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Seat #9: Maungakiekie

Maungakiekie3-NATcandMaungakiekie is a marginal National seat in the inner south-east of Auckland.

The electorate has been held by National MP Sam Lotu-Iiga since 2008, and he currently holds the seat by a 5.7% margin.

The seat was held from 1999 to 2008 by Labour, and is the kind of seat Labour would be hoping to win if they were on track to form government.

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Scottish independence takes the lead

A week from tomorrow, voters in Scotland will be voting in a historic referendum to decide if the country should become independent from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Earlier this week, the ‘Yes’ campaign took the lead in the polls for the first time in a year. Over fifty independence polls have been conducted this year, and the latest YouGov poll for the Sunday Times was the first to show a plurality of Scots supporting independence, with 47% Yes, 45% No and 6% undecided.

While this poll could well be an outlier, it follows a trend of a number of polls shifting towards Yes since the second debate between Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, representing the Yes campaign, and former Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling, chair of the Better Together campaign.

This has included two polls showing No with a 48-42 lead, and another with No on a 48-44 lead, as well as another poll that had No ahead by one point, but with 23% of voters undecided. Neither side has polled a majority since mid-August.

All of this suggests that the referendum is still up in the air, with enough undecided voters to swing the result either way. No is still the likely winner, and has been ahead most of the time, but recent trends indicate a shift of support towards Yes, which could see Yes win if the trend continues.

What makes this referendum particularly difficult to predict is the lack of precedents in Scotland. Pollsters normally rely on previous voting trends to weight their electorate, but there has never been a similar referendum in Scotland before.

In addition, the electorate is made up of a different composition to Westminster elections, with all British, Commonwealth and EU citizens resident in Scotland eligible to vote, including anyone over the age of 16. Turnout is expected to be extremely high. The Electoral Commission is predicting turnout about 80%, compared to 50% at the last Scottish parliamentary election.

Because of this volatility, we have no idea if the polling is skewed one way or the other, and don’t have any yardstick to judge what would be expected to happen over the course of the next week. Most history of referendums suggests that support for the status quo increases as you approach election day, but the history of Quebec independence referendums in the 1990s (probably the closest parallel) suggested that the independence campaign gained ground near the end. If the current polling is correct, a spike in support for Yes in the next week would be enough for victory.

The campaign has covered a broad variety of issues, but has focused on a few key points. Two debates have been held between Salmond, the leader of the SNP government in Scotland, and Darling, a Labour politician and former senior minister in the Blair and Brown governments who is leading the No campaign.

In particular, there has been a big argument around what currency would be used by an independent Scotland. The Yes campaign insists that they are entitled to use the pound, and feel confident about securing a currency union which would ensure that both the UK and Scotland would have control over the currency. While the No campaign (including the UK government) accept that Scotland is free to use any currency it wishes, they insist that in the case of independence, the control of the currency would remain solely in the hands of the UK.

During the independence campaign, all three of the main UK political parties (Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats) have proposed various plans to expand the powers of the Scottish Parliament in the event of a ‘no’ vote. Initially the SNP sought to include a third option on the ballot – “Devolution-Max”, which would give the Scottish Parliament powers over taxation and welfare. This was blocked by the UK government, but it seems clear now that more powers will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, even if the referendum fails.

This week, George Osborne suggested that plans for more powers to the Scottish Parliament in the case of a ‘no’ vote will be revealed before the referendum, with the support of the three UK major parties.

If the referendum passes, it will cause huge constitutional headaches for the UK. An election for the UK Parliament is due in May 2015. Negotiations for independence are expected to take two years, so Scotland will still be electing 59 MPs at an election in 2015, whilst being aware that those MPs will cease to sit in Parliament upon independence. This could cause particular problems if Labour wins a narrow majority, as Labour would have a majority in the Parliament as it exists, but would lose approximately 40 seats upon Scottish independence, which could result in the government falling and an early election being necessitated.

There have been regular claims that the removal of Scotland from UK elections would make it impossible for Labour to form government, but this simply isn’t true. In recent decades, there have been two slim Labour majority parliaments that would have been hung parliaments without Scottish MPs, and the current Parliament would have been majority Conservative without Scotland. But Labour won three terms from 1997 to 2010 with large enough majorities that they didn’t rely on Scottish seats, and it could happen again. It’s certainly true that in a close election Labour would be worse off without Scotland, but there’s no reason to think that Scottish independence will lead to permanent Tory government.

Either way, this referendum will have significant impacts on the United Kingdom’s constitution.

