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./stvact.wordpress.com 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 https://consultations.gov.wales/consultations/electoral-reform-local-government-wales

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 RLGProgramme@wales.gsi.gov.uk

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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 https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/you-did-it-parliament-is-going-to-debate-adopting-fair-votes/ 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, http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/key-issues-parliament-2015/parliament-politics/general-election-2015-results 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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To transform unjust structures of society

The following letter appeared in last Friday’s “Church Times”, but should be of interest to people of all faiths and none if they believe in democracy.

It was written by Colin Buchanan, retired Bishop and former President of the Electoral Reform Society.

“The Church of England customarily does not instruct people how to vote, does not support any one political party, and rarely condemns the policy of any party. So our leaders urge us to know what the parties’ policies are, to make up our minds responsibly, and then to vote in accord with our consciences. The House of Bishops in 2015 classically advised us thus. And, local Churches, often ecumenically, provide hustings; we are indeed responsible democrats.

“I submit this is but motherhood and apple pie. The fourth of our five ‘Marks of Mission’ reads ‘To seek to transform unjust structures of society’. And, bluntly, we currently elect by a very unjust structure indeed. Two years ago 36.9% of the voters gave David Cameron an overall majority, conferring on him total sovereign power. Theresa May bids fair to repeat this. And when a government unwanted by 63% of the voters has gained power, it claims a ‘mandate’ to fulfil its manifesto.

“But cannot voters change their minds, and non-voters be persuaded to register and vote? Yes, but they are unlikely to make any difference. In 2015 three smaller political parties gained almost 25% of the votes between them and won 10 seats out of 650. Voting for them was largely a waste of votes. And voting for either of the two leading parties in the 300 or more ‘safe’ seats also has no effect. Our exhortations to get out and vote responsibly are dangerously near to deceit.

“People in glass houses should not throw stones. But the Church of England does not here occupy a glass house; we use the fairest system of voting known – the single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies. It is also in use in Northern Ireland and in Scottish local council elections, and it not only produces true proportions in the governing bodies, but it also enables voters to choose between individuals as well as parties and their votes will not be wasted. Sadly, our own use of it is not well advertised – we are in the unusual position of practising but not preaching.

“My opposition to the present unjust system does not run to boycotting it. But surely those urging responsible voting could qualify their advocacy by saying ‘Yes, it is an unjust system; we need to change it; but don’t let that stop you voting.’ And the protest should continue.”

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Those of Faith Should Think about Voting Reform

This is a guest Post by David Smith

Christians try to engage with government over a number of public issues, but must often be frustrated by dumb government decisions.

On its website the Joint Public Issues Team (formed by several non established Christian churches) has posted a document entitled, “Faith in Politics: Preparing Churches for The General Election 2015”

In the section ‘Constitution and Democracy’, there is one significant omission, namely any mention of reform of the House of Commons or the way in which MPs are elected. I find this odd as it is the dominant chamber and is the body that gives the Prime Minister her enormous power. The authors appear to have assumed that now most MPs have adopted the ‘settled view’ that the existing First Past the Post ,(FPTP) voting system be retained, reform was off the agenda. I argue that this is too timid a view. Of course the document was written before an election in which the relative numbers of MPs from each party elected differed widely from the relative numbers of votes cast, but it could do with updating in view of renewed interest in voting reform. A Conservative government was elected with just 37% of the vote or just under 25% of those who could have voted. But it is not just that most of us did not want them, but also that under FPTP party loyalty ensures that there is virtually no check on the Prime Minister’s power.

As Lord Acton said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Under our system the temptations are almost irresistible. The effects on the quality of government are:

  • Those in power make stupid mistakes through not looking at the evidence,

  • They use their position to benefit themselves, their friends, or their donors, and

  • They bend the truth to avoid disclosing bad news on the grounds that they are the best people to run the country and thus must on to power.

The best remedy is not to try to identify and punish the transgressors but to lessen the temptations. I think this something that Christians and those of other faiths should argue for. I believe that the adoption of the Single Transferable Vote system for electing MPs would help in this. This is the system that the Church of England has used in its synod elections some the 1920s. In a booklet entitled ‘An Ethical Case for Electoral Reform: A Christian Approach’, retired bishop Colin Buchanan expresses the wish that the C of E ‘preach what it practises’. I have written to Lambeth Palace suggesting that at least parishes be encouraged to discuss the matter but nothing has resulted from this. Perhaps the non established churches can afford to be braver.

I believe those of faith need to take a lead because most of those currently interested in politics have allegiance to some political party which gets in the way of radical thinking about reform. Polls indicate that most people support a fairer voting system but need motivating to do something about it.

For more information on voting reform refer to:

http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/

https://www.makevotesmatter.org.uk/

https://stvact.wordpress.com/

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Not what it says on the tin

What a year 2016 was politically!

There are three things on which almost all ardent EU Leavers and Remainers probably agree:

 The UK’s relationship with the EU is the most important political issue of the day.
 The debate was far from civilized.
 The referendum was highly divisive and many people were going to be very disappointed whichever way it went.

We live in what’s known as a “representative democracy” in which MPs are supposed to make important decisions for us.

If MPs had taken this decision, the debate would have been far more civilized under the control of the Speaker, lies and exaggerations could have been challenged immediately and the press would have had less influence. Also 650 MPs, unlike the general public, would have had the background knowledge and research support to help them decide.

Moreover a parliamentary debate, unlike a referendum could have been far more flexible. Instead of just choosing between remaining and leaving as the public had to, MPs should have been able to propose, debate, and vote on amendments. They could have considered all shades of opinion, such as whether we should leave the EU but remain in the Single Market or stay in the EU and negotiate for changes.

We pay MPs to take decisions for us, so why couldn’t they take this biggest one of all for us? Elected by First Past The Post (FPTP), they are unrepresentative of us. In other words, our so-called “representative democracy” is not representative. It fails the most basic test. It’s not what it says on the tin.

Had they been elected by any proportionate system, MPs would have been more representative of party support but, unless they had been elected by Single Transferable Vote (STV), they would still have been unrepresentative of the public’s views on EU membership.

MPs elected by STV could have represented not only the parties properly and fairly but also any other groupings that mattered to voters. The UK’s relationship with the EU does matter to many voters. STV’s representation of non-party groupings is explained briefly in https://stvact.wordpress.com/stv/main-advantages-of-the-single-transferable-vote-stv and you can click on “Contact us” or “Contact the Editor” if you have any questions.

Would the decision have been different if it had been made by democratically elected MPs? We’ll never know but, even if it had still been to leave the EU, it would have been a more measured decision; it would have taken more account of the many shades of opinion between remaining in the EU as it is and leaving the EU completely including the single market and all the other EU institutions. We believe that whatever the MPs’ decision was, it would have been more acceptable to the losers than any referendum decision could be.

To summarize, MPs elected by STV could have done what MPs are paid to do – take a very difficult decision in an informed manner.

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