Quite what will happen during the reform debate in the House on 20 April is anyone’s guess

WHEN is a States decision not a States decision? No, this isn’t the start of one of Deputy Lindsay Ash’s jokes, but a serious question that once again has been raised this week as the Assembly prepares to (yet again) discuss the age old matter of electoral reform.

Lucy Stephenson (30585682)
Lucy Stephenson (30585682)

Back in December States Members approved a move from the Privileges and Procedures Committee to completely overhaul the electoral system, replacing the current system of Constables, Deputies and Senators and parish voting districts with nine large super constituencies choosing varying numbers of Deputies. The role of Constable would be maintained, but Senators – and the Islandwide vote which elects them – would not.

The decision was widely seen as a compromise on an issue which has plagued local politics for years and taken up many, many hours of debate and questions in the Chamber.

But the 31-16 vote was not the end of the story – and this newspaper has learned to be very careful over the years when reporting on such matters. Just because a decision has been taken does not necessarily mean it is going to happen.

Later this month PPC is due to bring the matter back to the States to actually enact the decision, which would make it actually happen.

You’d think this would be a rubber-stamping exercise designed to scrutinise the details of how it will all work and make sure that the actual nuts and bolts reflects what the Assembly had previously agreed on, right?

Well yes, in the eyes of some. But there are others – those who voted against the move last time predominantly – who will use it as an opportunity to attempt to reopen the debate once more.

Senator Lyndon Farnham is likely to be in the second camp. A passionate supporter of maintaining the Islandwide mandate, the Senator of ten years fought to keep the role back in December. However, his amendment to the proposal from PPC calling for the Senators to be kept and the new Deputy roles reduced in number to take this into account was defeated 43 votes against to just three in favour.

He has already started Tweeting about the upcoming debate, saying: ‘How will removing the most democratically elected Islandwide mandate support democracy, diversity and bring a wider range of views?’

Senator Ian Gorst, meanwhile, has lodged a fresh amendment seeking to retain eight Senators and reduce the number of Deputies to take that into account.

There will be others like them who did not agree with the final decision on reform, although not all for the same reasons. It is possible that they too will seek to reopen the wider debate about the principles of the decision, not just how it will work in practice.

So who has it right – those who will respect the decision of the Assembly made previously, even if they don’t necessarily agree with it, and see the purpose of this latest debate as to review the nuts and bolts of how it will work?

Or those determined to use it as an opportunity to overturn a decision – or at least voice their opposition to a decision – they believe was wrong in the first place?

It’s a tough one in my mind – even if you don’t necessarily share the same views you’ve got to admire those who fight for what they believe in until the bitter end. And we want elected representatives who are passionate and committed and follow through on their promises to stand up and be counted on certain issues.

But it is also important to know when to stop, to concede defeat and to move forward constructively. This is where I see the role of the Assembly when a decision that has already been made is brought back for implementation.

At that stage the time for reviewing the principles has been and gone and focus should instead be on how the principles which are proposed will allow that decision to be enacted, on reviewing the checks and balances proposed or needed, or on amending or opposing any new parts of the proposals which do not work in your view (as Senator Gorst does with his separate amendment about not moving election day to June). At all times, however, the basic decision upon which that new proposition is based should be respected.

Quite what will happen during the reform debate itself when it returns to the House on 20 April is anyone’s guess – remember when it comes to electoral reform the States Assembly is not always predictable.

Even the result of a public referendum which cost a lot of time, money and effort was not enough to persuade the Assembly that previous decisions are to be respected and implemented, even if it meant losing public credibility in the process.

But while reform may be the most obvious example of where we see this conundrum arise regarding second debates, it is not exclusively the case and it occurs with other issues too – some are just more controversial than others.

It is always an interesting one to see develop, however, and one which if you pay close attention to can help you better understand the politicians you may be thinking of voting for or not come the next election, whenever that will be.

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