If Scotland votes for independence, there will be a complicated process of negotiation as Scotland is untangled from the nations it has been united with since 1707. While the current government plans to keep the monarchy in an independent Scotland (similar to the monarchy’s role in Australia, Canada and New Zealand), who knows if nascent republican tendencies will emerge as an independent Scotland

If Scotland votes ‘no’, we will still see a Scottish Parliament with additional powers devolved from Westminster. This will worsen the current contradiction where Scottish MPs at Westminster have the right to vote on issues which do not effect Scots (a similar contradiction exists to a lesser extent for MPs from Wales and Northern Ireland), as those powers devolved to Scotland remain held at Westminster for most of England.

Shortly after the creation of devolved assemblies for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London in 1999-2000, the Labour government attempted to create elected assemblies for the regions of England, beginning with North-East England in 2004. The plan was dropped after voters overwhelmingly rejected a referendum to create a North-East England Assembly. The pressure for a federal United Kingdom, with powers devolved evenly across the union, will continue to grow.

Seat #8: Waimakariri

Waimakariri7-NATparty-zoomWaimakariri is a marginal National seat covering the northern fringe of Christchurch and nearby areas.

The seat was held by Labour’s Clayton Cosgrove from 1999 to 2011. Sitting National MP Kate Wilkinson is retiring, but Cosgrove (who has held a list seat since 2011) will be seeking to win the seat back. National holds the seat by a 3% margin.

The electorate covers Rangiora, Kaiapoi and Belfast.

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City of Melbourne to end double votes for business?

While the NSW Governments and the Shooters and Fishers push ahead with legislation to institute the “Melbourne model” of two votes for each business and corporation paying rates and owning property in the city, an independent review of Victorian local government has recommended an end to the very same practice.

The independent Local Government Electoral Review Panel, chaired by former federal MP Petro Georgiou, has released two lengthy reports after a year of consultations and discussion papers. The panel’s two reports cover a wide variety of issues, and I will return at a later date to consider the report in full, but the report is particularly interesting in recommending significant changes to voting rights for local council elections.

The report is recommending that all permanent residents be given the right to vote in the local council where they live, even if they are not a citizen, and is recommending a significant simplification of the process by which non-residents gain the right to vote.

The report points out that the current process of enrolment fails tests for equity and transparency, for example:

The right to vote can be transferred from one party to another. Under section 15 of the Local Government Act 1989, other than those commercial tenants who are on the council’s rate records, if a commercial tenant wants to apply to vote as a ratepayer, they need the landlord’s consent. The
landlord can then choose whether or not to transfer their vote to a tenant. This is inequitable and anachronistic.

The potential for chaos has also been exposed under the proposed bill for the City of Sydney, as revealed by Sean Nicholls in the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday:

The information provided was it would mean any landholder who pays rates in the City of Sydney will get a maximum of two votes, regardless of the number of businesses operating in the building they own.

Those businesses would not be entitled to vote unless the ratepayer nominates them as one of the two eligible voters.

Currently all business owners who pay more than $5,000 a year in rent have the right to vote but are not automatically enrolled.

As a result, thousands of business owners who meet the rent threshold and are eligible to vote would lose the right under Mr Borsak’s bill.

Giving certain individuals or corporations the power to choose which of their tenants is given the right to vote opens the process up for further abuse.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Currently the City of Melbourne is the only council in Victoria where businesses are given two votes, but the process is needlessly complicated across the state, as seen in this diagram produced by the Review’s secretariat (right).

The Review’s report has significant implications for the political debate in New South Wales around voting rights for the City of Sydney.

The fact that a committee led by a former Liberal MP, and appointed by a Liberal state government, is so sceptical of double voting for businesses should demonstrate the folly of extending the experiment to NSW.

If these reforms are implemented, the business vote will be significantly reduced in City of Melbourne elections. At the moment, non-resident voters make up almost 60% of the electoral roll for the City of Melbourne.

In addition, the enfranchisement of permanent residents in council elections would be a significant step forward, and I think a positive step towards voting rights being extended to all those who a permanent members of a community, not just those who have achieved citizenship.

Seat #7: Port Hills

Porthills12-LABcand-centrePort Hills is a marginal electorate covering the southern suburbs of Christchurch.

The electorate has been held by Labour MP Ruth Dyson since its creation in 2008. Dyson also held the seat of Banks Peninsula from 1999 to 2008, covering a similar area to Port Hills.

Dyson won the seat with a 9.5% margin at the 2011 election, but the recent redistribution turned the seat into a notional National seat, by a 2.5% margin. Dyson will face a tough contest to claw back enough votes to hold the seat.

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Seat #6: Christchurch Central

Chchcent4-NATcandChristchurch Central is the most marginal National Party seat in New Zealand.

National MP Nicky Wagner won the seat off Labour in 2011, and holds the seat by a 1.3% margin.

The electorate was severely impacted by the Christchurch earthquakes, and population shifts due to the earthquakes make this electorate more unpredictable.

