The referendum is tomorrow, so those of you who dislike our repeated mention of it can rejoice — this is (likely) the last talk of voting systems for some time on the Big Bad Blog.
Before we shut ourselves up, however, we would like to take one last look at the choices. In particular, we are taking a closer look at the Yes to fairer votes and NO to AV sites, and helping you to parse how to vote.
We are going to attempt to be neutral here — both systems have their advantages and disadvantages, after all — but we do have an opinion at the Big Bad Blog, and that opinion is that Alternative Vote is a better electoral system than First Past the Post.
However, we also believe that both the “Yes” and “No” sides have taken up some intensely dishonest propaganda in the lead-up to the referendum. As this is a vote on how we will vote, it is important to us that people vote on the basis of facts, not fiction. We can live with being on the losing side of this referendum … so long as we lose for the right reasons.
Don’t base your votes on these things
Most of the following points are paraphrased from the YES to Fairer Votes and NO to AV websites. Many of the points are actually raised on both sites, disappointingly leading the debate down avenues that have no bearing on the decision at hand.
A couple of the points are based upon what we hear and see when reading newspapers, blogs, or having conversations about politics over a beer.
None, however, strike us as good reasons for voting for or against AV.
The most overused word in British politics is out in full force for the referendum. The Yes people actually title their campaign YES to Fairer Votes, thereby ensuring that we never, ever use their slogan. The No side claim that AV will destroy the underpinnings of democracy itself, giving some people a louder voice than others — as though that doesn’t happen under FPTP — while simultaneously giving nobody but Nick Clegg any voice at all.
None of this is actually true.
It all boils down, of course, to how the individual defines a “fair” outcome. Here, for example, is a reasonable set of criteria:
- Every adult citizen is allowed to vote.
- Every voter gets a single ballot.
- No voter need disclose how their ballot was filled to any authority.
- The ballots are tallied honestly, according to pre-existing criteria.
Under the above criteria, both AV and FPTP are “fair”.
While we do not have the definitions used by the Yes and No campaigns, we would not be surprised if “fair” meant to them “the sort of result we want”. As a voter, your definition of a fair voting system probably more closely resembles what we write above: both systems are fair.
Another reason not to vote “yes” or “no” is over the accountability of our elected officials.
The Yes camp claims that MPs will be more accountable if they must court secondary and tertiary votes. The No camp claims the opposite — that, not needing your vote (on the first ballot), MPs will become completely unaccountable.
The Big Bad Blog has a secret for you: MPs want you to vote for them under First Past the Post. And they will want you to vote for them under Alternative Vote. They don’t enter politics hoping to lose elections — or just win by the skin of their teeth in the sixth round of AV.
A bigger voice … or a smaller one
Again, the “Yes” side claims that you — the voter — will get a louder voice under AV. The “No” side that you will get a smaller one.
The truth? You will still get one ballot, and will be asked to fill it in according to the same rules as every other voter. It will be counted in the same manner as every other voter.
The size of your voice? It will not change.
The pro-AV camp claims that AV will eliminate tactical voting. The anti-AV camp claim that it will run rampant under AV, and the system will be prone to tampering.
The truth? AV will push tactical voting to the secondary choice — it will remain. And it will be not very much different from current tactical voting, other than that it takes the decision regarding whether or not to vote tactically away: everybody will vote for their actually-preferred first choice and tactical second.
Get rid of extremism
The “Yes” camp claims that extremist parties could never win under AV, as they would need to be listed on second and third ballots — sometimes they can sneak in under First Past the Post.
The “No” camp claims that extremist parties will receive more votes under AV, as voters are no longer encouraged to vote for a party that has a hope of winning.
Both camps are slightly correct, but mostly full of shit — extremists will be extremists, regardless of the voting system. And as long as extremists are fringe groups, they won’t have much of a draw in elections.
The No camp claims that placing candidates in order of preference is too complicated for voters, who can do little more than place an X in a box.
The Yes camp counters that ranking things is the way “grown ups” make decisions.
We are left scratching our heads in wonder. Any two-year-old can order their toys from “favourite” to “least favourite”. Get them to five or six years old, and they can even write down the numbers. There is nothing adult or complicated about AV.
