want so it’s not as if we’re being asked to change our mind. We’ve never been asked for our opinion on this before.
I’m also a little concerned that this jiggery pokery has more to do with Labour’s objections to the boundary changes and reduction in the number of MP’s.
I don’t like the shades of 1979 where the democratically expressed will of the People of Scotland to have a devolved assembly was frustrated by a backroom stitch up and a 40% threshold. As I say to anyone who is planning on voting No to AV in order to get PR the ’79 result killed devolution for a generation.
Early thoughts are:
My personal view is that a delayed vote is not bad for the Yes Campaign. Bluntly, volunteers are cheap and hired spin doctors are expensive.
Every other referendum held has had a turnout of more than 50%.
It is government policy that the referendum be a straight Yes / No on a simple majority with no thresholds, qualifications or 1979 jiggery pokery.
Whilst the referendum might not be legally binding a Yes vote would be morally binding. Arguably politically binding on the Government. Imagine Nick Clegg’s response if David Cameron said, “Sorry Nick, old boy, but, despite the Yes vote, I’ve decided not to introduce electoral reform after all.”
I think the extra publicity and the public sense that things are not being done fairly may well be a good thing for us.
As a side note given the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty I’m not sure that Parliament is technically bound by any referendum result. It would always be open for Parliament to ignore the referendum result as they could (in theory) pass an Act ignoring it, Parliament being sovereign. and unable to bind itself.
Whilst the amendment means that a Yes vote on a turnout below 40% would require the active intervention of a minister Parliament is still legally able to over turn the result of the referendum before the new voting system is used. This is the same constitutional doctrine that means that even though the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that banning prisoners from voting is illegal we still need to pass an Act in Parliament to give them the vote.
More details on the amendment below.
Everything is a little unclear at the moment.
I’m sure that the Yes Campaign will formulate a response today or tomorrow.
That response might be along the same lines as mine, we’re going to win with more than 40% turnout so long as we stick to our campaign strategy of enthusiastically engaging with as many voters as possible and talking to them honestly and openly about how the Alternative Vote is better for them, how it passes power from Party Leaders to Voters, and how it ends jobs for life, makes MP’s work harder for votes and voters and how AV gives them a vote that really counts.