It is now exactly five months until Scots head to the polls in early May and the farce of 2007 when voters were faced with a confusing array of 3 ballot slips has been replaced with a situation where voters face, well, 3 ballot slips, the referendum on AV replacing the local council elections.

Potentially adding to this confusion, and perhaps even pragmatically, deviously leveraging it, Bella Caledonia has announced that “an independence referendum will take place on 5th May 2011”, enabling a sort of 4-for-the-price-of-3 offer come May 5th.

The plan, in Bella’s own words, is as follows:

So with this in mind, we, the undersigned, call for all Scots who support our country’s independence to write the word INDEPENDENCE in bold letters across the AV voting slip on 5th May.

Let’s make sure the piles of “spoilt” ballot papers rejecting the British electoral system – and rule from London – are greater than those voting Yes or No.

Now, the needlessly pompous “we the undersigned” notwithstanding, I reckon this is a creative and innovative way of thinking outside the ballot box and is to be applauded for its ingenuity. It shows a very impressive level of commitment and passion for their independence objective and it shows a commendable willingness to not just lie back and accept whatever the state deigns to send our way. It is also unlikely to be much of a success.

For me personally, the independence issue just isn’t a top priority so my options will remain voting Yes or No on May 5th with regard to the actual question on voting systems being asked, not that my scrawling “INDEPENDENCE” across my Camden borough ballot paper would result in much, save for a clutch of bewildered counting staff at 3am on May 6th somewhere near London’s St Pancras station.

My main reason for taking a dim view of this venture though is that I don’t really see what a win would be. I can see how amassing 50% spoiled papers from all of Scotland’s referendum votes would be a massive coup but realistically that is not going to happen. Achieving 2% should really be the extent of anyone’s ambitions here and where would that get the Nationalists? Independence referendums are, as most would agree, a once in a generation affair so I wouldn’t expect Nats would want to use up their only opportunity between now and the year 2030 on something like this. It reminds me of Joan McAlpine’s calls for the First Minister to use a ‘Scottish Statutory Instrument’ to force an independence referendum on Scotland, despite the contrary will of the Scottish Parliament. It’s all just a little too strident and cack-handed to carry the necessary force required to create a new country.

Furthermore, not that I’m necessarily saying that it exists, but any expectation that the SNP will throw its support behind this is surely errant. National referendums should be conducted by Parliaments, as Brian Souter found when he tried to finance a plebiscite on Section 28 back in 2000. Alex Salmond would be dooming his party’s Holyrood chances if he was seen to be assisting in the perceived sabotage of a fair, if limited, Westminster referendum. Indeed, the SNP may be damaged even without any direct involvement, something that I wonder whether the organisers considered before embarking on this plan.

Of course, this is all to overlook the fact that AV would be a small step towards a better system. Scotland returned the same Westminster result in 2010 as it did in 2005. A whole decade where change was only delivered through by-elections is unsustainable and improvement, any improvement, should be too important to hamper. Even the incentive to undermine the Liberal Democrat position within the coalition and force an early General Election by voting ‘No’ would be irresponsible. First Past the Post has had its day and that day was somewhere in the early 1800s.

I don’t really know what May 5th currently means or will mean for Scotland but, call me a stickler if you like, the AV referendum will be entirely a referendum based on the Alternative Vote.