Referendum is not at the best of times – but is vital

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Early next month, Britain will once more go to the polls to elect councillors. Well, most but not all electors will anyway, given that not all councils are involved in the local authority elections and some of those who are only have contests in certain wards.

Added to that is the statistical reality that local elections tend to attract only a minority of voters anyway.

Hopefully, that tally will be swelled on May 5 when every voter in the land will have an opportunity to say Yes or No in a national referendum – the first to be held in the United Kingdom since the defining poll in 1975 as to whether or not we should remain a member of what was then broadly referred to as the Common Market.

That was a referendum which attracted great debate, with politicians forcing the issue (if indeed it needed to be forced) to the top of the nation’s agenda.

It is fair to say that the Alternative Vote – the subject of the referendum next month – has not so far enjoyed the same level of excitement.

Yet, just as the plebiscite of 1975 defined our future as a nation, so will the first referendum in 36 years.

We regret the fact that it is not being held at the same time as a General Election, in which far more voters would anyway be making their way to the polling booth.

But the referendum was a price the anti-AV Tories had to pay in securing a government-forming deal with the Liberal Democrats, so we are holding it at what has proved to be the first opportunity.

We hope that electors, whatever their persuasion, will see the importance in casting their vote on the very future of that vote.

Fundamentally, the choice is either to stay with the first-past-the-post system or to ask voters to grade candidates in order of preference, with the winner (perhaps after a series of counts in which the hopeful with the least first choices is eliminated and his or her second choices are redistributed) needing to get 50 per cent of eventual first-choice selections.

The referendum itself is of course a first-past-the-post affair. We hope it attracts a huge vote.