It’s taken me a long time to decide how to vote in this referendum. I know I’m in the reform camp – when an election system allows people to be elected and have total governance with barely a third of the vote, there’s something wrong with that country’s democracy. So many people in so many ‘safe’ seats will never have their voices heard. Can this be democratic?
So, I want a change. But not to Alternative Vote (AV). Of all systems, not AV. It’s arguably the worst reform we could have, barely better according to some commentators, and actually regressive for some others. Much better may be a shift to AV+ or STV. But…
There is a camp of progressives campaigning on the “No to AV, Yes to PR” (Proportional Representation) vote. I’ve been tempted to their side. But I can’t. I’m voting Yes to AV.
We can’t pass up this chance. This is the one time in a generation when the PR camp is positioned strongly enough to force some form of change in our voting system. We need it – we have to get rid of First Past The Post, at any cost. If we vote no, the FPTPers will close the door forever. At least this way we can keep our foot in the door. If we lose… then we may have lost.
It’s been said that AV can’t be a stepping stone to further PR. I’m not so sure. Yes, no country has switched between AV and PR, but why can’t we be the first? Is our electoral mindset, in the 21st Century, really that set in stone? I’m hopeful it’s not.
It’s a pretty easy system to understand – as Johann Hari recently discussed, if you understand X-Factor, you can understand AV. When people have the FPTP mindset broken, by demonstrating that the alternatives are no so scary – then, and only then, can we have a fully mature debate on the nature of which is the best electoral system for Britain.
We can keep moving forward. Lord Forsyth’s recent somewhat-xenophobic comments on the vote being “rigged” for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland’s more pro-AV voters, brings to mind the whole devolution argument. Despite a shift to Parliaments and Assemblies in the Celtic nations of Britain, this hasn’t stopped the debate.
The debate has moved further on the axis from highly centralised London-centric government towards independence, but we haven’t found the right balance between homogeneity and independence. The debate continues, with camps at either end pulling at the electorate.
Just because we move to AV doesn’t mean the progressives can’t stop pulling towards Proportional Representation in the UK, just like Salmond can call for Scottish independence. If we lose, the fight may be over. If we win, we can keep fighting, and get the system Britain needs.
I’ve often heard a quote of Winston Churchill’s used to attack AV. He called it a system where the winner is decided by “[t]he most worthless votes for the most worthless candidates.“
And of course, that clears up the debate. The great Churchill’s wonderful talent for aphorisms has saved the day, much as he did in WWII. Mind you, that ignores that he thought Gandhi “ought to be laid, bound hand and foot, at the gates of Delhi and then trampled on by an enormous elephant with the new viceroy seated on its back” for trying to steal away the jewel in the Empire’s crown. Frankly, Churchill was not exactly the best quotationist to talk about liberal democracy.
Don’t take Churchill at face value. He claims that there are worthless voters and candidates – but there are no worthless voters, votes or candidates in a democracy. Every voter, every citizen has worth. Every one is important, no matter their choices.
If these voters are “worthless”, then we have to give them worth, to truly make it one person=one vote. Every vote must be heard, no matter what candidate it is for. If they vote BNP, or any other party, that the mainstream political set believe should not be allowed power, we can only deny them power by engaging them, head on, exposing the lies and hatred for what they are.
In safe seats we have worthless voters, whose voice is never heard. Where the BNP may win seats, we have voters who feel worthless. We have to give all these people worth.
Every voter has worth. Every vote has worth. But First Past The Post leaves us with worthless votes, not AV It’s time for change. It’s time for an Alternative Vote.