Don’t rush the referendum: June is too soon

First published on the ERS blog here

On Tuesday, David Cameron announced the details of the government’s initial ‘renegotiation deal’ with the EU in the run up to the referendum. It clears the way for the ballot to be held in June – something some politicians are keen on.

But since that’s only four months away, it’s not a lot of time to have a full debate about this major constitutional issue. There’s also another issue though – it will clash with the May Assembly elections in Wales and Northern Ireland, and the Scottish Parliamentary elections.

There’s a real risk an EU vote so soon after the May polls could undermine these important devolved elections. It’s vital the EU referendum doesn’t overshadow the Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish elections – the former of which in particular receive little UK-wide attention as it is.

There’s a question of confusion and issue-clashing too, with two very different ballots held one after the other – potentially knocking both debates off course and away from issues which are actually devolved.

A June EU vote would only serve to add more busy-ness to an already busy day of elections, with Police and Crime Commissioners also being picked – despite issues of justice and policing not being fully devolved. That’s not to mention the problem of ‘voter fatigue’ – the issue of turnout declining if there are too many votes within a short period of time. People get bored.

April and May will see the EU debate reaching its peak if the vote was to be held in June –overlapping significantly with the devolved elections. Don’t we want to give both debates a clear run?

So here’s a proposal. Let’s have genuinely focused discussions about these two important decisions by conducting the campaigns at different times. Both debates need a decent amount of time, coverage and political space in order to give voters the ballots they deserve.

Josiah Mortimer will be working with ERS Cymru in the run up to the Assembly elections in May

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