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United Kingdom:
National Delay, Local Progress

September 2002

Following are three representative news stories from the United Kingdom. To keep up-to-date on the British movement for voting system reform, see the Electoral Reform Society's website.

Electoral reforms spell introduction of PR across Britain
By Alison Hardie
The Scotsman
25 Sep 2002

Liberal Democrat chiefs last night predicted proportional representation would be introduced for all British elections after Labour agreed in principle to ditch the traditional system for Scottish council elections.

The proposed electoral reform, which could spell the end of Labourís stranglehold over local authorities in the central belt, is the price the Lib Dems demanded in return for cementing the Scottish Executive coalition for the next four years.

Jim Wallace, the Scottish Lib Dem leader and deputy first minister, said to applause at the partyís conference in Brighton yesterday: "When we signed the partnership agreement with the Labour Party in 1999, we promised to make progress on electoral reform. Well, weíve done that.

"Iím pleased to be able to tell you the Scottish Parliament was told of the Scottish Cabinetís intention, by March next year, to publish a bill to introduce the single transferable vote for local elections."

Labour activists are furious and have called on the partyís hierarchy to find a way to shelve the commitment after the 2003 elections.

Last night senior Labour sources claimed it was far from a done deal and pointed out that the bill to introduce PR for local elections would not even begin its passage through the Scottish Parliament until next May.

Even then it will have to be agreed to again by a new Executive and its content could be amended or even watered-down.

The source said: "I think Labour MSPs could take a lot yesterday from the fact Jack McConnell arrived at the parliamentary group meeting to finalise the position with Paul Martin, the leader of the campaign to maintain the first-past-the-post system.

"We are a long way from changing the voting system and the Lib Dems know it, but it doesnít do us any harm to let Jim Wallace announce it at conference."

What was clear yesterday was that if voting reform is pushed through for council elections, the Lib Dems can expect little further leeway by Labour if they join them again in coalition.

Mr McConnell said yesterday: "It is a fact that there are members of my own party who oppose electoral reform. Although the published bill will not be introduced before May 2003, as a matter of democratic principle, I believe that it is important that the new executive should have the opportunity to take a decision on this issue."

The First Minister is understood to have made it clear to Mr Wallace during private discussions that he will want to pursue a much harder, Labour-led agenda in the next parliament if Labour is successful again at the ballot box.

But yesterday in Brighton, Mr Wallace put aside the caveats to tell delegates that the Lib Dems had achieved another major concession from Labour as partners in the Executive coalition.

He said: "Now that we are in a partnership government, the ideas that we have been putting forward for years - and in some cases, decades - are finally being put into practice.

"People know that with Liberal Democrats in government, what you see is what you get, what we say is what we deliver ."

Mr Wallace said he was "confident" that a new, proportional voting system would be introduced in time for the 2007 local council elections.

But he added: "We should not under-estimate the opposition we will encounter. Those whose power is vested in the current unrepresentative system will not let it slip away without a fight."

Charles Kennedy, the Lib Dem leader, is due to take up the challenge of voting reform throughout the UK during his keynote speech to the Brighton conference tomorrow .

Kennedy will call on Blair to honour his promise on PR
By Marie Woolf< BR> September 24, 2002

Charles Kennedy will issue an ultimatum this week to Tony Blair to honour his commitment to review the introduction of proportional representation

The Liberal Democrat leader will use his conference speech to scotch talk that his party has given up on electoral reform. He will tell Labour to stick by a manifesto promise to review the voting system after the local elections next year or jeopardise relations with his party

Mr Kennedy is said to be worried that Labour is backing down on the issue in the face of opposition from grassroots activists and the trade unions

Sources close to the leader said Labour was hoping reform would be "swept under the carpet" and incorporated in a wider review of policy that would not lead to any concrete proposals or action

Mr Kennedy will indicate in his speech that his patience over Labour delays on PR has run out. "He is not going to let Blair off the hook on this," sources said. "He is very, very serious about holding the Government to account over their commitment." Today Labour and the Liberal Democrats in Scotland are expected to announce a deal on a new voting system for local government based on proportional representation

Postcards on the edge to make PR 'sexy'
Scotsman Evening Statesman
25 Sep 2002

Supporters of voting reform today launched a new postcard campaign which tries to make proportional representation sexy.

The cross-party group Fairshare wants to gets its message across to people in pubs, clubs and community halls across Scotland.

And it hopes to build up a momentum for change following Deputy First Minister Jim Wallaceís confirmation yesterday that a bill will be introduced in the Scottish Parliament before next yearís elections paving the way for a single transferable vote system for local government.

One of the postcards features a large zipped X held by chains along with the slogan "Release your vote from bondage - Single Transferable Vote puts you in control".

Another features a variety of coloured sweets and asks: "Want some different flavours? Single Transferable Vote responds to everyoneís tastes!"

Fairshare said the postcards were designed to move the campaign for voting reform for Scottish local government from party meetings and gatherings of political hacks into the communities of Scotland.

Co-ordinator Amy Rodger said as well as getting the cards out to bars, pubs and clubs, Fairshare supporters would be using freshersí weeks at universities to put across the message.

"This has been a hugely interesting issue for politicians and poll watchers, but the whole thing about changing the voting system is so it is not in the hands of the parties, but the people."

She said the "sexy" postcards were designed to present the issue in a context in which people had not seen it before. "The idea of releasing your vote from bondage and giving it the power to do what itís meant to do is an appropriately strong message."

The Scottish Executive yesterday confirmed the widely-trailed deal to produce a bill on PR for local government by next March - though First Minister Jack McConnell has stopped short of endorsing the plan.

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