Manifestos outside the big two parties: Putting democracy on the agenda

Ian Simpson, Research Officer

Posted on the 19th June 2024

Last week we looked at the sections of the Labour and Conservative manifestos that touched on democracy-related issues.

This week, we turn our attention to the other parties that are standing candidates in virtually all seats across Great Britain (the Liberal Democrats, Green Party and Reform UK). We also take a look at the manifestos of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Plaid Cymru, who are standing candidates across all seats in Scotland and Wales respectively.

Reforming the voting system

All five parties make welcome commitments to ditching our antiquated First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system and replacing it with proportional representation for UK general elections.

The Liberal Democrats would ‘introduce proportional representation by the Single Transferable Vote for electing MPs and local councillors in England’. The Greens propose ‘replacing the first-past-the-post system for parliamentary and council elections with a fair and proportional voting system’. Meanwhile, Reform UK highlight how ‘large numbers of voters have no representation in parliament and new parties are shut out of the political system’, which leads them to propose a referendum on PR for the House of Commons.

Plaid Cymru ‘supports proportional representation at UK elections so that a greater proportion of votes are used to elect representatives, rather than wasted’. Plaid indicate they prefer the Single Transferable Vote electoral system and will again push for this in Wales after the Senedd 2026 election.

The SNP say they would ‘reform the voting system by replacing the first past the post system with the Single Transferable Vote’.

Reforming the House of Lords

All three Britain-wide parties make positive commitments to reforming the House of Lords, with the aim of creating a more democratic second chamber. Reform UK indicate they would replace the House of Lords with ‘a much smaller, more democratic second chamber’. The Liberal Democrats would ‘reform the House of Lords with a proper democratic mandate’, while the Greens propose ‘replacing the House of Lords with an elected second chamber’.

Plaid Cymru and the SNP continue to favour the abolition of the House of Lords.

Extending the vote to 16 and 17 year olds

Last week we strongly welcomed Labour’s commitment to extending the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds in all UK elections. We are pleased that the same commitment features in the manifestos of the Liberal Democrats, Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru.

Giving 16 and 17-year-olds the vote will strengthen and renew our democracy by enfranchising younger people at a habit-forming age, helping to nurture more active citizens for the future.

Voter ID and improving voter registration

The voter ID laws were always a solution in search of a problem, and we have now seen the disproportionate and damaging effect they have had, as thousands of people have already been prevented from casting their ballot due to a lack of accepted ID.

We welcome pledges by the Greens, Liberal Democrats, SNP and Plaid Cymru to scrap this unnecessary policy, so no voter is denied their fundamental democratic right to cast a vote.

The Electoral Reform Society also strongly supports manifesto commitments around improving voter registration. The Liberal Democrats indicate they want to ‘ensure that the UK has an automatic system of inclusion in elections’.

Plaid Cymru would ‘focus efforts on ensuring that all potential eligible voters are on the electoral roll’, while the SNP ‘will push for the introduction of automatic voter registration so that no-one needlessly misses out on their democratic right to vote’.

Other democratic reforms

The parties make various other proposals that we believe would strengthen democracy. The Liberal Democrats propose to ‘take big money out of politics by capping donations to political parties’, while the Greens would ‘introduce a fair system of state funding for political parties to eliminate dependence on large private donations’.

We have long called for Section 106 of the Equality Act to be enforced. This would require political parties to publish diversity data on candidates standing in elections to the House of Commons, Scottish Parliament and Senedd. We are pleased to see the Liberal Democrats make this commitment. Meanwhile, the Greens say they want ‘measures to make parliament more representative, particularly of women, people of colour and disabled people’.

We are also pleased to see both the Greens and Liberal Democrats proposing the strengthening of rules around lobbying. Both parties also make welcome commitments to strengthening the independence of the Electoral Commission.

Finally, we believe that citizen’s assemblies and other forms of participatory democracy have the potential to strengthen our democracy and it is therefore good to see a commitment from the Liberal Democrats to ‘establish national and local citizens’ assemblies to ensure the public are fully engaged in finding solutions to the greatest challenges we face’.

Read the ERS ‘Manifesto For Democracy’ here. 

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