The latest campaign from ‘No to AV’, after the failed attempts to try and persuade people that the referendum is going to cost lots of money and kill babies, is to try and persuade people that a vote for First Past The Post is the best way to get Proportional Representation. Some of you will remember the post I wrote about how Douglas Carswell’s proposal to add the Single Transferable Vote to the options on the bill would only have hampered it’s progress, as few other Conservatives and only a handful of Labour MPs would let the bill pass in this guise. Well, this is now the main line of attack of the ‘No to AV’ campaign.
However, this argument falls at the first hurdle. It is true that the ‘Alternative Vote’ isn’t proportional – it is only preferential. No voting system which maintains single-member constituencies can be proportional by definition. But the structure of the ‘Alternative Vote’ allows it to be full proportional – indeed if you expand the constituencies into multi-member constituencies (3, 5 or 600) then it becomes fully proportional within the bounds of the constituency, as the Alternative Vote is just ‘Single Transferable Vote’ for one-member constituencies.
To make the Alternative Vote proportional certainly would not require another referendum on the Voting System. It would only require a consensus in parliament to change the constituency boundaries. Many people claim to like the constituency-link of their MP and it may take some work to persuade people that they should move away from this. Adopting similar systems in other areas of Government (like multi-member wards for local Government or the forthcoming House of Lords reform) may assist in preparing people for this change. Equally, small changes in constituencies sizes may be easier to accept. However, most people I speak to today want to keep the constituency link and like the ‘Alternative Vote’ for this reason; so those of us in favour of proportional representation still have a fair amount of work to do.
One thing is certain, a vote for the status quo, a vote for First Past the Post, won’t bring proportional representation any quicker. It will most certainly put further electoral reform off the table for generations to come. How many times have we heard during this campaign that there is no drive to change the voting system? The current polling shows that there is a desire in the population for change, in favour of the Alternative Vote – yet we still hear from MPs, with vested interests, that they don’t feel there is a desire for change. This shows how out of touch some politicians are. A ‘No’ vote will only be used to substantiate their original premise – there is no desire for change.
British politics has never been revolutionary. It has evolved – with its unwritten constitution, out-dated figures of state and outmoded processes. Let’s remember 60 years ago, some people in the UK still had 2 votes. Anyone familiar with the elections in the late seventies will remember there was much speculation about electoral reform then, and it has taken 40 years to put any change in front of the voters. Those who understand voting systems and how they work, will see that proportional representation is a far easier move from the ‘Alternative Vote’ than from the current system. They will see this desperate attempt by those who wish to defend ‘First-Past-The-Post’, because they have no arguments in favour of the current system, is as transparent and vacuous as all the others. I would hope true believers in proportional representation will be voting ‘Yes’ whatever those who want to keep the current system say.