Is the AV Referendum undermining the Government and the Union? Good
Lord Forsyth and the Daily Mail suggest that Scottish voters could force AV on the English. The New Statesman disagrees. And David Cameron tells us that the AV referendum won't end the coalition, which suggests that it could.
Andrew Rawnsley, The Observer, 17th April 2011:
The double nightmare scenario for David Cameron is that the result is swung in Scotland and Wales where there is a higher turn-out because the referendum coincides with the elections to the Edinburgh Parliament and Cardiff Assembly. Elements of the Conservative party will go demented with fury if England says no but a Celtic yes vote wins it for AV. The Thatcherite former Scottish secretary, Michael Forsyth, has already described such a outcome as "rigged", which implies he and other Tories might try to resist the introduction of AV on the grounds that the result was not legitimate. One senior Conservative MP on the right predicts that Tories will go "completely mad" if they lose the referendum – to the extent that they might even jeopardise the coalition.
I have sympathy with Forsyth's argument. When it was announced that AV referendum would be held on the same day as Scottish and Welsh national elections, I voiced my protest. But I'm afraid that Forsyth, who opposes any English dimension to politics at Westminster, will be hoist by his own petard if Scottish votes decide the outcome.
Martin Ivens, Sunday Times, 17th April 2011:
On past experience turnout will be dismal, except in Scotland where the vote coincides with a national election. A narrow no vote in England on a low turnout could therefore be overturned north of the border. "That would be a disaster for the Union," warns Forsyth gloomily, adding: "People in England will say their voting system has been changed by votes north of the border, and that the entire referendum has been rigged so that it is held on a date when turnout would be higher in Scotland." But will the English really care milord? We Sassenachs barely squeaked when our wholly separate health and education systems were changed by Scottish MPs' deciding votes.
Martin Ivens is wrong, the English were outraged when Scottish MPs overturned English democracy to change our health and education systems. Outwardly many Tory MPs shared that public outrage but inwardly they were less concerned about democracy, more concerned about the fact that with devolution to Scotland and Wales Labour had managed to retain a disproportionately large numerical Westminster advantage when it came to legislating on English domestic matters. For the general public it was about democracy and fairness, for the Tories it was about partisanship and power.
When the immediate public anger subsided Tory MPs fell silent on the West Lothian Question, it wasn't worth upsetting the Union applecart for a point of democratic principal. Instead - told that they shouldn't 'fan the flames of English nationalism' in the name of democracy and fair funding - they bided their time, and continue to do so to this day. Their timidity was rewarded when the Tories were prevented from exercising power in England, despite a plurailty of votes in England at the 2005 general election. And rewarded again in 2010 when, despite winning a majority of votes in England in the general election, the Tories were prevented from forming a government due to their lack of Scottish and Welsh MPs.
If the Tories now lose the AV referendum because of a West Lothian Question effect, it will be no less than they deserve for failing to represent England. For once I hope that Scottish votes do overturn the result in England, and I hope that the Tory backbench rebellion will fan the flames of English nationalism in spite of their feckless government - it's time that English Tories grew a collective backbone.