Where is Single Transferable Vote used in the UK?

Thea Ridley-Castle, Research and Policy Officer

Posted on the 29th March 2024

Whilst First Past the Post is used for Westminster elections in the UK, it’s not the only way we elect people to office in the UK. Other voting systems have a long history and are tried and tested in the UK, including the ERS’s preferred system – Single Transferable Vote (STV).

The Electoral Reform Society has long supported the Single Transferable Vote as the gold standard for proportional representation, as it gives voters a parliament that matches the political make-up of the country, while also electing each individual MP on their own merits.

If you would like to find out more about STV, please browse the resources on our website.

Local elections in Scotland and Northern Ireland use STV

In 1973 Northern Ireland opted to use STV for their local elections, it has been used in the following 13 elections successfully returning Councillors across Northern Ireland.

Similarly, Scotland moved to STV for their local elections in 2007. Before the move to STV, only half of the people who voted had a Councillor whom they had voted for, after the introduction of STV this increased to three-quarters.

Wales has also passed a law allowing councils to individually choose to move to STV.

STV and the Northern Ireland Assembly

At the creation of the Northern Ireland Assembly in 1998 it was decided that STV would be the best system in order to facilitate the power-sharing agreement. Since then there have been 7 elections held under STV for the Assembly.

STV is used by MPs and Peers in Westminster

Three Deputy Speakers support the work of the Speaker in the House of Commons. Since 2010 this job has been directly elected in a secret STV ballot by MPs.

When deciding what system to use to elect the deputy speakers in 2010, the House of Commons Procedure Committee noted that STV would ensure that no votes are wasted, guarantees successful candidates have a significant level of support and makes it more difficult for the system “to be manipulated by majority parties in order to thwart the opposition in its choice of candidates”.

On the other side of the parliamentary estate, Hereditary Peers also use the Single Transferable Vote to conduct hereditary peer by-elections, when they need to elect more than one peer at a time.

The positions formerly elected with STV

Did you know we used to have MPs elected by STV in Westminster? From 1918 to 1950 there were special seats that represented the graduates of certain universities. Graduates could vote for their local candidate, plus the candidates standing in an STV contest to represent their university. Essentially graduates had double representation until the seats were abolished in 1950.

In Northern Ireland, voters used STV to elect their MEPs until we left the European Union, and used STV to elect the first two Parliaments of Northern Ireland. This lasted until 1929 when First Past the Post was brought in, as the researcher Dennis Pringle argued, to prevent splitting of the unionist vote along class lines and ensure the Unionist Party would be the sole representative of protestant voters.

The Single Transferable Vote has a long history of success in the UK, it’s simple for voters and means that our representatives have to stay focused on our priorities. MPs and Peers recognise the benefits when they are the voters, it’s about time that Westminster adopted it.

Would you like to see the Single Transferable Vote in Westminster?

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