Why independent candidates win with the Single Transferable Vote

Thea Ridley-Castle, Research and Policy Officer

Posted on the 1st November 2023

Currently, there are 14 independent MPs in the House of Commons, which might seem to suggest Independent candidates can win under First-Past-The-Post (FPTP). But these MPs are only independent because they were suspended from their party after being elected. In fact, since 2010 there have been no successes for independent candidates standing in a general election.

Why is First Past the Post so bad for independents?

First Past the Post encourages two-party dominance, as seen in the UK and the United States. Under this system, support for parties or independents is not reflected in the elected candidates – the strength of each group in Parliament doesn’t match the votes cast.

In the UK, this leaves the main two parties fighting over a handful of seats to swing the House in their favour. In some cases, people who support an independent candidate may opt to vote instead for a larger party that has a better chance of winning, to stop a party they like least, rather than to elect a candidate they agree with.

If an Independent candidate does succeed and become an MP, they are instantly disadvantaged as in the UK we almost always have single-party governments. Hence independent MPs will nearly always be in opposition and rarely invited to the process of forming a Government.

The Single Transferable Vote (STV) – a better way to elect representatives

The Single Transferable Vote (STV) is a better way of electing representatives. Under STV, one MP does not represent the whole constituency, rather there is a group of representatives for a constituency.

Each voter has a single vote and numbers the candidates on the ballot paper, their favourite as number one, their second favourite number two, and so on. A candidate needs a set number of votes, known as the quota, to be elected. The numbers the voter has given the candidates tell the people counting what to do with your vote if your favourite candidate has enough votes already or stands no chance of winning.

Each candidate is elected on their own merits, with votes given to them individually by the voters.

How does STV work for an independent candidate?

This system allows for more voter choice, as unlike under First Past the Post, voters can show support for a candidate from one of the main two parties but also an independent candidate or a smaller party without worrying about letting in a candidate they oppose.

Also, with the increased number of representatives per constituency, there is a lower threshold of votes needs to be elected, making it easier for independent candidates to win.

Independent candidates and their voters win under STV

Countries with STV have seen numerous successes for independent candidates.

You only have to look over the pond in Ireland to see how Independent candidates have more success under STV than FPTP. In the last general election in Ireland to the Dáil Éireann, voters elected 19 independent MPs (called TDs in Ireland) out of 160, 12% of TDs were elected as independents in the 2020 Dáil Éireann.

We already use STV to elect local councillors in Scotland. Scotland’s 2022 local elections saw 152 Independent councillors elected, more than the Liberal Democrats and Scottish Greens councillors combined.

When voters have an electoral system that works with them, rather than one they have to work around, Independent councillors get elected. It’s time that Wales and England brought in STV for their local elections, and we upgraded Westminster to this fair and proportional system.

Add your name to call for STV in local elections

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