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

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little