When it comes to AV, I am firmly in the Yes camp but, as I mentioned yesterday in response to councils and proportionate/disproportionate cuts to their budgets, what eclipses everything else for me at the moment is the misuse of numbers and facts. I will question everything that is put in front of me until I am satisfied I have been given the right answer – even if that means disagreeing with the majority of my own party.
So when the “No to AV Campaign” released its £250m figure the first thing I did? Read the breakdown of the numbers and try to make some sense of it. There will be a cost to the taxpayer, there is no doubt that this is true, but the figure provided seems to be a collection of guestimates and assumptions that I was unable to immediately pin down or agree/disagree with.
So, I went researching.
I have taken my figures from here, so as to judge them fairly and in their entirety.
£82million on the Referendum itself
This is a number we were all aware of; it was budgeted for in the Government’s spending plans and revealed from the outset of the coalition agreement.
But is it fair to attribute the cost of this solely to AV? The fact is, the referendum is a choice between AV and FPTP; it is equally for them as it is for the opposing camp. Personally, as this is something that covers the base cost, I wouldn’t assign it to either camp (you could split it, I suppose!) and cancel it out.
£35m (£9m + £26m) on voter education
I admit that this is the figure I am the most unsure of. There will need to be money spent on voter education and information, but there are a few questions I’d have about the amount (if anybody can provide the answers, please do!)
1. Is this separate money, or is some of this cost factored into the original cost of the referendum (£82m)?
2. The figure, taken from the ‘Vote Scotland’ campaign; was this purely educational material on STV, or was it a total figure of the amount spent on the general campaign?
£130million on electronic counting machines
This is the most curious point, for me. At no stage has the Electoral Reform Society said this is a requirement of introducing the alternative vote system. (See: here & here). As many have pointed out, Australia does not use them, and recent correspondence has shown that the ERS would debate the merits of their introduction regardless of which system we end up with after the referendum. It’s a ‘potential’ cost that could be attributed to either voting system and, for that reason, I would discount it from the total figure until there is concrete proof it shall be used, and only in the case of the introduction of the alternative vote.
Additional costs – more polling stations, additional election staff training, customized machine-readable ballot papers.
– There is no proof that extra polling stations will be needed; there is no standard time for people to currently spend making their choice – I have seen everything from two seconds to ten minutes as people deal with council, local and national elections across different ballot papers.
– There would be training, yes – but election staff are trained anyway; surely it would be the same amount of time spent learning, but on a different voting system?
– As discussed above, you cannot talk of new ‘machine-readable’ ballot papers if the electronic counting machines are not a definite.
So yes, it’s true – there will be an additional cost. There is money to be spent on voter education and there will of course be the wages of those staff paid to stay longer to count the votes.
But it is a far cry from the £250m stated.
I do see the argument for using the money for something else, but what I would ask is this: Can anybody from the No to AV campaign guarantee that, if there was no referendum, the money would be put to good use? Could anybody promise that the Government would make it available to other, worthy causes and not simply write it off as part of their decision to clear the deficit quickly?
On a personal level, this has nothing whatsoever to do with party loyalties. If the Labour party end up losing seats? So be it. For too long, every election has been decided by marginal seats; why should 100,000 or so people hold all the power? It’s no wonder many people feel disillusioned and fed up.
I want plurality and fairness; I want people to have the right to vote for who they want – even if I strongly disagree with them – without feeling their opinion does not matter; I want parties to have to come and work for my vote by telling me what they will do for me and for the community; I want them to not release leaflets and campaigning material that only attacks others; I actually WANT to be leafleted by all parties so I can make an informed decision on their policies; I want MPs to be more accountable to the majority and not the minority.
And if you disagree, don’t worry – I’m not going to call you a dinosaur (or a Tory!), or say you are against democracy – the whole point of democracy is giving people choice, and that is what the referendum is about.
But I would ask one thing – when you look at the debate, look past party tribalism – ignore the attacks on Nick Clegg, the Lib Dems, Labour or the Conservatives; ignore the ageist comments aimed at segregating peoples’ opinions – and analyse why a system would be beneficial to you. What would you get out of a change in the voting system?
Because in reality, this isn’t about parties or politicians, it’s about the electorate – so how about we ignore what they all have to say, ignore the spin and the sniping and focus on the facts?