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Guide to Vasse by-election posted

Vasse1-2PPVoters in the WA town of Busselton and surrounding areas will be going to the polls later this year in a by-election for the state electorate of Vasse, after the resignation earlier this week of former Liberal leader and Treasurer Troy Buswell.

Buswell resigned as Treasurer in March after a recent mental health breakdown, and revealed that he was living with bipolar disorder.

Vasse is a very safe Liberal seat and should be safely retained by the Liberal Party. A date has not been set yet, but the by-election should take place later this year, with a WA state election not due until March 2017.

You can now read the guide to the by-election, including 2013 election results and maps of the electorate.

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Seat #5: Ōhariu

Ōhariu is an electorate in the northern suburbs of Wellington. The electorate, under a variety of names, has been held by Peter Dunne since 1984.

Dunne was first elected in 1984 as a Labour MP. Dunne left Labour in 1994 and has been re-elected six times as a minor party candidate, first for the United party and then for United Future. Dunne has served as a minister since 2005, first in the Labour-led government and then in the National-led government since 2008.

At all but one election, Dunne’s party has polled less than 5% nationally, meaning that the party has relied on Dunne’s victory in his local electorate to remain in Parliament. The National Party has agreed to run a low-key campaign in Ōhariu in the hope of re-electing Dunne to Parliament.

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NZ 2014 – nominations finalised

Last week, nominations closed for the 2014 New Zealand general election.

548 candidates have nominated for the election. 365 candidates have nominated both for an electorate, and on a party list. 118 candidates have nominated for an electorate only (for a total of 483 electorate candidates), and 65 candidates have nominated for a list seat only (for a total of 430 list candidates).

There are 120 sitting Members of Parliament (with one vacancy caused by the recent resignation of ACT’s John Banks). Of these MPs, nineteen are retiring at the election, and 101 are running for re-election.

These retiring MPs include 13 National MPs, three Labour MPs, two Māori Party MPs and one member of New Zealand First. That NZ First MP, Andrew Williams, was dropped from the party’s list entirely after publicly expressing discontent over being given an unwinnable position on the party list.

A number of other MPs are running again, but in an unwinnable position. Green MP Holly Walker withdrew from a winnable position on the party list due to personal reasons, but is still running as an electorate candidate in Hutt South. Independent MP Brendan Horan, who was elected as a NZ First candidate in 2011, is running as the lead candidate for the NZ Independent Coalition, but isn’t considered to have a serious chance of winning re-election.

There are fifteen party lists registered for the election. This is the seventh election under the MMP system, and the number of party lists has ranged from 13 (in 2011) to 22 (in 1999). One of these party lists is a joint list including both Mana and Internet Party candidates. Seven other parties are currently represented in Parliament, and another seven are not.

Another eight small parties are running candidates in a small number of electorates (ranging from one to five), as well as twenty-four independents.

The Labour Party is the only party that is running in all 71 electorates. The National Party and Conservative Party are both running in all 64 general electorates, but are not running in any Māori electorates. The Green Party is running in 57 electorates, including 53 general electorates and four Māori electorates. The ACT party is running in 39 electorates, and New Zealand First is running in 31 electorates, and Internet Mana are running 33 candidates between them. The Māori Party is running in all seven Māori electorates, and 17 general electorates.

The number of candidates running in each electorate ranges from three in the Māori electorate of Hauraki-Waikato to eleven in the electorates of Epsom and Tauranga.

I’ve identified the gender of all but three candidates running in the election.

44.2% of Labour candidates are women, as are 38.3% of Green candidates and 25% of National candidates. 45% of Mana Party candidates and 40% of Internet Party candidates are women, while over 80% of ACT and NZ First candidates are men.

All electorate candidates’ names are now posted on each electorate profile.

If you’d like to analyse the list of candidates yourself, you can view the spreadsheet here.

Seat #4: Te Tai Tokerau

Te Tai Tokerau is a Maori electorate covering the Northland region, and the northern and western fringes of Auckland.

The electorate has been held since 2005 by Hone Harawira. Harawira was elected in 2005 and 2008 as a Maori Party candidate. In 2011, he left the Maori Party and formed his own Mana Party, and was re-elected as a Mana candidate at a 2011 by-election and at the 2011 general election.

In 2011, Harawira’s victory in Te Tai Tokerau made Mana eligible to win list seats, but the party did not win enough votes to win any additional seats.

For the 2014 election, Mana has formed an alliance with the Internet Party, who are polling a higher vote than Mana, but not enough on their own to cross the 5% threshold. With Mana and Internet running on a single platform, a Harawira victory in Te Tai Tokerau would likely see a number of Mana and Internet MPs elected to Parliament. If Harawira loses to Labour’s Kelvin Davis, both Mana and Internet will likely be excluded from the Parliament.

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