By Jonathan Isaby
Earlier in the month, Nick Clegg officially announced the plans to cut the number of parliamentary constituencies from 650 to 600 and, crucially, to equalise their size across the UK.
However, he did say that there would be two exceptions to that rule set in statute, meaning that two constituencies would remain as individual seats regardless of their electorates: the Western Isles and Orkney & Shetland - both of which have electorates considerably below the proposed quota (of around 76,000).
At the other end of the scale is the Isle of Wight, which has an electorate of about 110,000, and under the Government's plan, it would be split into two seats, one of which would be part of a mainland Hampshire constituency. This could mean ending up with most of the islands' voters in a seat with an electorate of 76,000 called Isle of Wight East whilst the rest of the island could be put into a seat called, for argument's sake, New Forest South and Isle of Wight West.
This plan has not gone down well on the island, and politicians of all parties are lending their voices to the "One Wight" campaign to demand that the island retains a single MP.
“The Isle of Wight has a strong common identity, and has had for generations. We have always opposed attempts to divide us. We are one Island. We strongly believe that ours is a unique situation in England and as such warrants separate consideration. I believe that the current proposals are bad for democracy - there has been no shared Island-mainland constituency since 1832. Since the news came out last week I have been overwhelmed by the number of people who have told me they are against these plans – so I am convinced we can put together a vigorous campaign against them."
Morris Barton, the former Liberal Democrat leader of the island's council, has given the campaign his backing:
“After the campaign to get a unitary authority for the Isle of Wight it seems counter-productive to now think about splitting it into two constituencies, which would nullify the Island’s independence. I am supporting this campaign.”
And the Labour candidate at the last election, Mark Chiverton, is also on board:
“The Isle of Wight is a unique place and needs to be speaking with one voice.”
The Isle of Wight County Press is already backing the campaign, as is Isle of Wight Radio - and I too am happy to express my support.
Islands are indeed unique communities and I believe Nick Clegg was right to identify those two Scottish island exceptions to the proposed rules about constituency size. However, the argument for allowing the Isle of Wight to remain a single seat is even more compelling, if that is what the islanders want: whereas the Western Isles and Orkney & Shetland will still technically be over-represented in Parliament, the voters of the Isle of Wight would be consenting to effectively remain slightly under-represented - making the fabled cost of politics less per head than anywhere else in the country while they're at it.
All it will need is a simple line in the legislation to include the Isle of Wight alongside the Western Isles and Orkney and Shetland as exempt from the rules about electorate quotas. I hope the Government will see the logic and common sense in this move.