Author Archives: Denis Mollison

Make votes matter in Wales

Currently, excitement at prospects of electoral reform in the UK is mostly focused on the forthcoming debate  on 30 October in the House of Commons, arising from a petition organised by Make Votes Matter.  While this is an excellent piece of consciousness-raising, it seems sadly unlikely to lead to any reform in the near future.

In contrast, there is a real opportunity for progress in Wales, where the devolved government is considering introducing the Single Transferable Vote (STV) for council elections, along with a range of other election-related reforms.  The deadline for responding to the Welsh Government consultation on this issue is 10 October.

Reform in Wales could be key for the wider UK context: Northern Ireland and Scotland already have STV for local government elections; if Wales could follow their successful example, we would be in that much stronger a position to persuade England to do the same, giving all UK voters the experience of a fairer voting system.

One consultation after another…

The background to the current consultation is a little complicated.  Earlier this year the Welsh Government ran a more general consultation on reform of Local Government; a summary of the responses was published in July. This first consultation had just one, albeit wide-ranging, question on electoral reform, which included both asking for those in favour of changing to STV (12-8 against), and asking whether changing the system should be left for individual councils to decide (26-1 against). It would be interesting to know who the 12 against STV were: of the 169 responses to the consultation overall, 19 were from county and county borough councils but only 9 from members of the public.

The current consultation is focused on electoral reform. Like so many consultations that appear to have been designed to discourage public response, it is a very long document, asking 46 questions.  These include (Qs 13-14) the idea of reform being an option left to each council, despite its strong rejection in the first consultation, and indeed make it worse by suggesting that it should only happen if a 2/3 majority of councilors vote for it.  Yet astonishingly this time there is no question as to whether you are in favour of STV.  This despite the fact that one answer to many of the other questions on the lines of `how do we engage better with the electorate so that more people vote?’ is: use a fairer system so as to make votes matter.

Posted in News | Tagged | 10 Comments

A postal vote for the EU

It came this morning and I’ve sent it straight in.

The arguments about trivial matters such as whether we’ll be 2% better or worse off for a few years are dismaying in their triviality. Even the major medium term issues – such as defeating neoliberal economics, fighting for fair trade rather than free trade – are not the ones to focus on.

The urgent major issues are climate change, biodiversity, population growth. If we can’t deal with these there is no hope for social prosperity or justice – for defeating Beveridge’s five giants: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease.

The idea that we can tackle these major issues by `taking back control of our country’ is laughable. We need to share our sovereignty with the rest of humanity.

The unique selling point of the EU is that it extends democracy beyond national borders. Of course its democracy is not perfect, but for what is pretty much a first in democratic international cooperation it’s pretty good. It’s better than what we have in the UK in many respects, with our disproportional adversarial system and unelected House of Lords.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 5 Comments

Discussing electoral reform in York

Five years after the Liberal Democrats comprehensively messed up on electoral reform, the ludicrously disproportional 2015 general election result has put it back on the agenda.

There will be two related fringes at York, organised by Pro-PR (1-2 p.m. Saturday, Hilton) on the idea of an electoral pact for 2020, and by the Electoral Reform Society (6.15-7.15 p.m. Saturday, Novotel) on the idea of a Constitutional Convention.

Electoral reform is about more than fairness (avoiding disproportionality, safe seats and the need for tactical voting). As Ed Straw sets out in his recent Treaty for Government, our present voting system of FPTP distorts the fabric of politics, leading to wasteful `zigzag government’. Getting politicians to allow change in how they are elected is always a difficult matter, as the long struggles for voting rights illustrate. FPTP is defended by the two parties that benefit from it; perhaps the greatest current hope lies in Labour’s recognising how difficult it is going to be for them to win a majority in the foreseeable future.

Opportunities for reform in Scotland came with Labour’s rush to devolution in 1997, and the Liberal Democrats’ successful coalition negotiation with Labour in 2003.

Posted in Conference and Op-eds | Tagged and | 9 Comments

Opinion: Opportunities for electoral reform in a hung parliament

As Simon Kelner says in today’s i newspaper, electoral reform has “played absolutely zero part in this election campaign”, though it “goes to the very essence of our democracy”.

In what has been described as a lottery election, we need to be prepared for any of the diverse opportunities for electoral reform that may open up.  One thing that does seem almost certain is that the result itself will provide strong evidence of the need for change, with hugely varying seat/vote ratios.  Current polls suggest the following: Conservatives and Labour each with only a third of the votes but over 40% of seats; Liberal Democrats with 4% of seats from 8% of the votes while the SNP have the reverse; and UKIP and the Greens with a combined vote of 15-20%, yet less than 1% of seats between them.

What type of negotiations might there be?  A key distinction is between any possible long term agreement – that is, for the duration of the parliament – such as a formal coalition, and a short term agreement that allows a minority government to take office, winning the vote on a Queen’s Speech and any ensuing vote of confidence.

For any formal agreement, STV for local government in England and Wales should be a Liberal Democrat red line.  With the Conservatives, we could agree on further devolved powers for Scotland and Wales, but their other constitutional manifesto aims, “English Votes for English Laws” and “reduce and equalise constituencies”, are much more problematic because we have very different ideas on both issues.  A formal agreement on constitutional reform with Labour should be easier: their constitutional manifesto aims are all ones we can agree with: more devolved powers, a constitutional convention, replacing the House of Lords with an elected senate, and votes for 16 and 17-year olds.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 65 Comments

Opinion: Hung parliaments – a suggestion from Denmark    

 

Why is Nick Clegg ruling out options in a hung parliament?

Firstly, he has said that he would refuse to work with Labour in a government that relied on ‘life support’ from the Scottish National Party; this is reported in the Financial Times as a  blow to the chances of a Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition.  I know very well that the SNP are our most dangerous opponents in Scotland – as they are also Labour’s – but the fact remains that these three parties’ policies have more in common than any of them do with the Conservatives.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 49 Comments

Opinion: STV for elections in England and Wales

In the words of the Electoral Reform Society’s current petition:
“It’s time to change the voting system for local elections in England and Wales. In 21st century democracies, election results should be determined by how people vote. Instead, Labour won 100% of seats in Manchester on 58% of the vote. The Conservatives won 62% of seats in Kingston on 35% of the vote. And the Liberal Democrats won 83% of seats in Sutton on 38% of the vote.”

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 16 Comments

Opinion: More powers are not on the ballot paper

Scottish Parliament 23 May 06 067The three unionist parties – and, yes, that seems to include us – have united to promise more powers if Scotland votes No tomorrow.

But what are they offering, and is it “guaranteed”? I don’t question Ming’s sincerity when he claims that federalism is within touching distance but I seriously question his optimism.

Our own party has its plans for fairly radical change (though calling it federalism is stretching a point, and our policy is now entangled with plans for devolution on demand in the rest of the UK). Two and a half years ago we had the opportunity to have our version of federalism on the ballot paper. While not constitutionally definitive, the likely large majority this option could have won would have given it strong political traction.  But our Inverness conference rejected it in a nasty wave of anti-SNP rhetoric.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 30 Comments
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