Scotland won’t win the day for Yes to AV

Polls show that Scottish voters are also opposed to AV.

What if Scotland votes Yes but England votes No? That's the question posed today by the former Conservative Scottish secretary Lord Forsyth. He warns of a constitutional crisis if the Alternative Vote is secured by a majority of votes "north of the border".

The thinking goes like this: because the referendum is held on the same day as the Scottish Parliamentary elections and because the Scots already use a different voting system from Westminster (the proportional Additional Member System), they'll be more likely to vote for change. In Forsyth's view, the decision to hold the referendum on 5 May means it has been "rigged".

Echoing the Tory peer, a leader in the Daily Mail warns of the "deeply galling prospect of Scottish voters inflicting the incomprehensible, anti-democratic AV system on the rest of the UK". But the facts suggest otherwise. The latest YouGov poll, for instance, shows that support for AV is only marginally higher in Scotland than in the rest of the UK. In Scotland, 37 per cent would vote Yes to AV and 45 per cent would vote No.

The picture isn't much different in London, where 33 per cent would vote Yes and 45 per cent would vote No. Another YouGov poll, conducted a week earlier, actually showed that Scotland would split 42:36 in favour of first-past-the-post.

In any case, talk of a constitutional crisis is overwrought. If Scotland wins the day for the Yes camp (which it won't), we'll see something comparable to the upset after the 2005 election when the Tories won more votes in England than Labour. But there will be no significant political consequences. Britain, which is now neither a unitary nor a federal state, will muddle along as usual.

PS: As I've repeatedly pointed out, it is Labour votes that will determine the result of the referendum. The latest YouGov poll shows that while Lib Dem voters are overwhelmingly in favour of reform (69:21) and Conservative voters are overwhelmingly opposed (68:19), Labour voters are split 44:38 in favour of first-past-the-post.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.