Make votes MATTER for women and men this centenary year

This is the centenary year of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave votes to UK women (over 30) for the first time.

But shouldn’t women’s (and men’s) votes matter wherever they live?

Wouldn’t it be nice if women’s (and men’s) votes in constituencies like Christchurch (the safest Tory seat) and Liverpool, Walton (the safest Labour seat) could actually affect the result? If only they could help decide who would represent the voters of those constituencies and contribute to the choosing of a Government. It would be really nice. It would be democratic. It would be about time. It’s long overdue.

Some would like to reduce the minimum voting age from 18 to 16. STV Action is neutral on that and our supporters are free to campaign for or against it, but we see little point in giving votes to 16 and 17-year-olds that would be worthless in all but marginal constituencies.

Let’s first make votes matter for all present voters everywhere and then consider whether to change the voting age.

It’s not only that so many votes don’t matter in the sense that they don’t contribute to the election of an MP or the choice of Government:

• Many voters are “represented” by MPs they didn’t vote for. Even in a very safe seat, where 70% voted for the winner, a large minority (30%) of voters are not represented by someone with political views like their own. In N E Fife, more than two-thirds of voters voted against the winner, who now “represents” them!
• The party leaders, workers and funds are concentrated mainly on marginal constituencies. Only the opinions of voters in marginal constituencies matter. The rest of us don’t count.
• Even in a marginal constituency, there is a very limited choice of candidates; usually the one candidate the Conservative Party selected and the one candidate the Labour Party selected, although some supporters may have preferred a woman to a man (or vice versa) or a candidate from a different wing of the party.
• It’s impossible to vote against a particular candidate (e.g a bad constituency MP or one with different views from one’s own on a non-party issue) without also voting against the party.
• Constituents have only one MP to approach with their problems. They either approach that one or no-one. Tory voters have to approach Labour MPs, Remain voters have to approach Brexit MPs, women have to approach male MPs and so on.

It doesn’t have to be like this:

• If you merge a few constituencies (say, five) together and elect five MPs together, voters have a choice of which to approach with their problems.
• If those five MPs are elected by a party proportional voting system, they will come from more than one party, so most voters should be able to identify with at least one of them and approach that one with any problems.
• Single Transferable Vote (STV) is a Proportional Representation system that can provide proportionality not only between parties but also between any other groups that matter to voters; e.g., Brexit/Remain, men/women and different wings of a party.
• With STV in 5-member constituencies, about 83% of voters are represented by someone they voted for.
• STV lets voters vote against a particular candidate without voting against the party.

STV is a British voting system, used mainly in English-speaking countries. It is used for all elections in Northern Ireland except for electing MPs, it is used for all local elections in Scotland and it has been recommended for local elections in Wales. Many civil society organizations (clubs, trades unions, the National Union of Students and professional and learned institutes etc.) use STV.

How does STV work? You have one vote. You simply vote “1” for your 1st choice of candidate; then, if you want to, you vote “2” for your 2nd choice and so on. You can make as many or as few choices as you wish, and you’re not restricted to one party. The more choices you express, the more likelihood there is that your vote will affect the result.

STV makes votes matter and it’s as easy as 1,2,3!

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Three important electoral reform anniversaries are coming up for us to celebrate and the first and third of them are specifically relevant to STV:

1. STV is the most party proportional system (10th anniversary)

One criticism of STV is that it is less proportional than some other PR systems. Of course, the critics mean “less party proportional” and we all know that, among STV’s other advantages,
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Time for Real Democracy

First Past The Post (FPTP) is a very crude dispute resolution system to choose and change governments without resort to violence. Although it’s considerably better than coup, assassination or revolution, it could be much better. Most European democracies have better systems, but the UK has been left behind except that we have made a little progress with the devolved bodies and some other elections.

In a real democracy, Parliament would be a small but accurate reflection of the political views of the voters and the Government would reflect the political views of the majority of voters. FPTP does not achieve that. Without PR, the UK is only half a democracy – a demi-ocracy.

STV is the best kind of PR for many reasons, not least because it increases voter – not party – power and it can provide proportionality not only between parties but also between other groupings,such as Brexiters and Remainers.

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The truth about STV

The truth sometimes takes longer to explain than a short untruth. Someone posted on Make Votes Matter’s Facebook page, “STV is semi-proportional. If we want a true PR system, only the first choice vote matters, and constituency size is irrelevant. STV delivers F15PTP.”

He managed to pack four inaccuracies into those few words but their brevity makes them easy to understand and could misinform readers.

Although most STV Action readers will know the truth, you may find my reply useful when you discuss voting systems with others. Sorry it’s quite long, but here it is:

“Constituency size is highly relevant. The bigger the constituency, the more proportional the result. The smaller the constituency, the less proportional the result. This applies both to party list systems and STV. It’s basic arithmetic. FPTP with only one representative per constituency is the ultimate in disproportionality.

“You don’t seem to understand STV, especially as advocated in the UK.

“When you refer to “F15PTP”, you may be referring to the practice in Australia, where I understand some constituencies have as many as 15 representatives. Most UK electoral reformers advocate STV constituencies with about 5 representatives.

“However, STV isn’t F15PTP or F5PTP. If it was, the same party would usually win all 15 or 5 seats. Many local elections in England and Wales really are F3PTP and the same party usually wins all the seats even if it has only about a third of the votes in a closely fought 3-way election.

“STV in multi-member constituencies produces a proportional result. The more representatives per constituency, the more proportional the result is, but five per constituency produces quite a proportional result.

“To say STV is only semi-proportional even of parties is simply untrue. In its report published in 2008, the UK’s Ministry of Justice concluded that STV (used for most Northern Ireland elections and all Scottish local elections) was the most proportional system used in the UK – more proportional, for example, than AMS used for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.

