Why The Referendum Matters

It’s not sexy, argues CHARLIE CADYWOULD, but it is important.

ballot Coalition election occupation Old Schools politics protest voting

Why should students vote yes on May 5th? We’ve had protests in Cambridge, coaches to London, university buildings stormed and occupied, arrests and police brutality. It’s an exciting time to be a politically active student, but we can all be forgiven for not feeling the same sense of excitement about the May 5th referendum. Let’s face it, the alternative vote isn’t SEXY; no one’s going to get laid in the Old Schools this time.

For a lot of people, the choice the referendum presents between changing to AV and keeping First Past the Post is not the one which they most yearn to be consulted on in an environment of sweeping cuts to public services.  But one of the main complaints about the measures is that they are being done without a democratic mandate. The referendum, while not redressing this, is still an opportunity to make our opinion heard on a direct issue. Yes we’re being asked a question written by the establishment, but this doesn’t mean that one answer isn’t better than the other. Like it or not, we have been given a one or the other choice, and whether we bother to turn up to vote or not, we will have answered their question.

This referendum is important because we have the chance to increase our say in who gets sent to Westminster to represent us. It’s important because we have the chance to end safe seats and tactical voting. It’s important because it’s a resounding NO to First Past the Post and the huge electoral injustices it causes (look up Labour’s result in 2005 and the Alliance’s in 1983). It’s important because if we block reform now, we will block it for at least a generation.

AV doesn’t solve all or even most of our economic or social problems, but it’s a step in the right direction, and as students we should fight for the future of the country in the ballot box as well as on the streets.

Protesting is an act of defiance by a people who are taking matters into their own hands after they didn’t get what they voted for. The move to AV helps to ensure that politicians are more accountable to us, and rely on OUR votes for election and re-election, and hence the referendum should be seen as another avenue for claiming that people power, at the ballot box.

Unfortunately, in recent weeks the No campaign has sought to shut out any meaningful debate on the issue with its shameful advertising campaign. Using the emotive image of an ill baby with the caption “she needs a cardiac facility, not an alternative voting system”, they have refused to engage with the issues, and instead built an argument around, quite simply, a lie – that moving to the alternative vote will cost £250 million.

To put this claim to bed, the figure is largely made up of the cost of holding the referendum itself, which will not be recouped if people vote no, and the cost of moving to an electronic voting system, for which there are no plans and is demonstrably unnecessary (other countries have far more complex voting systems and do not have electronic voting).

There won’t be any singing in the streets or ceilidhs in the Old Schools if we win this one, but we can grind out a win for people power, and we can shout a resounding NO to unfair votes and to the disgraceful tactics of the No campaign.