AV or not AV? That is the question.

The answer is “Yes”. And a kick in my shins for such a terrible joke.

Let’s digress for a minute. In truth, I am a supporter of the Single Transferrable Vote. My ideal voting system is one that is proportional (i.e., a party with 20% of the vote should get 20% of the seats) and representative (each legislator is answerable to a distinct group of people, hopefully a local community). But more on that in a few posts time; this is about AV.

AV is not my desired system, but it’s a good one nonetheless. It’s representative, and does mean that half the voters of a constituency will definitely prefer him over another candidate. True, it’s not proportional, but it makes it easier to change to a proportional system: for STV, by merging five constituencies into one five-MP constituency; for AMS, the top-up system works in tandem. And one of the big reasons I want a change in the system is where parties other than the Tories and Labour became more popular, but lost seats (or didn’t get any). Such a situation should be untenable.

Let’s go through No2AV’s arguments, shall we?

  • AV is costly: this has been done to death, so I’ll keep it brief; their figure of £250m is way off base. £130 million is on mythical “counting” machines which don’t exist in Australia. £80 million is on the referendum; it seems silly to say “vote no in this referendum because this referendum costs money”. Which leaves £40 million as the “true” cost of AV. Peanuts to a government; it doesn’t cost that much at all. Additionally, there is some overlap with the Taxpayers’ Alliance in No2AV. I suppose they oppose a referendum on EU withdrawal? It’d cost way more than £40 million, I’ll tell you that. (Edit: 28 Feb 2011): the Treasury has completely rubbished claims that the referendum would trigger spending cuts that No2AV allege will end up killing babies or soldiers (and seeing as, again, there is overlap with the TPA and No2AV, you’d expect they voted Conservative specifically for spending cuts. Cognitive dissonance must be sweet, huh?
  • AV is complex and unfair: this is broken into two parts:
    • “Making winners out of losers”: The No campaign has made a lot of noise out of this, pointing out that in sport it doesn’t happen… when it does. It happened three weeks ago, in fact. The Green Bay Packers came second in their divisional championship, was the sixth seed in their confederation… and won. Against the second seed in the other confederation at that. When Liverpool won the Champions League, they finished second in the Group Stage. Even in athletics, competitors will just aim to qualify from the Heats, which normally happens with the top four. Clearly, winners are made out of losers all of the time.
    • The Fiji argument: Another canard, which centres on the fact only three world governments use it. The argument is often prefixed with “And one of them, Fiji, is getting rid of it”. This is true, I admit. But it’s used elsewhere under a lot of circumstances, from the Labour Party leadership election to the Irish presidency, to even a few friends agreeing on a movie to see. It’s more common than you think. It’d carry more weight if their president, Margaret Beckett, didn’t use it. You want to know why Fiji is getting rid of it? Well, you see, it’s been ruled by a military dictatorship since a coup back in 2006… when Ms. Beckett was Foreign Secretary. Oops.
  • AV is a politician’s fix: this argument claims it will lead to more coalitions agreed to in smoke-filled rooms. Well, in case you haven’t noticed, no party has got a majority of the votes since 1930. They can’t really claim any mandate. That, and AV will allow parties to know who their supporters would like to be in government with; Clegg couldn’t go to the Tories last May and say “sorry, lads, but our party doesn’t like you” because he couldn’t have known. In 2015, he will, through the preferences.

And their arguments for FPTP:

  • It creates strong governments: …on 35% of the vote. Need I say more?
  • It’s fair: …the old “one man, one vote” argument, which argues that supporters of fringe parties get “two, or three, or four votes”. In reality, there’s only one vote. In the first round of counting, the Tory voter has one vote and the BNP voter has one vote. In the third round, the BNP gets eliminated, and that vote goes to UKIP. In the fourth round, the Tory voter has one vote, and the BNP voter has one vote.
  • It’s simple to understand and easy to implement: I can’t argue that FPTP does this, but it implies the deficiency of AV in this regard. Not so much. For the voter: “one, two, three”. For the counter: once a party gets eliminated, put the paper in the pile of the next preference of the remaining candidates. Simple!
  • It excludes extremist parties: Let’s let Nick Griffin (an opponent of AV) answer this, shall we?But, in all seriousness, No2AV failed to read their history books. Germany had proportional representation in the thirties, and the Nazis never got more than 40% of the vote under a free election. Göring admitted in his trial at Nuremburg that FPTP would’ve given the Nazis every seat in the Reichstag in 1931.
  • It’s the most widely used system in the world: Aside from the obvious appeal to majority, there’s a reason it is. Because there’s more than one form of proportional representation. And democracies are moving away from it; no country has consciously gone back to FPTP since the war.

I know, AV’s not a perfect system. But it’s the lesser of two evils. I’m voting Yes on May 5th. You should too.

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