Backing for electoral reform in the Scotsman and The Observer

A leader in The Scotsman / Scotland on Sunday backs a Yes vote in May’s referendum:

The fact that it is AV on offer and not one of the other systems is the product of three specific factors: the offer on PR made by the last Labour government to woo the Lib Dems; the arithmetic of the general election result; and the mechanics of the deal between David Cameron and Nick Clegg that delivered the coalition administration. It is the product of specific circumstances. It is also the only game in town. In the world of realpolitik an academic debate on whether a different form of PR would be preferable is just that – purely academic. Nor is it wise to pass up on AV in the hope of an opportunity to introduce a different form of PR in the future. Who can say when such an opportunity might arise? In five years time? Ten? Twenty?…

AV will be a vast improvement on Westminster politics as currently constituted. No vote will be a wasted vote. Every MP will have the consent of a majority of the voters he or she represents. Through this, voters will feel better connected to the process of choosing their representative in the Commons. And – politicians beware – voters will therefore have a higher level of expectation when their MP makes it to the green benches. It’s a Yes.

Meanwhile in The Observer Andrew Rawnsley lays into those campaigning for a No vote:

The worst argument advanced in the prime minister’s speech was that AV is too complicated. He said: “I don’t think we should replace a system that everyone gets with one that’s only understood by a handful of elites.”

Well, let us accept that numbering candidates 1, 2, 3 does require a slightly more advanced level of numeracy than simply making a cross. I think Britain will cope. Many Britons already use AV when electing representatives for charities, churches, companies, trade unions, societies and voluntary organisations. Labour and the Lib Dems both elect their leaders by AV. Funnily enough, ever since the 1960s, when the Tories started to elect their leaders, they have used either AV or a close cousin. Had they used first past the post in their last contest, the leader of the Tory party would not be David Cameron. It would be David Davis.

Australians have managed to master AV. The prime minister is surely not suggesting that the fine people of Britain have a lower collective IQ than our friends in the Antipodes?

While his speech did not muster any fresh arguments in favour of first past the post, it did draw attention to the general attitude of the anti-reformers. Their propaganda puts most weight on this contention that AV is just too taxing for the poor old British voter to get his or her head around.

The no campaign will probably not put it so indelicately themselves, but they are calculating that their best hope of preserving first past the post is to mobilise what you could crudely call the Thicko Vote.

You can read his full piece here.

(And apologies for my mix-up with the FT post earlier; I, er…, read the date wrong…)

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10 Comments

  • Depressed Ex 20th Feb '11 - 1:27pm

    Well, let us accept that numbering candidates 1, 2, 3 does require a slightly more advanced level of numeracy than simply making a cross. I think Britain will cope.

    To be fair, though, it’s not just a question of understanding the system well enough to vote. It’s a real disadvantage if people can’t understand how the votes are counted, particularly when the “second past the post” candidate (or even the “third past the post candidate”) ends up winning. The counting of the votes is a bit more complicated than “1, 2, 3.”

  • The Herald also backed AV yesterday as a ‘stepping stone to something better’:

    “The Herald backs the AV campaign, not because it would prop up the Coalition or because is wonderful voting system, but because it is better than the one we have and could be a stepping stone to something even better.”

    http://www.heraldscotland.com/mobile/comment/herald-view/av-should-be-stepping-stone-to-something-better-1.1086150

  • The argument that AV is complicated is ridiculous. So is the argument that it’s expensive.

    Andrew Rawnsley is correct to point out that the Australians have mastered it. Before we get carried away with enthusiasm for AV it’s worth looking at the history of Australian General Elections. Even allowing for the ludicrous Aussie law which makes voting compulsory and forces all electors to rate every candidate on the ballot paper, Australia provides little evidence to coinvince me that AV is better than FPTP.

  • Foregone Conclusion 20th Feb '11 - 3:36pm

    I recently ran an election for a small student group (electorate of under 500) under FPTP. I had more than a few people slightly puzzled by the idea of putting a cross down rather than the numerical system that they used to. For this age group at least, AV is far from ‘foreign’ or ‘confusing’!

  • As valuable as comparisons with Australia are, it’s worth noting the differences between the political cultures here and there.

    Firstly The Coalition.
    Australia has two right-wing parties in more-or-less permanent alliance, the Liberals and the Nationals – usually just referred to as The Coalition. The existence of a long-term alliance that allows voters on the centre-right to directly express preference for a hard-line or a more moderate party has rather punctured any demand for a rival hard-right party such as UKIP in the UK. Having said which, the most recent election still saw 4 centre-right crossbenchers elected so it is far from a done deal.

    Secondly centrism.
    Australian Labor has always been very good at positioning itself as centrist and preventing any breakthrough by moderate parties like the Australian Democrats in the lower house. The UK will not be like that – we already have a large centrist party (us!) with significant levels of support and the concentrations of support required to win seats in a majoritarian system.

    As far as the destruction of the two-party system goes, the UK has already passed the tipping point whereas Australia is much further back – though with encouraging signs with the increased influence of Independents and Greens.

  • Emsworthian 20th Feb '11 - 4:47pm

    I don’t see why my choice of election systems should be limited by a deal done by
    Cameron and Clegg. If there were a ‘neither of the above’ option I would tick that. Rawnsley
    sets up Aunt Sallys to knock ’em down. Politics not popularity contests please.

  • Patrick Smith 20th Feb '11 - 4:59pm

    It is perhaps significant that Andrew Rawnsley ends his excellent article in favour of `Say Yes’. to AV on May 5th and states that the looking backwards `Say,No’ Campaign’ are relying upon a higher than was first expected turnout and what he decribes as the `stupid vote’ to win.But `Say No’ to AV do not have a shed of any positive in their argument to uphold the status quo FPTP.

    Mr Rawnsley will also know that the Lindsell Report in Nov. 2010 found that 65% of the 2000 sample of adults, indicated a change from FPTP.That is not say they all wanted AV but two thirds of those asked were not happy with the status quo and would be up for a new `Fairer Votes’ ballot,if one could be found i.e. AV .

    When it comes to examples of AV or the `instant run-off’ which is virtually the same thing, in most Countries and organisations that have adopted it, since invented by William Robert Ware (1832-1915) around 1870 : there are close versions in India and AV Plus in Germany.

    It is worth noting that the reason for bringing in AV in Australia in 1918 was after the complaint made by Labour in the Swan By-Election that they were losing too many Seats to the Conservatives.

    The story of AV history, since introduced in Australia in 1918, is well appraised by Anthony Green`s `Australian Election Blog’ that I believe is well weighted in expertise on the Australian Elections.

    Apart from Australia (1918) AV has been used in 60 American cities and universities,Papua New Guinea (first 3 preferences only) the Canadian Liberal Party Leadership,Scottish and NI Council By-Elections,Fiji,some limited use in Hong Kong and the elections of the leaders of L/D and Labour Parties.

    It should also be cited that Australia and NZ were the first examples of introducing the first rights of women to stand in federal elections and suffrage for women from 1893, partly as a result of the Kate Sheppard led ` Womens League’ that became a focus for electoral reform in the Antipodes.

  • The people who are not intelligent enough to understand AV are those who suggest that it results in no wasted votes. Every vote for every candidate other than the winner is a wasted vote.

    It is clear also that the Scotsman doesn’t understand AV. It is not true that every winning candidate will have the consent of the majority of voters. They will have the consent of the majority of voters remaining in the final round.

    If the Yes campaign has to resort to lies / misrepresentations, they can’t have very strong arguments, can they?

  • How to vote in the AV referendum:

    1 – Yes
    2 – Maybe….

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