A referendum looks likely

No, just for once I'm not talking about our referendum on primary lawmaking powers, but about Gordon Brown's answer to this question in the Commons on Wednesday.


He was quite unequivocal about it. He said that he had "given a commitment that a referendum will be held early in the next Parliament". We can of course decide whether to believe him or not, but having made such a hash of Labour's promise about a European referendum, he couldn't possibly be so foolish—seriously, he really couldn't—as to make the same mistake twice ... because failure to keep his word by setting it up before the general election is bound to count against Labour in that election.

There was also an interesting snippet from Diane Abbott in This Week about the behind-the-scenes discussion amongst Labour MPs. She is as Brownite as it's possible for a Labour MP to be, and to my mind was obviously attempting to add to Brown's leadership kudos by saying that he managed to get his way despite considerable opposition from some sections of the party. She wouldn't have said this if she was not positive about the Prime Minister being able to get this through, because she would not want to draw attention to him failing to do so.


I've make my position clear before: namely that I much prefer STV in multimember constituencies, but that changing to the Alternative Vote (which is essentially STV in single member constituencies) is better than doing nothing. Anything is better than first-past-the-post.

AV is not proportional, but it does get voters used to the idea of voting "1, 2, 3 ..." instead of simply putting a single "X" in one box. It will also put an end to the need for tactical voting; and it will increase participation because a greater range of candidates is likely to stand, safe in the knowledge that they will not split the vote of a candidate with similar views. It would not be a very big step to then extend exactly the same principle to multimember constituencies in the future.


However, what interests me far more is the timetable that is being suggested. The idea is to set a firm date for a binding referendum, and get the legislation through before the end of this Parliament. In effect, the AV referendum is going to have to go through the same process in the same timescale that it will take for our own Referendum Order to get through.

If Labour can do one, they can do the other. There can certainly be no excuses for Labour doing one but not doing the other.

This should act to focus Carwyn Jones' attention on exactly what the Assembly is going to debate and vote on in Plenary on 9 February. If the Assembly doesn't pass the formal request for a referendum on that day, it is very difficult to see how the Referendum Order can get through in the tight timescale that will be left.

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