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Why I’m voting Yes to AV


With the referendum on Thursday, it’s time to nail my colours to the mast – I’m voting Yes.

AV has all the alleged benefits of First Past the Post – but does them better

Let’s take a look at the few positive reasons that the No campaign give, buried in their website in amongst all the scaremongering and attacks on Nick Clegg. Firstly, we’re told that FPP gives clear results and strong governments. If you think that’s a good thing (and personally, I’d prefer a strong parliament to a strong government, but hey ho), then consider this: Australia’s current hung parliament was elected just a few months after the UK elected its own hung parliament last year. The last time Australians found themselves without a clear majority government was in 1940. By contrast, the Major government eventually lost its majority, and the entire 1974-79 period was racked with uncertainty.

Incidentally, No2AV trumpet FPP’s use in other countries such as Canada. That would be Canada which looks likely to elect a Conservative minority Government tomorrow, having done so before in 2008. And 2006. After a Hung Parliament in 2004. And others in 1979, 1972, 1965, 1963, 1962 and 1957. You see where I’m going with this? Well, I can see where the Canadians are going with their system. Insane…

But I digress. Australia has had stronger, clearer governments under AV more frequently than either the UK or Canada under FPP. AV does clarity, and does it better than FPP.

Equally, AV is simple. FPP demands only a cross in the box, while AV demands numbers. Anyone who got through Primary School successfully can cope with this. And the outcome is simple: under FPP, the candidate with the highest number of votes wins. That can be with 60%, or it can be with 30%, depending on how many other candidates are standing and their relative strength. Under AV, the winning candidate has to have 50% plus one vote. A simple voting process to reach a simple, clear, easy-to-understand target. The only variable comes in the form of defeated candidates’ second preferences. No need to factor in tactical voting, no need to second-guess what your neighbours are doing, no need to speculate if voting for Thomas as opposed to Richards will allow Harris to come in through the middle.

And then there’s the fairness argument. The No campaign argue that whoever came first should get in, which will happen most of the time anyway under AV. Now, that in itself would be fine, but the pro-AV argument is that it’s fairer for the single MP who represents an entire constituency to be supported by the majority of voters there. As for the No campaign interpretation of fairness, let me say this: it can in no way to be considered fair for the 60% or more of a constituency’s voters who made it clear that they wanted anyone other than John Q. Lummox representing them to get saddled with him because he had more than one opponent. AV is fairer – far fairer – than FPP.

Incidentally, I mentioned it in passing so I’ll just highlight it again: opponents of electoral reform celebrate the MP-Constituency link. This is preserved with AV. And, as more voters will have expressed support in the MP elected to serve a constituency, that link is, if anything, deeper.

The last ‘anti-‘ argument is that FPP keeps the extremists out. I’m sure all those voters in towns like Burnley who ended up with BNP Councillors elected by First Past the Post would disagree with that analysis. Under AV, a party as polarising and divisive as the BNP can only get elected if they convince more than half of the voters to support them, in which case, they’d be elected by FPP anyway. Indeed, they’re being elected by the current system on far lower shares. The BNP’s first County Councillor, representing the Padiham and Burnley West Division of Lancashire County Council, won her seat on just 30.7% of the vote. AV is far more effective at keeping extremists out.

I don’t know about you, but I carry out an AV-style process in my head already

Last year I wanted to vote Green. But there wasn’t a Green candidate, so I had to make a second preference.

And even if there had been a Green, I would have known that he or she wouldn’t have stood a cat in Hell’s chance of being elected so I might have had to vote against the party I wanted, just to get someone else in… or rather, keep someone else out.

How many people do that? Even in safe seats, where MPs already enjoy a majority of support? How much of that support is genuine? How much of it is based on the acceptance of the candidate as the best of a bad lot? How many of that MP’s voters would switch to someone else if they thought they could win? How many only supported him (or her) because they didn’t want to see the most likely alternative?

In other words, how many of us get to the polling booth having already carried out a ranking of candidates in order of preference? And how many, on seeing an outcome that they didn’t want, end up wishing either that they had or that others had?

And if you then accept the premise that we distort our own preferences based firstly on who’s available and secondly on who’s viable, then you have to ask: how many results have been distorted this way? How many safe seats shouldn’t be? How many marginals should be clearer? How many times has a party written off its own chances, and so opted to focus its resources elsewhere, when it had far more underlying support than it thought? And how many self-fulfilling prophecies of failure has this approach generated?

It could be different: let’s stop keeping that process confined in our heads, and make it on the paper. Then we’ll see for certain who’s safe and who isn’t; who’s wasting their time and who isn’t; who has genuine backing or potential in a seat and who hasn’t. For all we know, the political map of the UK might be far, far different than the one we’ve been conditioned to expect under FPP. Aberdeenshire could be a Labour stronghold if voters thought there were a point in backing them there; Newcastle might be a hotbed of Tory support; the LibDems might find the Welsh Valleys far far more amenable then they seem; the SNP might be sitting on a goldmine of voters that it hasn’t yet detected for a Westminster election in Lanarkshire; the burghers of Manchester might, for all we know be itching to vote UKIP while there may be a huge surge of Scousers itching to unleash their inner Green. Well, probably not, but AV would make things far more fluid and the moulds that FPP has cast across the UK could be broken very easily.

Right now, we are using the system to form our opinions. Why note use a system to reflect them?

All of this has happened before, all of this will happen again

I’ll be honest. AV wouldn’t be my first choice: I’m a PR man. But that’s not on offer. Now, some in the No camp say that something better might come along. But the ones who are wearing the trousers in the No camp want to maintain the status quo. And if that doesn’t instantly remind you of the 1979 Devolution Referendum, then read your history books.

Wales voted No in 1979, and Scotland voted Yes but by an insufficient margin (they needed 40% of the electorate to be in favour for the result to be binding and they didn’t get it). They were told that something better would come along. And it did: after twenty years of waiting, eighteen years of a Conservative Government and in Scotland, a long-standing Constitutional Convention set up to try and head the SNP off at the electoral pass.

By contrast, the 1997 referendums, which weren’t ideal, saw the establishment of the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales. Now, in both cases (especially Wales), there were criticisms that the powers didn’t go far enough, but instead of waiting twenty years, the process has been accelerated: the Government of Wales Act enhanced the powers of the Assembly in 2006, just seven years after the Assembly’s creation and nine years after the (marginally) successful referendum. Direct law-making powers have now been conferred upon the Assembly following a further successful referendum two months ago. Meanwhile, a new Scotland Bill is presently wending its way through the UK Parliament. In both cases, “something better” than the 1979 proposals came along only after twenty agonising years, while the institutions whose creation was approved in 1997 have been evolving and improving in the twelve years since their inception.

In short, a ‘No’ vote is a vote for the status quo – not for something better than AV. Vote No on Thursday, and you kill off any further discussion of electoral reform for a generation.

So that’s why I’m in favour: not only does AV have all the advantages of FPP but it improves upon them; I’m tired of being faced with the false, restricted choice imposed upon me by FPP; and for reform – any reform – it really is now or never.

I’m voting Yes to AV.


From → Politics

One Comment
  1. Good post. No room even to discredit the other argument against AV, its supposed obscurity – I think there has been 22 council by-elections in Scotland which used AV. Not forgetting that Cameron & Milliband the younger were elected to their posts as party leader by AV.

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