Saturday, 7 May 2011

It's a NO to AV .... but .... what lies ahead?

Parliament of the United Kingdom
The referendum held on 5th May resulted in a decisive rejection of the "Alternative Vote" (AV) as a method of electing the House of Commons - "AV referendum: Britain overwhelmingly votes NO."  68% voted against AV with 32% in favour - the election turnout being around 40%.  The background to this was covered in an earlier post on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 which, apart from the AV issue, seeks to reduce the number of parliamentary constituencies to 600.

Interesting questions now arise.  How will the referendum result affect other constitutional reform proposals and will there be new issues arising?  Of course, the campaign about AV saw members of the coalition government in opposing camps - in particular, the Prime Minister (against AV) and the Deputy Prime Minister (for AV).  Whether this has irreparably fractured the coalition remains to be seen - see, for example, views expressed by Mr Vince Cable about the "ruthless, calculating and thoroughly tribal" Conservatives.

Currently going through Parliament is the Fixed Term Parliaments Bill which is now in the House of Lords and, according to the timetable, could become law by the end of May.    Then there is the continuing and seemingly unsolvable issue of House of Lords reform.  The Deputy Prime Minister was said to be about to introduce a reform bill with a view to achieving a House of Lords with a substantially elected membership but, it now appears, that such a reform may not receive sufficient political support particularly from the Conservatives - see Independent 7th May.   Interestingly, well over 100 new peers have been created on the recommendation of Mr Cameron and the view has been expressed that the Lords is now "full" - BBC 20th April.  and a "think tank" at University College London has reported on the size of the Lords and proposed some short term changes which it sees as urgent.

Potentially, the even
more difficult matter relates to the Union between England and Scotland.  5th May saw Scottish Parliamentary elections with the Scottish National Party securing an overall majority.  This may well trigger an independence referendum in Scotland as a first step to severing the Union of England and Scotland  which has endured since the Acts of Union came into force on 1st May 1707.

"THAT the two Kingdoms of Scotland and England shall ..... , and for ever after, be united into One Kingdom by the Name of GREAT BRITAIN;...."

Will that be worth fighting for in the years to come?

(Note:  The Union with Ireland Act 1800 brought union with Ireland but, in 1922, the Irish Free state came into being and, from December 1948, the Republic of Ireland.  Northern Ireland remains a part of the United Kingdom with its own Assembly - Northern Ireland Act 1998).

Addendum 8th May:  It seems that "within hours" of the AV referendum result, the Prime Minister informed the leader of the Scottish National Party that the UK government would not put up legal or political obstacles to the holding of an independence referendum in Scotland.   The Guardian 8th May 2011.

See also - Herald Scotland - "Borrowing powers may be granted year earlier".  It appears that money is needed for capital projects in Scotland and in late 2010 the Scottish Executive awarded a contract relating to a replacement Forth Road Bridge.

Readers may also be interested to look at the Scotland Bill currently before Parliament.  The Bill will give the Scottish Parliament greater devolved powers in relation to a considerable range of matters including certain taxation matters (e.g. income tax), speed limits and drink-drive (excess alcohol) limits.  A subtle but potentially very significant change is that the Scottish Executive will be renamed the "Scottish Government."


  1. At the end of the constitutional tinkering, started by Labour, as yet unfinished - but to be finished, I think the UK will look like this:
    1. devolved administrations for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland;
    2. A UK 'Federal' parliament with responsibility for non-devolved matters - mainly foreign affairs and defence:
    3. Some form of PR for the English Parliament to match the other three;
    4. A reformed HoL to recognise it will be the second chamber of a federal system. Partly elected from the devolved states, partly appointed at UK level;
    5. A UK Supreme Court for all devolved jurisdictions;
    6. A more codified constitution;
    I think all this will happen because of Scotland's bid for independence, and England's growing resentment at the West Lothian Question. I expected it all to have happened by the end of the next Parliament: 2020.

  2. @ Anonymous - many thanks for the comment. It is a pity that each party which gets into power is doing some of this "constitutional tinkering" without there being any clear plan as to what the constitution will look like.

    The present tinkering always seems aimed at gaining temporary political advantage for the party in power. This is why I am increasingly persuaded that the UK requires a formal written constitution - belonging to the People - which cannot be altered by ordinary legislative process.