Leading article: Myths on voting reform must not prevail

Related Topics

The campaign for a better democracy in Britain has to fight, fight and fight again. According to our ComRes opinion poll today, the No campaign in the referendum has opened up a 6 percentage-point lead, as some of the don't-knows have made up their minds over the past few weeks.

This suggests that after a good start – the Yes campaign held a 10-point lead in our poll in February – the No propaganda is turning the battle. This weekend has seen Conservative Cabinet ministers, David Cameron, Theresa May and Sayeeda Warsi, writing articles for the Conservative press. Yet most of their arguments are mistaken, misleading or just plain dishonest. Now is the time for those who believe that the voters should be given more choice to step up. The No campaign's strategy is simple: it is to confuse people by throwing out so many absurd warnings about the perverse consequences of an unfamiliar voting system that people decide to stick with the devil they already know.

The Yes campaign's fightback needs to do two things. First, it needs to explain the Alternative Vote. Once people realise how simple it is, it will be harder for the conservative (with both an upper and a lower-case "c") propaganda to sow confusion. All AV means is that voters mark the ballot paper with numbers to rank candidates in order of preference. The votes are then counted in the obvious way, starting with the first preferences, until one candidate obtains over half of the votes that mark a preference.

Second, the Yes campaign needs to make the argument that preferential voting gives more power to the voters. It means that the voter may express a true opinion, even if his or her most favoured candidate is unlikely to win in that constituency. By marking one's first preference on the ballot paper, the voter may be sure that his or her views will be counted, so that the true levels of support for minor parties will be known. AV is not a proportional system, so it would not ensure greater representation for minority parties. (Indeed, contrary to the scare-mongering of Baroness Warsi, it would be even harder for a party such as the BNP to be elected under AV than it is under the present system. Only parties that are the second preference of large numbers of voters, such as the Liberal Democrats and possibly the Green Party, are likely to win more seats under AV.) But recording voters' true preferences would make our democracy richer, in that it would provide more information about what people expect of their representatives.

However, the greater gain is that expressed simply by John Clynes, the Labour Home Secretary who nearly enacted AV in 1931, when he said that it would "prevent the election of a candidate against the wishes of the constituency". It means that if two-thirds of the voters in a constituency are strongly opposed to the Nasty Party candidate, for example, but are divided between two Nice Party candidates, they cannot be outvoted by the Nasty Party's supporters.

It means that each elector has the best possible chance that his or her vote will count, because each vote can transfer to one of the top two candidates in the final round of counting. AV allows everyone to have their say in the same way that they would if an exhaustive ballot were held at a meeting of any club, society or political party – and it is similar to the French system of holding a run-off ballot between the top two candidates a fortnight after the first vote, without requiring voters to make a second trip to the polling station.

The Independent on Sunday hopes that, if these two messages can be got across, the people will vote for this modest but important improvement on 5 May. That is why we seek today to expose the 10 main myths of the referendum campaign. In Australia, for example, AV has produced fewer hung parliaments than the British system. And yes, we should acknowledge that some of the arguments of the Yes campaign are embarrassing too, such as the idea that MPs would work harder under AV, or that it would have prevented the abuse of the expenses system. But the ratio of intelligence-insulting tosh lies heavily in the No campaign's favour.

If the British people vote to keep the existing system on the basis of honest and open-eyed understanding of the arguments, so be it. But the worst outcome would be for No to prevail by misinformation and misunderstanding. The Yes campaign must not allow that to happen.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HR Advisor - East Anglia - Field-based

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: To be considered for this position you will n...

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home