And adults make some decisions by ranking things in order of preference. They make others by choosing a single favourite (like in First Past the Post). Still others — choosing a beer in a pub while in a strange part of the world, for example — are made by picking the one that has not been previously tried.
Do not let people try to convince you that AV is complex or special. It’s really pretty simple.
Sending a message
Hope to send Mr. Cameron a message by voting yes? Or Mr. Clegg a message by voting no?
Don’t be silly.
First, if you are going to vote — and you should — you must side with one or the other. You cannot send both of them a message at once.
Second, you are not voting to put representatives of either the Conservative or Liberal Democrat (or any other) party into office, but to choose how such representatives will be chosen in the future. There are no Tory or Lib Dem boxes to check in this vote – or to avoid checking.
PR is not on this ballot — there are two choices on the table, FPTP and AV. If you are a fan of proportional representation, that choice is not here — and neither choice makes PR more or less likely for the future.
If the No side wins, opponents of reform will point to it and claim that there is no appetite for voting reform. If the Yes side wins, opponents of reform will gleefully point out how AV was supposed to provide for “fairer” results, “adult” decisions, and accountable MPs. They will wonder aloud as to what the next referendum — though they will likely use the words ‘miracle cure’ – will be.
The Liberal Democrats are big supporters of AV because they believe it would win them more seats. Other fringe parties think it might be their best chance to win a seat. The No campaign paints a world of unending coalitions, with the third place party holding all the cards.
Little of the above is true.
Had AV been in place for last year’s election, the Conservatives would still have won the most seats, followed by Labour and the Lib Dems. No other party would have won a seat. It is true that the Liberal Democrats would have gained approximately 22 seats, however, at the expense of the other two parties.
On the other hand, in 1997, the size of Labour’s majority would have been greatly increased under AV, giving them an even stronger majority than the one they enjoyed at the time.
Nobody disputes that AV will have an impact on the results — why bother, if it did not? — but arguments that the system creates only coalitions, or cannot give a single party a strong majority, are false.
Coalitions are the result of a public which is very much split as to who it wants to govern them. Majorities are the result of a public who feel quite strongly about who should govern them.
Why you should vote No
The First Past the Post system is about vision. It is predicated upon the manifesto.
A party releases a manifesto in the run-up to an election. They are elected on basis of the contents of that manifesto, which holds within it the party’s vision of the country’s future. If elected, they work to make that vision a reality.
Under AV, such an approach is difficult, and the support for the contents of a party’s manifesto is questionable. As a significant portion of the votes that brought the party to power would (likely) be secondary or tertiary votes, can a party truly have a mandate to bring their manifesto to light?
If you believe that a general election is, primarily, a choice between manifestos, First Past the Post is probably your preferred system.
Why you should vote Yes
The Alternative Vote is about philosophy. It emphasizes the political philosophies of the parties and candidates over the manifestos.
Having a manifesto — a plan — is all well and good, but …
little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain
In the real world, our politicians do not get to deal with some ideal future which allows their vision to come to life untarnished. The real world is a messy place, with changing circumstances and unexpected events.
The real measure of a government is not its ability to carry out its manifesto, but how it deals with unexpected situations. Elections like the recent general election — in which disaster has just struck, in the form of a recession, and we need a plan to deal with it — are rare. Governments like to call elections when times are good, and the plans laid out in front of voters most often have little to do with the issues the next government will face.
So what good is a vision, then, when we need a government that we feel we can trust should terrorists strike, economic calamity hits, or a nuclear meltdown occur?
These are not questions of mandates or manifestos, but philosophies and approaches. By allowing the voter to rank candidates in the order by which they best approximate his or her own philosophy, we achieve a more representative government through AV.
How you should vote
Here at the Big Bad Blog, we believe that the world is an unpredictable place, and a plan — a manifesto — will find cause to deviate in less than a year. Britain is too big, and has too large a place in the world, for it to be otherwise. Look already at the recovery’s setback in late 2010, or the uprisings in the Middle East with the resulting military action and oil price spike.
The game has changed, so must the plan — we believe it to be a better strategy to endorse the plan-makers than the plan itself.
But we understand that others believe differently, and First Past the Post is certainly a better system for manifesto selection. Important though manifestos may be, however, we believe them to be less important than the philosophies and approaches of the politicians who will be forced to make unexpected decisions after taking office.
For this reason, we are voting Yes to AV tomorrow.