Charles Kennedy writes… Why Vote Yes – A chance for change we cannot miss

I’ve campaigned for electoral reform for as long as I can remember. I’m both President of DAGGER (Democratic Action Group for Gaining Electoral Reform) and the Liberal Democrat Group of the Electoral Reform Society, so you can imagine how I felt when I found out that we have a chance to change our outdated, broken electoral system and replace it with something better.

Let’s be clear: AV may not be perfect, but it IS better and fairer than First Past the Post. Even the ‘No2AV’ campaign know that, which is why they’ve resorted to making things up rather than engaging in a debate about the pros and cons of the current system. They have resorted to scare tactics because they know they cannot win the argument otherwise, and we cannot allow them to succeed.

Many have tried to paint the referendum as a vote on Nick Clegg or on the performance of the Coalition Government but we all know that this referendum is bigger than any individual. It is bigger than any political party. It is bigger than the Coalition. This referendum is the first chance we have to change our rotten voting system and we cannot allow personal politics to get in the way, and I was delighted to see Ed Miliband make the same point in his speech last Wednesday.

This is about people. It is about making our democracy fairer, more representative and about handing power back to those we are elected to serve. It is about ensuring that when people go to the ballot box they feel that their vote is actually making a difference. It is about making sure that MPs know they can’t just rely on their core support election after election, but instead will have to reach out and work harder for their votes.

I was a student at Glasgow University when the first referendum on Scottish devolution took place in 1979. When it failed on a technicality, people insisted it was an issue that would never go away yet it was nearly 20 years before we had another opportunity to vote for change.

We must not let the same thing happen with the AV referendum – who knows how long we’ll have to wait for electoral reform if we don’t take this chance.

On May 5th we can achieve the most significant change to our political system since universal suffrage so, now, with the Liberal Democrat campaign for Fairer Votes underway, I’m urging you to get out there, get involved with the Yes Campaign and make sure that we don’t look back on 2011 as yet another missed opportunity.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Old Codger Chris 20th Mar '11 - 2:21pm

    No2AV’s scare tactics about cost are certainly a disgrace.

    AV is less bad than FPTP in one respect – it would empower more people to vote positively. But it’s worse in another; the undue weight given to the second – and perhaps even the third etc – preferences of relatively few voters, possibly overturning the first preferences of the largest minority (whose own second preferences are ignored).

    AV if enacted will be a huge disappointment and risks kicking a referendum on real reform even further into the long grass. The public will be entitled to say “you’ve got the system you told us was so wonderful, now depart in peace and don’t bother us again”.

  • Stuart Mitchell 20th Mar '11 - 4:18pm

    This is a really superb article because it is one of the first things I have read from either campaign which is measured, realistic, and honest. No over-heated rhetoric, no promising of the earth, no character assassinations, no lies or bogus stats, just a respectable and clearly impassioned case for voting Yes. Great stuff.

  • AV is slightly better than FPTP, but it is also Clegg’s thirty pieces of silver for enabling the Tory government to wage war on the poor, the sick, the young, and the unemployed. Neither the cuts (so quick, so deep, so crude) nor the coalition were unavoidable. It is not merely personal politics for the electorate to give a strong signal that we will not for a very long time forgive this betrayal.

  • Nearly 200 people in towns across the country were asked yesterday what AV stood for and responses ranged from football team Aston Villa to ‘anti-viral’ and ‘audio visual’. One even said it was ‘what you press on the remote control to switch to Sky on the telly’.

    Read more:

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Mar '11 - 9:41am

    @Jim: That’s a strange headline in the Mail. Suggesting that Clegg might ever want “an excuse” to part from the Tories is like saying Charlie Sheen is looking for an excuse to stop hanging around with porn stars.

  • @ Stuart Mitchell
    What’s the point of commenting here in praise of Charlie Kennedy’s support for AV whilst occupying a quarter of the comments under yesterday’s article, ‘ How 295 losers could have been winners’ , attacking the whole concept of preferential voting and declaring you’ll be voting for the ‘No’ campaign?
    Rather Daily Mail, if unintentionally so.

  • Stuart Mitchell 21st Mar '11 - 12:55pm

    @Sean: Just to be clear on this, I admire Kennedy for his honesty, integrity and civility – three qualities sorely lacking from both campaigns so far. But no, I don’t share his conclusions.

    @Mark: Yes, some first preference votes will always be cast for the motives you describe, but that’s democracy. There are a few reasons why we should not give second preferences the same weight. One obvious one is that many voters (polls indicate 20-25%) have no second preference at all, so we would be creating multiple classes of voter. Another reason is that polls of second preferences taken just a few weeks apart can show massive swings in a way that first preference polls simply do not; this to me is hard evidence that these preferences are more volatile and less committed than first preferences, and that’s why I don’t think we should give them the same weight.

  • Old Codger Chris 21st Mar '11 - 6:36pm

    Stuart Mitchell is spot-on.

    Under AV the candidate with the second largest minority vote may defeat the candidate with the largest minority, thanks to the second (and possibly third) preferences of a smaller minority.

    People who see that as a “reform” will vote Yes in May. I’ll be voting No. But both systems are rubbish.

    Cirret may be correct about Clegg’s thirty pieces of silver. We would need to know what other concessions he might have achieved from Cameron in return for dropping the referendum demand.

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