I've been waiting to see whether any lodgements would be proposed regarding the Referendum, and just when I'm about to give up, five of them turn up almost at once.
It's rather like the Liberty Bus timetable, which is described by Deputy Kevin Lewis "it is a work in progress. The service is still being tweaked to iron out all the gremlins." Now there's an idea for a film - Gremlins 4: On the Buses, starring the Kevin Lewis in the role made famous by the late Reg Varney. Mike Higgins comment in the States showed how the gremlins are working:
"I think the bus company are now on their third set of timetables or schedules? Drivers are given a sheet every day and their timetables differ to what is published to the public. Does he think that is a satisfactory situation because people are waiting for buses which are coming to a different schedule than the published one?"
So are the public still getting the old original paper timetables, or have they been withdrawn? Is there going to be a reprint? Who will pay for that? Can they get anything back on the old ones, paper for recycling perhaps?
A look at the tweets on their Twitter feed shows that the Gremlins are out in force:
"I waited half an hour this morning for the 15 after the mysterious 06.41 never came"
"I was at the station waiting for the 18.01 #15 at stand N. when it didn't arrive the desk said the board wasn't right"
"Bus service is a joke! 13 bus due 10:45 Five oaks- doesn't get there till 11:00- so I'm late for work. Sort your drivers out!"
"We have revised Route 4 and Route 20 first inbound journey times from Monday 18 February"
"Liberty Bus testing timing points of all routes ' and are committed to providing the 'reliable bus service this island deserves".
But returning to the matter at hand - the proposed amendments to the Referendum:
Geoff Southern wants to make the Referendum a simple option. Scrap Option B, and make it a yes or no answer for Option A or no change. His main arguments are twofold: (a) that the existing arrangement is not "clear and simple", and (b) that by having two votes, those who want the Constables to stay in the States can vote for B or C.
Regarding (a), there is a move afoot, which I support, for a reform of the voting system with single transferable votes, which is much better than first past the post. The structure of choices with numbering in the Referendum is bringing that logic to the Referendum. If that is too complicated for the public to understand, how will they manage with anything except first past the post?
Regarding (b), it is assumed that the main object of someone voting may be to retain the Constables. But what if it is to have reform, with the Constables if possible, but without them otherwise. It could be argued that by selection Option B, and second choice Option A, that they have two votes on change. That doesn't seem to have been considered, possibly because it doesn't figure in his cynical distrust of the average voter.
Trevor Pitman's first amendment looks at what the options are trying to do, and suggests that it would be better to replace Option C with the far more sensible 'Neither of the above options'; he also wants to remove the transferrable vote.
"This would leave a straight choice between 2 clear options of reform within a reduced Assembly; or simply leaving matters as they are, with none of the murky machinations thrown into the mix by the current Option C and 'transferable vote' process. After all, if my proposed new Option C was to come out on top, then it simply sends us the message that we really need to go away and come up with something better"
Back in 2006, I did a blog on the requirement for a "None of the above" vote in elections, and it makes perfect sense here too.
Whether it should be an addition option - which is what Lyndon Farnham wants in his amendment, or to replace Option C is debatable. It assumes that if people don't like Option A or B, they'll settle for the status quo rather than an Option D - None of the Above. I can't really see that makes sense. If people turn out to vote, they want change. If they don't like A or B, will they really want Option C? If there is a "none of the above" vote, that's more likely to be what they will go for. So I'd favour Trevor Pitman's option above Lyndon Farnhams.
Mr Pitman's second amendment lurks in his blog amidst the usual rather loud Brian Blessed style rhetoric - and he takes five paragraphs in his lodged amendment before saying "It is nevertheless not my intention to waste Members' time going over all of the many shortcomings of the Commission's proposals at length"! However, it it actually makes a good deal of sense to me:
"It is simply this. Instead of the largely inexplicable call to reduce the Assembly from 51 to 42 modify that figure slightly to 46. Then in line with the true statistics outlined in the table above allocate those 4 extra seats to the the two large St. Helier districts that the Commission currently proposes need to be sold massively short. Not only does such a modest move bring these second class citizens of the island's capital far more into line with the other districts; it actually ensures that two of the biggest related worries about political reform can be put to bed at a single stroke."
This keeps Option B for those who want it, against those who want to remove the Constables, but makes voting parity more fair. It is, I must confess, an elegant solution, and I really wonder why no one thought of it before. As someone who wants an Option B to keep the Constables to be kept on the table, I think this is a fair adjustment, and my only concern is that because Deputy Pitman has brought it, some members may automatically vote against without looking properly at its merits.
Let's hope he can tone down the Brian Blessed volume, eschew some of the more purple prose, and let the simple fairness of the proposal be the matter on the table. If argued as an improvement to strengthen the case for Option B and voter parity, it could get through; if argued as a remedy for a massive confidence trick perpetrated by Senator Bailhache (as he does on his blog), it will certainly fail. And that would be a great shame because it is a good amendment.
James Reed's proposition is simply to up the number of Deputies by one in each district either under Option A or Option B.
"This amendment gives States members the opportunity to consider whether 48 members rather than 42, is the optimal number of States members necessary to support the government of this Island, before the reform options are put to the electorate in a referendum."
It doesn't address voter parity like Trevor Pitman's and only looks at the "Troy Rule" and whether there will be too large an executive in a reduced States. I don't think it really has a huge amount in its favour. It would, of course, give more safe rural seats for any Senators scrabbling for a relatively cosy berth.
And finally, as mentioned before, Lyndon Farnham's option to add "None of the above" which if ticked rules out Options A, B or C. I'm in favour of this, but think that Trevor Pitman's removal of Option C is the better option. Trevor Pitman's amendment also removes the bogie man of Geoff Southern, who raises the spectre of tactical voting on B and C to keep the Constables.
It's not often I agree with Trevor Pitman, but on this occasion, I do. His solutions are elegant refinements to the choices, have a good rationale, and actually make it better to argue the case for Option B. I hope that personality politics doesn't cause his amendment to fall on deaf ears, because it deserves a good hearing.
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