City's answer is 'no' as just 12 show for AV poll debate

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A MEETING organised in Edinburgh to debate the change to the voting system for UK general elections - on which the public will be asked to vote in a referendum on May 5 - attracted an audience of just 12 people.

According to Labour peer Lord Falconer, who has been touring the country arguing the case for a "no" vote in similar debates, the turn-out for the Capital event was one of the better attendances he has seen.

The meeting in the Thomas Morton Hall in Leith on Saturday was organised by the "No to AV" campaign but took the form of a debate between Lord Falconer and Green Party campaigner Ian Baxter, who put the "yes" case.

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Voters will be asked to decide in just over five weeks whether they want to stick with the current "first past the post" voting system or switch to the "alternative vote" (AV) which means voters ranking candidates 1, 2, 3, etc in order of preference and the candidates with the least votes being eliminated and their votes being redistributed until one candidate gets more than 50 per cent.

The vote will be held on the same day as the Scottish Parliament elections.

Lord Falconer told the meeting: "This is the first nationwide referendum since 1974. Edinburgh is the heart of debate in the whole of the United Kingdom and 12 people have come to debate it, so it is not exactly an issue that is galvanising the country."

Later he said he had spoken at several other similar meetings throughout the UK and the Edinburgh turn-out was "not bad" in comparison.

"This would be at the top end of the spectrum," he said. "It's not catching fire in any shape or form.

"It would be terrible if a change to our voting system came on a ludicrously low poll - say a 25 per cent turn-out with half of them saying yes, that would mean 13 per cent in favour of change."

In the debate, Mr Baxter said the current voting system excluded smaller parties and often elected the most palatable candidate rather than the most popular because many voters opted for a compromise to try to stop one they did not want.

He said there was no reason to suppose AV would mean more hung parliaments. "Australia has had only two hung parliaments since they introduced AV in 1918."

Lord Falconer dismissed AV as a "random" system which had no logic, always ignored the second preferences of the second-placed candidate and, he said, would encourage candidates to pander to extremists.

Labour wants MacAskill's backing

Political parties are well versed in targeting election literature at voters they think they can win over - so the SNP's Edinburgh Eastern candidate Kenny MacAskill was surprised to get a letter from Labour rival Ewan Aitken.

The letter, sent to his home, began "Dear Kenneth" and went on to trumpet Labour policies before ending, "That's why I'm asking for your support in the elections on 5th May."

Mr MacAskill said: "I know Labour are now adopting SNP policies but sending me their campaign letter is maybe going a bit far. For a top target seat, they don't seem to be targeting much. It suggests they have either got money to burn or their system is not particularly sophisticated."

Councillor Aitken said: "I haven't had a piece of material from Kenny MacAskill through my letterbox - I look forward to hearing from him."