What are the distinguishing points of a campaign and a debate? Surely that the former facilitates the latter. It seems that the 'No to AV' grouping haven't quite got that sorted.
Declaration of interest: I am firmly in the 'Yes' camp. But differing opinions, honestly held, are the lifeblood of democracy. So it a matter for real regret that those who are opposed to electoral reform appear to be seeing what should be nourishing as a threat.
A complaint will be submitted to the Advertising Standards authority tomorrow (28 February) about advertisements placed by the 'No' campaign. Perhaps the most distasteful of these is the image of a tiny new-born with a naso-gastric tube and the slogan “she needs a new cardiac facility, not an alternative voting system”. The binary crudity of this is ludicrous, especially when one considers what the present government (which has the largest number of 'No supporters') is doing to the NHS.
Worse, it is deliberately predicated upon an untruth. The claim that £130 million will have to be spent on counting machines if a ballot is carried out under the Alternative Vote system has been clearly shown to be untrue. There are no plans to use voting machines and Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury has said "I don't expect to see any increase in the cost of holding a general election if the British people vote yes. There's no good reason to believe that even under a new voting system an election would need to be more expensive." The 'No' campaign has now gone rather quiet on this.
A plain intent to mislead is bad enough, but the actions of the 'Nos' with regard to public meetings which are billed as debates is even more disturbing. These gatherings are effectively rallies for the 'No' campaign and are controlled by them. Applicants for tickets - which they control - are vetted, yet these gatherings are billed as “ free, fair and impartial” The 'Yes' campaign are not consulted or invited. Accusations are then made that their representatives have failed to turn up, disappointing those who have come to hear debate, and causing serious embarrassment to the chair of the meeting.
The 'Yes' campaign is bypassing these contrived events and is conducting open and fair debates throughout the country. But the fact that those who oppose them should hold voters and - democracy itself - in such contempt is a cause for real concern.
Whatever your views, they should be stated clearly, without hyperbole or falsity. To do otherwise is to devalue whatever you have to say. “Do as we say or the baby gets it” is about as low as you can go (as well as evincing a failure of confidence in the case it is supposed to defend) and it would appear that a very large number of voters are prepared to challenge this ill-judged advertising campaign.
The manipulation of public meetings and the misrepresentation of their status are not the actions of those who have the health of democracy at the core of their argument. Where debate is carried out honourably, losers accept their disappointment. Although I long to see a more representative voting system, I want to hear the arguments against it presented with cogency and integrity and defended in open debate.
That is not what is happening. Debate has been replaced by propaganda and truth is not served by it.
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger  You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpen