Improving UK Democracy – The Easy Way
Saturday 12th February 2011. The second round of Six Nations games. The Welsh came to Edinburgh in their thousands and, together with the native fans and interested neutrals, made their way to Murrayfield. So did I, or at least part of the way, but with a different contest on my mind. This was my first chance to get in amongst the public and convince them to vote YES at the upcoming referendum on how politicians are elected to Westminster.
“Referendum? What referendum?” you say? Read on and find out then.
The Mother of all Parliaments, Westminster, is sadly stuck in the past, at least democratically speaking. While countries throughout Europe and elsewhere around the world have have moved towards a progressive voting system, the UK has stuck with the winner takes all method known as First Past The Post, or FPTP. Now, after a long wait, the British people are going to get the chance to choose between FPTP and the Alternative Vote (AV) on Thursday 5th May. Under AV, an election winner needs the majority of votes cast. If no candidate commands 50% support, the last placed candidate drops out and their voters’ second preferences come into play. This continues until one candidate has majority support. This system is fairer, more democratic and means MPs need to work harder to secure their seat. Making a politician work harder is never a bad idea after all.
To help achieve a Yes result, myself and a dozen other volunteers are handed out leaflets on the vote, chatted to folk willing to stop and discussed the issue. Some people ignored us, others took the purple cardboard speech bubbles we were distributing only to discard them further down the road. Two people I encountered stuck in my mind. One was a Welsh supporter who said the vote didn’t apply to her. I walked with her and explained that it was about how people elected their MPs. She said they don’t have those in Wales, which I’m sure is a shock for the 40 politicians currently representing various constituencies.
The other person was a Scotland fan. As I offered him a leaflet, I said “Want to make the UK more democratic? Say YES on 5th of May.” His reply left me dazed and gob smacked. “I am making it more democratic, but not the easy way!” Now, how is making a change to an electoral system used for centuries easy? I’m giving up my time to stand in the cold, talking to complete strangers on their way to see a rugby match and convince them of the merits of AV. That’s easy? I’d hate to try the hard way. Especially as I could be sitting at home sitting on the sofa waiting for the game to start.
The simple fact is AV is better for democracy. In every election since 1992, I’ve voted tactically – not for the party or candidate I prefer or support but to make sure the one I don’t want is not elected. Is that fair or democratic? Under AV I can give my views on every candidate standing, ranking them according to my views and preference. That makes my vote more powerful and worthwhile. Safe seats, those where parties are assured of a victory, are becoming more widespread. There are less constituencies changing hands at each UK General Election. This helps spread vote apathy and encourages people not to vote. If their views aren’t represented, people will abandon the democratic process. People have lost faith and trust in party politics, feeling that they cannot change the way governments act. By putting more power behind each vote, we can stop that.
So, please remember. YES TODAY! YES IN MAY!
For more information on the campaign to more to AV, see the Yes to Fairer Votes website.