Thursday, 3 February 2011

Referendum on AV

I have been watching the argument between the #Yes2AV and #No2AV camps with a kind of detached interest - I can understand arguments on both sides. I was, originally, favouring a change to AV, before having a brief flirtation with not actually giving a shit - they call this #Meh2AV - and now I'm back in the #Yes2AV camp.

The #No2AV argument seems to revolve around the following criticisms of AV:

  • It's complicated - voters will have to choose more than one candidate and order them in preference, rather than just picking one;
  • The same weighting is given to all preference votes, so a 2nd preference vote is valued the same as 1st preference vote;
  • It could lead to more hung Parliaments, which tend to concentrate a large amount of political power into the smaller parties, particularly the Lib Dems.

Firstly, AV is not really complicated. Many people vote tactically, and as such, order their candidates in terms of preference anyway. They then simply vote for the one on their shortlist who is most likely to win. AV actually simplifies that - you won't have to second-guess how other people are going to vote.

Secondly, the argument that all preference votes are given the same weighting is fundamentally flawed. Imagine an ice cream van situation.

YOU: I'd like an ice cream, please.
MAN: What flavour, sir?
YOU: Strawberry, please.
MAN: We're right out of strawberry. Here's a banana flavour one instead.
YOU: I don't want a banana flavour one! Can I have vanilla instead?
MAN: Sorry, you've already got your ice cream. (shuts window and drives off)

That is how FPTP works. Fucking annoying, yes?

Try the AV situation.

YOU: I'd like an ice cream, please.
MAN: What flavour, sir?
YOU: Strawberry, please.
MAN: We're right out of strawberry. Any other flavour you'd like?
YOU: What about vanilla?
MAN: Gosh, we're right out of vanilla too! Anything else?
YOU: Chocolate?
MAN: You betcha. One chocolate ice cream.
YOU: Cheers, mate! (walks off with ice cream)

Om nom nom.

You didn't get your first choice. But at least you got given other choices. You might even have wound up with banana if they didn't have any chocolate, but at least you were presented with the possibility of other choices. This is how AV works.

And the last charge, that it is more likely to lead to hung Parliaments. Possibly, in that it would likely increase the representation of the Lib Dems. But it should be noted (and I am no lover of the Lib Dems) that they are significantly under-represented. In the last election, 6.8million out of the total 29.7million people voted Lib Dem, and they only won 57 out of 650 seats in the House of Commons. Nearly 1 in 4 votes cast was for the Lib Dems, and they didn't even get 1 seat out of every 10. It doesn't matter how you look at it, that level of disparity is unfair.

For my part, I don't think that AV is a wonderful voting system. It has its problems and pitfalls. However, it is fairer than FPTP. For example, under FPTP, it is statistically possible for just over 33% of the population to vote for one party, and that party to win every seat in the House of Commons. How is that fair? It makes a mockery of democracy.

So I will be voting 'Yes' in May.

But, Dave and Nick, I also want a referendum on Europe. So that one's next, yeah?