Voting ‘yes’

On Thursday, the UK goes to the polls for a variety of matters.  There will be elections to the Stormont Assembly in Northern Ireland and to the Welsh National Assembly and the Scottish Parliament.  There will be many local council elections, a smattering of mayoral elections and a by-election.  And across the nation (or is that nations?) there is the referendum on our electoral system.  And in that referendum, the Singing Librarian will be voting ‘yes’, because he would like our system to be changed from “First Past the Post” to “Alternative Vote” (AV).  Actually, that’s not true.  There are many better options than AV, but these options are not being presented to us, and AV is the better of the two on the table.

So what is AV?  It’s a very simple system – instead of marking an X next to your favourite candidate, you rank as many (or as few) candidates as you like in order of priority.  If no candidate wins more than half of the votes, the lowest-ranked candidate is removed from the contest and their votes reassigned according to voters’ second choices.  This is very similar to the systems used to elect the leaders of the various political parties, it is the system that was used for Student Union elections back in my undergraduate days and it arguably works in much the same way as the system that is used on reality television (though in the election you can’t amass a large mobile phone debt by voting for the same candidate hundreds of times).

It is a fairer system and should add an extra dose of sanity to proceedings.  For example, someone who is an “anyone but the Cheese Party” voter can express this without having to guess which of the non-Cheese parties is in the best position to beat the Cheesists.  It won’t solve all our democratic ills, but it is a step in the right direction, as it will hopefully encourage people to vote for the party they genuinely feel best represents them and, in marginal seats, will allow MPs to be elected with wider support than is currently the case.  Under the current system, you could win a seat contested by six parties with only 20% of the vote – it could well be that the other 80% absolutely loathe you, but under first past the post, that doesn’t matter.  The counter-argument to this is that you could end up with the “least worst” person elected in each constituency instead of the “best”.  Sometimes, though, that is probably a price worth paying.

There are many videos out there explaining some of the thought process behind the “Yes to AV” campaign.  I highly recommend the one which explains AV for cats.  But here is a less amusing one from Dan Snow which explains why AV is a good thing in a way which makes perfect sense :

The interesting thing is that it may not actually favour the smaller parties – when it comes down to it, we may find that in most constituencies, one or other of the main parties is favoured by more than half of the voters.  Certainly I can’t see the Monster Raving Loony Party or any other fringe cause getting a candidate elected by Alternative Vote (and the Loonies would be horrified if it happened, anyway).  But maybe, just maybe, it will lead to more MPs being elected to parliament with the genuine backing of their constituents.  And perhaps it will be the start of a new wave of electoral reform.  It took many, many years for the working classes and for women to be given the right to vote in the UK.  I’m sure that further reforms would take just as long, but why should that be a problem?  Fairer votes are, as far as I’m concerned, a very good thing.  And that is why I will be voting ‘YES’ in Thursday’s referendum.

    • pao
    • May 5th, 2011

    I think the best thing is that you can vote with honesty. For example if you truly think that the pink fluffy elephant candidate is the right choice you can vote for them, your voice is heard and you can also vote for the pragmatic candidate.

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