It’s time for Westminster to join Scotland in shunning First Past the Post

Willie Sullivan, Senior Director, Campaigns and Scotland

Posted on the 24th August 2017

First Past the Post elections are like trying to peel potatoes with a chainsaw. For much of the UK, people have come to think this clunking old method of giving people a say is the same as ‘democracy’ itself. But it is not.

The idea is that parties put up some candidates, and the one person who gets one more vote than the next gets to represent everybody – making our laws, spending our taxes, negotiating Brexit and generally having a huge impact on how we live our lives.

Of course we need representatives to do these things for us – but this method of choosing them is so antiquated and inefficient that most other countries never even started out using it. We are stuck with minidiscs while everyone else is streaming (except the US – they’re on minidisc too).

The Electoral Reform Society’s Report on the General Election earlier this year lays out in vivid terms the full extent of this problem.

1.8 million votes in Scotland did not count towards any sort of representation at all. For voters who have only ever experienced this way of voting it might seem normal and acceptable.

But in Scotland we know about much smarter ways of using votes – such as the ways we elect our own Parliament or our councils, where everyone’s voice is heard. For us in Scotland, First Past the Post begins to seem weird and unacceptable.

It is only possible to defend democracy against abuse by the power-hungry or the corrupt when people have confidence in it. They have to feel it is worth defending, and they have to believe they have a real say.

We can see from increasing levels of tactical voting (one in five people across the UK did not vote for the party they actually most prefer) – people feel like they have to ‘game’ the system in order to have any effect. They know if they voted how they wanted, their vote wouldn’t truly count.

The SNP, the Lib Dems and the Greens already have it in their manifestos: let’s hope we enter the next Westminster election with such a commitment from Labour and the Conservatives.

It’s time our Westminster elections were upgraded to meet the standard of all the other elections in Scotland – so that wasted votes everywhere become a thing of the past.  

Read the ERS' new report on the 2017 General Election

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