Why I’m voting yes to AV (and you can forget your crystal ball)
As I’ve mentioned here before, the voting system is only a small part of the democratic reform we need. But is is an important one. And this May, we will get to vote to change it. We won’t get a real choice. But there will be some choice. And I’m going to vote yes. I’ll explain why in a minute. But first, I want to talk about two bits of astrology that we are already hearing a lot of.
First, lots of people I have met tell me that they are voting No because they think that this will push the Lib Dems out of the coalition. “Why would they stay”, I’m asked, “if they’ve not got the one thing they were promised?”. This seems odd to me. Because you could equally say: “Why would they stay once you have already got the one thing they were promised?”. In fact, it goes further than that. Imagine if the Lib Dems brought down the coalition this summer as a result of a No Vote. How would that look? “We don’t mind if the Tories pillage us over fees and cuts. But when the people don’t give us what we want, we go off in a strop”. I don’t see it.
Of course, having got the No vote, lefty Lib Dems might, a few months, or even a year down the line, find another excuse to ditch the coalition – banking reform not coming through, housing, whatever. But, as I say above, surely they equally have no reason to stay once they have got what they want, should the referendum pass?
And the truth is that this is very hard to predict. I don’t know whether a ‘yes’ vote or a ‘no’ vote is more likely to make the government collapse. So voting ‘no’ to bring down the government is, as far as I an tell, a punt in the dark: and quite possibly into your own goal.
There is another crystal ball argument that I hear from lefties, on both sides of the divide. Those on the Yes campaign tell us that this will build momentum for reform. They tell us that AV is a stepping stone to proportional representation.
Those on the No side think that we’ll be told this is our fare share of reform for the next generation. These people fear that a yes vote will give us an inch, and so we will fail to take the mile that we want and need.
My suspicion is that, whatever happens, Labour and Tories alike will do their best to shut this debate down for as long as possible. And we will need to fight for real PR. I think it’s pretty tricky to tell which result would make that easier, and I wish that both sides would stop pretending they know for sure.
So, I’m getting fed up with all of this futurology. These outcomes are pretty hard to decipher. And I’m voting yes because of one very simple argument: AV is better than First Past the Post. It’s not much better, it has it’s down sides. But it is better. And for me, that’s basically for one reason.
I am fed up with spending election campaigns talking about who can win. When I knock on doors, I want to talk about policy. I want to discuss unemployment and housing, and my community and our future. I think elections should be about building a shared vision for our country. As Greens, at our best, we win seats. But even when we don’t, we can still influence these debates. But not if the parameters of the discussion are whether or not it is indeed a two horse race.
And so, this May, I’ll vote yes. I won’t really be voting for fair votes – AV is only slightly fairer. Fair votes won’t be on the ballot paper. I will be voting yes so that next time I knock on someone’s door, I can talk to them about something that really matters. And win or lose elections, those conversations are how we change this country.