“Not only is STV in multi-member constituencies party proportional but it also has many other advantages.

“STV offers non-party proportionality between any other groupings of importance to voters even if they cross party lines; e.g. between Brexit and Remain and between men and women. STV offers more freedom of choice than any other system to voters. STV can avoid wasted votes, whereas most PR systems can only reduce them.

“I recommend http://www./ if you’d like to know more about STV.”

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STV for Welsh local government

If you’d like STV to be used for local elections in Wales, please act before the public consultation ends on Tuesday 10 October.

If you want to respond to the whole consultation, you can fill in a form available online at

Section 4 asks about letting each local authority to choose between FPTP and STV. That would be a step in the right direction, but you may like to suggest using STV for all local elections, as in Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you want to support STV generally, it is probably best to do this under the final Question 46 (“other related issues”).

Alternatively, you may find it simpler to write your own response as an email to

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PR debate 30.10.17

MPs will debate PR on 30 October 2017.
This is in response to a petition signed by more than 100,000 people.
If your MP already supports PR, please ask them to attend and support the motion.
If you don’t know your MP’s views or you know they oppose PR, please try to persuade then to support it now.
To pre-empt the reply many MPs will give, there was NOT a referendum on PR in 2011; that referendum was on the Alternative Vote, which is a non-propionate system.
PR is not to help or hinder any one party. It is to help voters and provide us with a representative democracy, which we don’t have now.
Please see for more.

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Jack McGowan-Smyth

We are very sorry to tell you that “Jack” McGowan-Smyth died earlier this year, although we have only just received the sad news. He left a widow, Christine, to whom we extend our deep sympathy.

Here is an extract from his death notice:

“McGOWAN-SMYTH John (Jack) (Dublin / Luxembourg / Edinburgh) Jack passed away peacefully, on January 18, 2017, at the age of 94, in Edinburgh. Former Clerk of the Irish Senate, former Director-General of the European Parliament. Beloved and loving husband of Christine.”

Jack was a very staunch supporter of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system of proportional representation, which has been used in his native Ireland since it became independent of the UK.

He was a member of the Electoral Reform Society for many years, probably decades, and was for a while Chair of its Elections Panel, which oversees the Society’s internal elections.

He will be greatly missed and we are sorry he did not live to see STV introduced for all UK elections.

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Now is the time

Sincere congratulations to Darren Hughes on his appointment as the Electoral Reform Society’s new Chief Executive. He was its Deputy CE. We wish him well and, of course, every success.

We very much hope his appointment will lead to the Society becoming more active again and, in particular, concentrating on its primary object of Single Transferable Vote (STV) for all elections. Whether votes at 16, higher voter registration, reform of the House of Lords etc are good or bad causes is not very relevant at least until the primary object has been achieved. Indeed, they are not even mentioned as such in the Society’s constitution and they can be divisive, because not necessarily every member will agree with them all whereas every member should agree with STV, which is written into the constitution, to which they signed up when they joined.

The most divisive and important issue in British politics now is exit from the EU. First Past The Post has failed the nation on this issue and no PR system except STV would help. STV would help by enabling voters to elect pro- and anti- EU Conservative and pro- and anti-EU Labour MPs. It would also enable voters to elect MPs of in-between opinions; e.g. leaving the EU but remaining in the Single Market and/or Customs Union, so debate in the Commons could truly reflect a wide range of public opinions. A House, elected by STV, could be a start to healing divisions.

This is a unique opportunity for the ERS to promote its primary object.

With the ERS’s resources and accumulated knowledge and Make Votes Matter’s enthusiasm and innovative campaigning, we could succeed unexpectedly soon.

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Getting a representative you voted for

56% of voters at last month’s General Election are represented by MPs they voted for. That could have been much worse, but the figure is as high as it is probably because of tactical voting so, although many voters are represented by the Labour MP they voted for, they would have preferred a Lib Dem MP or vice versa.

Even the worst form of STV (2-member constituencies) would have been much better in this respect. Although it would not have been very proportional, it would have been more proportional than FPTP and 67% of voters would have voted for winners. To put it another way, 67% (not 56%) of voters would be represented by MPs for whom they voted.

With STV in 3-member constituencies (which would be quite proportional), the figure would rise to 75%.

With STV in 4-member constituencies (which would be more proportional), the figure would be 80% while, with STV in 5-member constituencies (which would be adequately proportional and is about the constituency size the ERS recommends), the figure would be 83%.

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Votes and seats

There are some interesting facts about the 2015 General Election in an excellent report on Parliament’s own website, and I’m sorry I’ve only just discovered them when the coming 2017 election is about to make them out of date. But the information will still be valid; e.g. the comparison in Chart 3 between shares of votes and seats. I tried to copy that chart to this site but was unable to do so.
One aspect of Chart 3 that interested me especially was a comparison between the SNP and Liberal Democrats. Most commentators saw the election as a disaster for the Lib Dems and a triumph for the SNP. However, although that’s true in terms of seats and it’s true that the Lib Dem vote went down and the SNP vote went up, both considerably, the Lib Dems had far more votes than the SNP.
Nevertheless, First Past The Post voting almost wiped the Lib Dems out but rewarded the SNP with nearly all the seats in Scotland.
To be fair to the SNP and to its credit, it’s the only party that would lose by electoral reform that supports it; it supports STV.
A particular merit of the site is that, being parliament’s own, it is official. It is worth quoting from it and opponents will find it harder to argue with its facts than they would with information purely from us.
I’ll look out for similar information about the 2017 election and try to publish it well before the subsequent election.

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