Westminster’s voting system is well and truly broken. The system with which we elect our MPs is struggling to produce fair and representative results. The 2017 General Election showed that, for the third time in a row, Westminster’s voting system failed to do what it says on the tin – produce a strong and stable government, reflective of the diversity of people’s opinion in the UK.
However, this lack of fairness and representation is not the case across all areas of the UK.
Outside of Westminster, most ways of electing parliaments and assemblies don’t involve wasting so many votes – fairer proportional systems are used, where every vote makes a difference and parties can no longer dominate for decades without real challenge. The number of seats can actually reflect how people vote and people are more likely to feel that their voice is heard.
Scotland and Northern Ireland – Single Transferable Vote
The Single Transferable Vote (STV) is the proportional system used to elect Scottish local councils, and the Northern Irish Assembly and councils.
The Single Transferable Vote gives voters maximum choice on who to vote for. Each elector has one vote. Voters number candidates in order of preference, with a number 1 for their favourite – they can rank all candidates or just vote for their preferred candidate.
To get elected, a candidate needs to reach a set number of votes – a ‘quota’. This quota is based on the number of seats to be filled and the number of votes cast (read our explanation to find out more about how votes are counted).
If your favourite candidate already has enough votes to win or stands no chance of winning, your vote is transferred to your next choice based on how you ranked candidates. As voters can rank all candidates in order of preference, few voters are ‘wasted’, unlike in First Past the Post.
Under STV, voters can choose between candidates from the same or different parties, which incentivises parties to stand candidates who reflect the diversity of society. Electors can also vote for independent candidates, without worrying about ‘wasting’ their vote.
Scotland, Wales and the London Assembly – Additional Member System
The Additional Member System (AMS; also known as the Mixed-Member Proportional system outside the UK) is a mix of Westminster’s First Past the Post system and Party List PR – the goal is to provide a proportional parliament but also keep a single local MP. In the UK, this system is used to elect the parliaments of Scotland and Wales and the London Assembly.
In an AMS election, voters have two ballot papers. On the first is a list of candidates who want to be the local MP. Like a Westminster election, the voter marks their preferred candidate with a cross and the candidate with the most votes wins and gets a seat, even if most people didn’t vote for them.
On the second ballot paper is a list of parties who want seats in parliament. Each party publishes a list of candidates in advance for these elections – a vote for a party is a vote to make more of their list of candidates into MPs. Seats are allocated in proportion to the votes a party received in the election, also taking into account how many ‘first vote’ seats they obtained.
There have been recent calls in Wales to increase the number of ‘list’ seats to make the results fairer and more proportional.
What happens when you introduce fair votes?
Until 2007, Scotland was very familiar with the problems of the Westminster-style voting system – their councils were distant and unaccountable.
But a change to fair votes brought proportional representation to Scottish local government. Overnight every council and ward in Scotland became competitive, forcing a renewal of local democracy.
The rest of the UK can do better – it’s time for us to become a true democracy and ensure that all our voices are heard. Voters in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are experiencing fair votes, and it’s time for Westminster to catch up.
Sign our petition for fair votes in Westminster