On the 5th of May there’s a referendum. The question posed is thus:
At present, the UK uses the “first past the post” system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the “alternative vote” system be used instead?
The campaigns for and against are currently in full swing, and there’s something quite striking about the “No” campaign: it’s saying No to the wrong question. The question is answers is this:
Is the Alternative Vote the best system we could have to elect MPs to the House of Commons.
The answer to that is clearly No. The Alternative vote isn’t a great system at all. It has it’s merits, but it’s certainly not a a good example of Proportional Representation. Even Nick Clegg called it “a miserable little compromise” and he’s the one pushing the damn thing. The No campaign has focused on this and are demonising AV like it’ll herald the end of democracy, while neglecting to defend the system they’re trying to make us stick with for all eternity.
However, read the question being posed again. It’s not “Should we use the Alternative Vote?”, it’s “Should we use the Alternative vote instead of First Past The Post?”. Both systems are, broadly speaking, majoritarian systems (that is, they’re designed to give the winning party a significant majority). Neither system is ideal when you’re considering fair representation of the people’s views across the whole country, but in a >2 party system (like we have in the UK), First Past the Post (FPTP from now on) simply doesn’t make sense.
The key difference between to 2 systems is this: Under FPTP, a candidate can win without the support of the majority of voters in their constituency. In fact, the more candidates who stand, the less support they need to win due to the vote being split (see, the BNP winning council seats, which is why they’re against the change). Under AV, 50% of voters must vote for a candidate in some capacity for them to win. With only 2 parties, FPTP is fine as one candidate will always have a majority (unless its a dead heat). With more than 2, AV is the clear choice to keep voting fair and results meaningful.
Until a better option comes along, let’s snap it up. Vote yes.