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Going to the polls

Brian Taylor | 14:05 UK time, Thursday, 13 January 2011

There is, I suppose, a degree of entertaining symmetry in the possible delay to the AV referendum: the unelected House of Lords dealing with potential reform to the method by which members are elected in the Other Place.

In Scotland, certainly, it will be a source of innocent merriment for members of the Scottish Parliament - or, at least, for most of them.

That is because the AV referendum is presently scheduled to be held on the 5th of May: the day when, among sundry other democratic exercises in these islands, Holyrood goes to the polls.

MSPs from the SNP and Labour have protested long and loud about that concatenation of events.

Voters, they said, did not need their minds muddled by thoughts of Commons reform when they should be concentrating upon Holyrood's future.

In response, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats argued that the good and sensible people of Scotland and elsewhere were perfectly capable of encompassing both challenges.

Plus it would save money.

Avoid clash

There is precedent here although it is, by no means, a precise one.

Scottish local elections were also due to be held on the 5th of May. But they have been time-shifted to next year in order to avoid clashing with Holyrood.

However, that owes more to the confusion which occurred at the count four years ago when both Holyrood and Scottish councils held elections on the same day.

Changes to the design of ballot papers, allied to those multiple elections, led to a record number of votes being declared invalid.

I well recall that, at some point during the emerging controversy, I informed an astonished nation that the ballot had been a "bourach". Splendid, Gaelic word - meaning a total guddle, an utter mess.

Now, it is by no means guaranteed that holding the AV referendum on the same day as the Holyrood polls would generate Bourach Two, the sequel.

Care and caution would presumably be exercised.

Lessons would be learned.

However, there is now an established folk memory in much of the Scottish body politic to the effect that dual elections can be trouble.

Hence the close attention being paid in Scotland to their Lordships' deliberations.


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