Last year in May, Scottish voters were given the chance to vote using the Single Transferable Vote to select their local councillors for the second time since the introduction of the Local Governance (Scotland) Act of 2004. The Bill owes its life to the Liberal Democrats; it was a key demand for us entering into the Lib-Lab coalition government in Scotland. Almost ten years on from when the Bill became law, STV has done what it says on the tin. It has produced almost proportional results (exact proportionality is pretty much impossible under any system), it has almost doubled the number of candidates standing per ward, and most importantly it has shrank the number of uncontested seats from sixty-one to zero. Of course, it hasn’t eliminated every single problem facing Scottish democracy. The 2007 local elections, the first under STV, saw almost 225,000 more people vote than at the previous set of local elections, the last under First Past the Post. But in the 2012 local elections in Scotland, turnout shrank once again. Although a change to the voting system is a great start, more must be done to reinvigorate local democracy across the UK.
As the manifestos of the three major parties are all being drawn up as we speak, this is the best possible time to be discussing the idea of proportional representation at local level for England and Wales. I very recently wrote an article for Conservative Home on the topic. While most of the comments are negative, there are enough positive replies there to get anyone who cherishes the long held by Liberal Democrats desire to see a PR system in place at elections for councillors thinking again about the possibilities.
At 8pm this Saturday, at Federal Conference in Brighton, in Hall 8C, the ALDC in conjunction with the Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform will be holding a fringe event entitled “Worst Past the Post: Why Local Government Desperately Needs Electoral Reform”. On the panel will be Baroness Jenny Randerson, leader of Eastleigh Council and architect of last week’s Eastleigh by-election victory Keith House, Peter Facey, Director of Unlock Democracy, Darren Hughes, Director of Campaigns and Research at the ERS and Willie Sullivan, Director of ERS Scotland who has the experience of himself being voted into local government via STV during the 2007 local elections in Scotland. Hope to see you there.
* Nick Tyrone is a Liberal Democrat writer. He blogs at nicktyrone.wordpress.com and works as Senior Adviser for Public Affairs at the Electoral Reform Society.