Here to Stay: Two Decades of Proportional Representation in Britain

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive

Posted on the 31st July 2021

The 6 May 2021 was a milestone for the campaign for fairer votes in Britain.

The date marked the sixth set of elections to take place for each of Great Britain’s devolved elected institutions – the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Senedd and London Assembly, and two decades of proportional representation (PR) being used for elections in Britain.

During this time, PR has become a fact of life for millions of voters.

Our new report Here to Stay: Two Decades of Proportional Representation in Britain celebrates two-decades of proportional representation in Britain – showing the benefits of PR over Westminster’s broken First Past the Post electoral system.

The report features endorsements of proportional representation from figures including Labour’s Clive Lewis MP, Green AM Caroline Russell, former Welsh Deputy First Minister Baroness Randerson, and Cllr Dave Dempsey, the Conservative opposition leader of Fife council.

As we show, proportional representation produces far fairer than Westminster’s broken winner takes all system.

Where PR was introduced in Scotland and Wales, both nations have since legislated to extend the use of proportional systems to local government. Since 2007 Scotland has used the proportional Single Transferable Vote (STV) for its council elections and in Wales, new legislation passed this year means that from 2022 local authorities will have the option from switching from First Past the Post (FPTP) to STV.

And it’s not hard to see why.

The report reveals how PR produces much fairer outcomes for devolved elections in Scotland, Wales and London than ‘one party takes all’ First Past the Post, in the equivalent nations and regions at Westminster level.

In Wales the gap between vote share and seat share for the largest party was almost double, in London it was almost triple and in Scotland, results were a staggering four times as disproportionate under First Past the Post than under PR.

It could be so different. The campaign for fair votes in Westminster continues to grow. With two decades of successful proportional elections in the UK, the case is stronger than ever.

Yet instead of backing calls for reform this report comes at a time where even small progress is under threat from the Government. Home Secretary Priti Patel recently mooted plans to impose First Past the Post for mayoral and PCC elections in England and Wales – a move that would turn the clock back on fair elections across Britain.

Because, as we have shown, First Past the Post continues to fail voters. It leaves them short-changed by an electoral system that, all too often, sees their votes cast on the scrapheap come election time. That’s a recipe for alienation, disengagement and division.

There is still some way to go, but our experiences in Scotland, Wales and London have shown the benefits of a fairer system: fostering cooperation and giving voters real power.

Now Westminster must follow suit. It cannot take two more decades for the Commons to catch up.

Rather than rolling back preferential voting – as UK ministers plan – we urge politicians to get with the times and back truly democratic elections at last.

Read the Report

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