Voting with proportional representation feels much more meaningful than Westminster’s system

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Posted on the 11th February 2020

As part of a series on the experiences of voters in the Irish 2020 election, we wanted to speak with people who have voted with Ireland’s STV system and under Westminster’s First Past the Post system.

Martha Shearer is an academic who lived in UK until start of 2020, and now lives in Dublin where she voted in the recent Irish election. We spoke to her about how it felt to vote and be represented under the different systems – the Single Transferable Vote in Ireland and First Past the Post in the UK.

How did it feel to vote under Westminster’s system? In last year’s election in the UK, I was in a really safe seat (Bethnal Green & Bow). Even though the person I voted for won, there was no real feeling your vote counted towards that – because they had such a one-party majority. It’s a feeling of inevitability and despondency – like, ‘what does it even matter?’

But in Ireland, I was sitting down and figuring out who I’d vote for, how I’d rank them – I could see I’d voted for X candidate, but they didn’t have enough support, so my preferences were redistributed. The order you preference candidates matters. It feels much more meaningful.

I found it quite smooth to switch to STV this election – I’ve already used STV in union elections and so on. I did a lot more research into the candidates than in the UK: I did feel I should do as much as I could do look into the candidates and how I’d preference them.

I think the voting system has an impact on the campaign. There’s a sense of individual candidates wanting to engage with the electorate on their own terms – not just as part of the party machinery. Partly as they’re competing with more candidates. It feels much more politically engaged.

The election in Ireland saw disaffection with the duopoly of two big parties. That opinion was reflected in the results, rather than creating anger at politics in general.

Tactical voting in the UK feels like you have a gun to your head. I don’t think polarisation is the pure result of FPTP – but I also don’t think the system helps. It facilitates a degree of democratic disengagement that produces some of the more extreme rhetoric seen in Britain.

Sadly, the standard of debate during UK elections feels like it has really deteriorated. It felt like there were much more substantial policy debates in Ireland in a way that was impossible in the UK in 2019.

As a new voter in Ireland I’m really interested to see how having a number of different MPs (TDs) plays out! So often under FPTP you get people who don’t really represent the diverse politics of the area. I’ve mostly lived in safe seats, and it creates a feeling of demoralisation over time that is quite dangerous.

In contrast, all the people I know who’ve moved back and forth between Republic and UK are very pro-STV. You don’t find many people who are strongly in favour of First Past the Post…

Have you voted in elections in both the Republic of Ireland and the UK? Get in touch: [email protected]

Photo: Creative Commons Attribution Licence, William Murphy, Flickr

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