How The Scottish Parliament Can Make Fair Votes a Reality
There’s one pressing issue that faces the UK now. That is the response to recession from the Westminster government. As other contributors here have pointed out, the current approach is likely to send the economy back into recession with disastrous effect.
There is, however, an opportunity to change the way the UK selects its governments. I was delighted to be able to address the Take Back Parliament demonstration in Edinburgh two weeks ago. The thousands of people who have turned out at demonstrations across the country to protest in favour of fair votes deserve to be heard.
There is a crucial opportunity to make fair votes likely. This is provided by a majority in the Scottish Parliament for the Single Transferable Vote, a Liberal Democrat as Secretary of State for Scotland and plans to pass a new Scotland Act coming at the same time.
The Scottish Parliament could change the debate on electoral reform by passing a vote requesting that the Scottish Parliament be elected in 2015 by the Single Transferable Vote. It would mean the purest form of proportional representation gets back on the table as an option.
It could change the debate about electoral reform for the UK Parliament and lead to more radical change in the system for electing MPs. The proposed Alternative Vote will do little to make parliament more representative, and will leave large numbers of votes wasted.
The current Scottish Parliament system is proportional. But it’s not proportional in a satisfactory way. By having MSPs elected in two ways the electorate are regularly confused. Some list MSPs have a low workload, while constituency MSPs are often overburdened with local concerns. Critically list MSPs are too often criticised for being second class.
A much better system is the Single Transferable Vote, as advocated by the Electoral Reform Society. It’s better than the current Scottish system (which is called the Additional Member System – AMS or Multi-Member Proportional – MMP) for a number of reasons.
It allows voters a choice over who all their representatives would be, while the electorate have no choice over who is where on lists in AMS. In 2003 the SNP’s decision to move Margo MacDonald down the Lothians list cost them a seat as she got substantially more than half their vote on the list as an independent. Clearly Margo was more popular than the 4 other candidates placed above her on the list, 2 of whom failed to be elected. But had she not left the SNP the electorate would have been denied the opportunity to elect her unless they elected 5 SNP parliamentarians in the region.
STV also encourages MSPs to work much harder for their constituents. There is no such thing as a safe seat under STV. All members have to compete with one another to ensure they get re-elected. This is quite different to the constituency members elected to the Scottish Parliament, some of whom are highly unlikely to ever lose their seats. It would also even out the burden of constituency work between the 6 MSPs for each constituency.
Scotland already elects its Councillors using STV, so the system is familiar. And reducing the number of electoral systems in place in Scotland is surely a good thing. Currently the use of First Past the Post for Westminster, AMS for Holyrood, STV for Councils and a proportional list for Europe is confusing for everyone.
All this needs is one of the three parties that support STV to put a motion for debate on the Parliament agenda. With the Parliament supporting change it would be very difficult for an STV supporting Secretary of State to refuse this opportunity. By introducing a radically fair system in Scotland, the likelihood of a fair system for the UK increases.