Some argue that the deceptions of the “No” campaign means that a re-run could be won if only the honest arguments are put and/or full PR was offered. But idea that we should have “another go” at similar arguments for AV+ or STV and expect a different outcome is wrong. All the arguments against AV are even stronger so for AV+ and STV. They will be defeated by an alliance of Tory and Labour tribalists, just as AV and House of Lords reform were.
One way forward is for supporters of PR to get behind the Additional Member System (AMS, also called Mixed Member Proportional or MMP). This is the system used in Wales, Scotland, the London Assembly, and much of Europe. AMS gives voters a constituency vote and a proportional list vote. It is not an ideal solution: it gives the voter more choice than FPTP, but less than other systems; but it’s much harder to argue against and it does give proportional results and demonstrably leads to stable governments.
The problem with AMS is that it requires a big reduction in constituency numbers in order to accommodate list members in Parliament. We have seen the fight that MPs will put up to avoid a reduction to even 600, and they will fight harder against a reduction to 400 or 500. A move to AMS would require massive will by Parliament to over-ride MP self-interest, and that just isn’t going to come from Labour or Tory parties.
We need to look at the arguments against AV and neutralise them: a system that’s better than FPTP, doesn’t involve boundary changes, doesn’t involve preferential voting and isn’t more complicated for voters.
Labour has previously shown a preference for Supplementary Voting (SV) – the system that is used to elect Mayors. This is a system that causes a great deal of confusion and spoiled ballots, and is worthless unless it is absolutely obvious who the top two candidates will be. But there is a better way, in use right now just 25 miles from the UK, in France.
France uses “run-off” voting. If any candidate fails to win 50% of the votes cast, the top two go forward to a run-off. (In France the second round is also open to any other candidate who obtained at least 12.5% of registered voters in the constituency; but this is rarely taken up.) Run-off voting removes the problem of split voting, and like AV requires a candidate to get a majority of votes cast. In the UK it should help minority parties get a proper showing if they can get into 2nd place in the first round.
The only argument that can be used against simple run-off voting by FPTP supporters is that of cost, but actually the cost of the second round is very small compared to the first, as all the infrastructure and electoral roll arrangements are in place, and only about half of the constituencies will be re-run anyway.
Supporters of electoral reform should spend the next few years thinking about the merits of AMS and run-off voting. In my opinion run-off voting could happen in 5-10 years, while AMS is better but would take a generation to achieve.
* Dr Mark Wright is a councillor in Bristol and was the 2015 general election Parliamentary candidate for Bristol South.