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4 May 2011

5 May elections: what’s up for grabs?

Confused? Here’s your essential guide to all the ballots taking place across the UK.

By Samira Shackle

AV referendum

Who is voting and for what?
Everyone in the UK can vote in the referendum on the system we use to elect MPs to the House of Commons.

Which voting system will be used?
The question posed is: “At present, the UK uses the ‘first past the post’ system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the ‘Alternative Vote’ system be used instead?” It’s a simple Yes or No vote – technically first-past-the-post, as whichever side gets the most votes will win.

What is at stake?
The polls indicate that a No vote is increasingly likely. This will be another blow for the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, and will anger many in his party. Many have urged a No vote as a means to “kick Clegg”. In the unlikely event of a Yes vote, however, the coalition will be even harder hit, as David Cameron has campaigned personally against AV, and if it is passed the Tory backbench is likely to revolt. The battle has become increasingly bitter over the past few days, with reports of a cabinet clash between Cameron and the Lib Dem Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne.

Scottish Parliament

Who is voting and for what?
People who live in Scotland will vote to elect members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs). There are 129 elected MSPs.

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Which voting system will be used?
Scotland uses a mixed member proportional representation (MMS) system, a form of the additional member method of proportional representation. Under the system, voters are given two votes: one for a specific candidate and one for a political party. Thus, 73 of the 129 MSPs are constituency members, meaning they represent one constituency in the Scottish Parliament. The other 56 are regional members, meaning they represent one of the eight electoral regions of Scotland. Each electoral region includes a number of constituencies. So voters are represented by eight MPs – one for the their constituency, and seven for their region.

What is at stake?
Labour was keen to attempt to turn the election into a referendum on the Westminster coalition – and it looked like it might be able to, with one poll in March showing Labour 15 points ahead of the Scottish National Party (SNP). However, this has fallen flat – a poll last month gave the SNP an 11-point lead. The likely humilating defeat for Labour will be a blow for Ed Miliband, whose leadership has clearly not convinced those north of the border (though it is also worth noting that the Scottish Labour leader, Iain Gray, is enduringly unpopular).

National Assembly for Wales

Who is voting and for what?
People who live in Wales will vote to elect Assembly members (AMs). There are 60 elected AMs.

Which voting system will be used?
The Welsh Assembly uses the same system as the Scottish elections. There are 40 constituency members, and the other 20 are regional members who represent one of the five electoral regions of Wales. Therefore, if you live in Wales, you are represented by five AMs – one who represents your Assembly constituency and the other four representing your region.

What is at stake?
The early signs were that Labour was on track for an outright majority. The party is still likely to get the most votes, but the latest YouGov poll shows that it might be just short of an overall majority.

Northern Ireland Assembly and local elections

Who is voting and for what?
People in Northern Ireland will elect 108 members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Voters will also elect 582 councillors to the 26 local councils across the region.

Which voting system will be used?
Members are elected under the single transferable vote (STV) system of proportional representation. Under STV, an elector’s vote is initially allocated to his or her most preferred candidate, and then, after candidates have been either elected or eliminated, any surplus or unused votes are transferred according to the voter’s stated preferences. The Assembly is based on the principle of power-sharing to ensure that both unionist and nationalist communities participate in governing the region.

What is at stake?
After an uncharacteristically quiet campaign, a very low turnout is expected. With major constitutional issues fading into the background, much of the campaign debate has centred on issues such as health and education, which are not usually prominent in Northern Ireland contests. The results are expected to consolidate the positions of the two largest parties, the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein, which have dominated local politics in recent years. No supporters of violent republican groups are fighting the election, a sign of the very limited support for them in the country.

Local elections in Northern Ireland and parts of England

Who is voting and for what?
More than 9,500 seats in 279 councils across England are being contested. Among the 36 metropolitan councils electing a third of their seats are Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield. In addition, elections will be held in 49 unitary authorities and 194 district councils.

Which voting system will be used?
Local elections in England use first-past-the-post.

What is at stake?
The Conservatives are defending about 5,000 seats, which were last contested in 2007. Labour and the Lib Dems are fighting to hold on to roughly 1,600 and 1,800 seats, respectively. Much of the campaign has focused on spending cuts, with Ed Miliband urging voters to make their vote a statement about the coalition. And he could be in for a winner – a poll last week suggested that Clegg’s party may lose 600 seats; about of third of what they currently hold. And the Tories could lose in the region of 1,000 seats, meaning that Labour stands to gain at least 1,500.

Leicester South by-election

Who is voting and for what?
People in the Leicester South constituency will vote for a new MP after Sir Peter Soulsby, their Labour MP, stood down from parliament to contest the first election for Mayor of Leicester.

Which voting system will be used?
First-past-the-post.

What is at stake?
Soundings indicate that Labour will hang on to the seat: its candidate, Jonathan Ashworth, was backed by nearly two-thirds of voters in a poll for a local paper. In the same poll, the Conservatives came second, with 19.8 per cent, while the Liberal Democrats – who won the seat from Labour in a by-election in 2004 but lost it again (back to Labour) the following year – came third.