Why people in favour of PR should vote for AV

Jim Jepps of The Daily (Maybe) generously allowed me to write a guest post for his blog explaining why people in favour of PR should still vote for AV. You can see the original, complete with an interesting discussion, here. I’ve cross-posted it below as well:

No2AV Yes2PR was launched by David Owen some months ago. Originally the Yes campaign decided not to challenge their arguments at all. This was decided, as I understand it, for two reasons.Firstly, it seemed like a small irrelevance at the time. Secondly, launching this group undermined all the arguments that the No camp were making: that AV would lead to more coalitions, that we need to keep FPTP etc.

Ultimately not challenging this argument has been a mistake (one of many) from the Yes campaign. It’s led to many people who want electoral reform either voting No or, like Jim, have been very ambivalent about AV because it’s not a proportional system.

Jim has very generously allowed me to write a piece explaining why people in favour of PR should vote Yes on Thursday.

The main argument I’ve heard against voting Yes on Thursday is that a Yes vote would be a roadblock to further reform. If anything, the opposite is the case.

For evidence that AV could lead to more electoral reform, people need look no further than the Political Studies Association briefing paper on the Alternative Vote. It was compiled by Dr Alan Renwick with the help of many leading political scientists, including Professors John Curtice, Simon Hix and Pippa Norris.

This is what the PSA has to say on the subject:

It is clear that changing the electoral system is easier where change has already recently happened: the idea of reform is no longer so radical; more people are familiar with the reform options; there are fewer interests vested in the status quo. Four established democracies – France, Italy, Japan, and New Zealand – have introduced major reforms to their national electoral systems in the last thirty years. Two of these – France and Italy have subsequently instituted further major reforms, while Japan passed a further smaller reform, and New Zealand will hold a referendum creating the possibility of another major reform later this year. (p21)

After changing the voting system in 1991, Italy changed it again two years later and again in 2005. New Zealand held a referendum to change from First Past the Post in 1992, and is holding another referendum asking voters whether they want to change the system later this year.

To say, then, that AV would be a roadblock for reform is completely missing the point. It would actually be a small but significant step towards reform in the future, and make future reform much more likely than a No vote.

Another argument I’ve heard on the blogosphere is that AV would hold up reform because it makes it harder to change to a proportional system:

Truly proportional systems such as that Mixed Member, Largest Remainder or D’hont system, simply ask people to express a party preference and then use centrally controlled party lists and / or second tear ‘top-up’ constituencies to allocate seats to parties on a proportional basis. By allowing voters to rank individual candidates AV is actually a step away from these kinds of system.

This isn’t quite right though. AV would be a small but logical step towards something like Single Transferable Vote. After all, AV is STV for single member constituencies. Another logical step would be to lead to something like AV+, as recommended by the Jenkins Commission. This would be a hybrid of a list top-up system and MPs elected by, you guessed it, the Alternative Vote. So AV would still be a step forward to getting any proportional system.

I’m of the view that people should vote Yes simply because AV is a better system. However, even if you would prefer a more radical change than AV, vote Yes on Thursday, because that’s the only way you’re going to get it.

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2 Responses to Why people in favour of PR should vote for AV

  1. Pingback: An A-Z of rubbish arguments from No2AV « Paperback Rioter

  2. Erik says:

    Just a note about this:

    ‘New Zealand held a referendum to change from First Past the Post in 1992, and is holding another referendum asking voters whether they want to change the system later this year.’

    As an example of electoral reform leading to further electoral reform, I really think this is an inappropriate example. The current system (since 1992) is MMP, a genuinely proportional system, and all of the alternatives are distinctively less proportional. The leading alternative in the polls, as I understand it, is FPTP. So it’s not so much a possibility for further reform as it is a possibility to revert to a more majoritarian system.

    To be honest, I don’t understand at all why this example is used to back up the point made in the PSA quote. It seems, if anything, to speak against it, unfortunately.

    That said, I’m inclined to think that a no is more likely than a yes to prevent further reform. Hence, even though I do not think AV is a good system, I think I favour it. For a PR supporter this is more a question of Realpolitik than AV itself…

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