Cameron continues to ignore devolved ministers’ referendum fears

Holding EU vote on the same day as Assembly elections could boost right-wing turnout


Speaking at the G7 summit in Bavaria, David Cameron has warned his ministers that they can either support the results of his renegotiation of the UK’s EU membership or they can leave the government.

Speculation is mounting about when he will call the vote. The manifesto commitment is simply to hold a vote ‘by the end of 2017’, but the Daily Mail has suggested that the prime minister is preparing to stage the vote on 5 May 2016, the same day as elections to the devolved bodies and the London Mayoral contest.

Last month, the Western Mail reported that some pro-EU Conservatives felt such a move would boost the pro-EU turnout across London, which they see as key to winning the referendum.

But such a move would fly in the face of the advice of the Electoral Commission, and of ministers from the devolved governments.

Ahead of the second reading of the Bill to implement the referendum to be held tomorrow, the Electoral Commission has issued a briefing warning against such a move. Drawing on its experience of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum it explains:

“In our report on the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, we set out our assessment that holding a poll on such an important constitutional issue on a separate day from other elections gave voters space to engage fully with the referendum issues, and helped both campaigners and electoral administrators plan their activities more effectively.

“We recommended that for other high-profile issues likely to attract cross-party campaigning, such as the UK’s membership of the EU, any referendum should be held on a separate day to other polls.”

In Wales, senior figures in the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and Welsh Labour, including first minister Carwyn Jones, have warned against holding an vote on EU membership on the same day as the devolved elections. They argue that the issues to be debated in elections to the Assembly could be drowned out.

The Western Mail however, is now reporting fears within Welsh Labour that holding the EU-vote on the same day as elections to the Assembly could boost right-wing turnout, leading to the potential of a Conservative/UKIP administration being formed in Cardiff.

The paper quotes what it describes as a Welsh Labour ‘source’ as saying:

“A decision to hold the referendum on the same day as the Assembly election would be a big personal victory for Andrew RT Davies.

“If this does happen, it would be a big blow for Welsh Labour and boost Davies’ chances of becoming first minister in a future coalition Welsh government.

“With the Tories now sniffing power in Wales for the first time, the pressure on Carwyn is increasing by the day.”

The source continued:

“Many people who in the past have not bothered to vote in an Assembly election would do so if it was held on the same day as the EU referendum. A high proportion of such voters would be anti-devolution and anti-EU.

“The Conservatives and Ukip would be the parties to benefit. Last year, Ukip came within 5,000 votes of beating Labour to get most votes in Wales during the European Parliament election. Labour can’t afford to be complacent.”

However, the former presiding officer of the Welsh Assembly Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, now a Plaid Cymru AM, has different ideas. Breaking ranks from his party leadership, he told the Sunday Politics yesterday that the benefits of holding the two votes on the same day outweighed the risks. He declared:

“I quite frankly have no objection to it being held at the same time as other elections.

“It makes a lot of sense because then you would get better turnout for both. There are fears about UKIP, but bring them on I say.”

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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