How should I vote on the AV referendum?

Proponents on each side of the AV debate have amped up their rhetoric over the past week and it’s difficult to know what to believe. As someone who has swayed between the positions of ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘why bother voting at all?’ I’ve been trying to work out what I should do that is consistent with my core beliefs and values. So here’s my take:

My initial thoughts were to reject AV since one of the highlights of our elections is the quick counting and declaration of seats. Sad and pathetic, I realise, but I love the election night fever whereby I am desperately trying to stay awake at 4am to see what the next seat is to declare, and what colour it’s going to be.

However, my mum told me this wasn’t a good enough reason to vote ‘no’ so I had to think a bit harder. But as I’ve been trying to work out the merits of each case, what has really made my mind up is the disingenuous campaigning by the ‘no’ side.

For instance, the one thing that has really wound me up is the phrase used by the ‘no’ campaign that states ‘Under AV the winner wouldn’t win’, or the picture they are using which shows 100m runners and an arrow pointing to the last finisher:

This is a bad argument since they are already using the term ‘winner’ to denote the first finisher. Under a different system, the criteria for deciding the winner would be different and so the winner would still win but just not in the way that the current criteria dictates. Let’s change the analogy to the 4x100m relay. One team manages to get round the track the quickest but they dropped the baton at the first changeover. Just because they managed to finish first doesn’t mean that they won because the rules state that the baton must be transferred within a specified area and carried over the finish line with the competitor. The criteria for deciding the winner is different to just ‘being first over the line’ and this is the same with the AV system. The criteria for deciding the winner under AV is that a candidate must achieve 50% of the vote according to specified means (transferring of second and third votes (or more) if necessary) so under AV the winner does still, unsurprisingly, win.

It is this type of disingenious campaigning that has actually swayed me into action for voting yes to AV.

The other rhetorical ploy that is used is the incorrect labelling of our current system as ‘first past the post’ – the analogy of a race doesn’t work (in fact it is a better description of AV than our current system). We would be better off imagining it as a ‘highest score wins’ competition such as snooker, badminton or decathlon. Let’s say that you have a constituency of 30,000 people. The person who receives the most votes out of that 30,000 wins (whether they get 80% or 30% is irrelevant as long as they get more than any other candidate), just as the player who takes the most frames, sets or points wins. So let’s stop calling our current system ‘first past the post’.

AV is far from perfect (as Nick Clegg is frequently cited in saying from his ‘pathetic compromise’ comment) but it’s a start to a better form of democracy whereby the representatives of a country are more representative of the desires of their electorate.

As an aside, I’m not completely in favour of democracy – I prefer Plato’s philosopher kings idea (well, I would, wouldn’t I?!) – since the majority don’t always make sensible or reasoned choices, but since the possibility of us changing to a benevolent dictatorship is not presented as an option in this referendum, I am going to go with a ‘yes’ in favour of changing our system.


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