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15 April 2011

Scotland won’t win the day for Yes to AV

Polls show that Scottish voters are also opposed to AV.

By George Eaton

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.

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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.

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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.