AV? No thanks!

A couple of pieces I saw this week piqued my interest in advance of next week’s vote. Firstly, Compass‘s Joe Cox and Tom Griffin argue that a yes vote is the best means of frustrating the policies of the coalition government (Martin Kettle has also argued similarly); while Hilary Wainwright argues in The Guardian that AV will not only improve the quality of political debate but will symbolise a vote for change.

I start from an interest in, and support for, electoral reform, but I just can’t bring myself to vote for AV. I’m not convinced that short-term political interests are worthy reasons to bring in this famously ‘miserable compromise’ as a new voting system, although I can of course see the tactical reasons for that; and neither am I at all convinced that AV is a much-needed ‘baby step‘ towards a better electoral system than the one we have already. This is a mature democracy and one in which, furthermore, we already have proportional representation voting systems in place, both for elections to the European Parliament and, up here in Scotland, to the Scottish Parliament – so it’s not as though we’re actually in need of something which helps us dip our toes in the water of electoral reform. And neither are we in need of being patronised, either.

We’re not being asked to vote for electoral reform based on proportional representation, we’re only being asked to vote for one, and one only, variant of electoral reform. It’s not a starting point for a wider debate about electoral reform; it’s an end point – not the end, obviously, but an end. People who argue that electoral reform might evolve into a better voting system if only we first took the opportunity to implement AV are surely deluding themselves: I can’t see the electorate having much of an appetite for repeating this embarrassing slanging-match-passing-as-political-debate in the forseeable future. This is not a situation of ‘vote yes to AV – get electoral reform’: voting yes to AV means the alternative vote is exactly what we get. And neither do I want to imagine that what was offered to the LibDems as a price of getting them to support the Tories in government is, in this area and for the foreseeable future, debate-defining.

For all its faults, first past the post is based on the principle of one person one vote. Every vote counts, and counts once (pace Tammany Hall). That’s the crux of my opposition to AV – some electors, but not all of them, get a second bite at the cherry when their candidate falls. That doesn’t strike me as at all in line with democratic principles – and neither does it strike me as at all rational: the people whose alternative votes are deployed are the ones who have voted, in order, for the weakest (and not only the wackiest), fringe-like candidate(s). That’s simply not credible. It’s not about candidates ‘pandering to extremists‘ but it does give a potentially determining power to those who vote for small parties and, in the first place, only to the voters of such parties. I can fully envisage some unholy scenarios of how that might pan out in practice and I can’t understand why I’d want to vote for that.

Abstentionism has never been my tradition, so I’ll be putting my ‘x’ firmly in the ‘no’ box next Thursday. Given who I will then be allying myself with, though, I will be washing my hands very thoroughly afterwards…

And then, once AV is dead and buried, the campaign for proper electoral reform goes on.

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