Alex Salmond would not be the first politician to find his defining political objective defeated in a poll for which he had long campaigned. Nick Clegg was humiliated on AV, having insisted on putting the question of electoral reform to the nation. Although politicians are trying to match the speed of Twitter and blogs with more instant “democracy”, the tactic seems to have a tendency to backfire. According to a study of referendums worldwide, voters almost always reject change: if the campaign starts with opinion evenly balanced, the status quo wins in 80 per cent of cases.

Scotland has its yes-or-no vote on independence set for 2014 but the Scottish First Minister should remember the lesson of the 2011 referendum on the alternative vote, says Rachel Sylvester. Read more

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