Tuesday, May 03, 2011

why i'm voting yes

It doesn't feel like a country with an imminent referendum. I remember seeing flyposters in 1997 in Wales. I remember seeing posters in house windows in 1975. I've seen neither this time.

It is perhaps because - oh the irony - AV is nobody's first choice of voting system. One of the No campaign leaflet's main points is that only three countries have it. But take a look at the swathe of countries that emerged from the Soviet Bloc twenty years ago; none went for AV but none went for First Past The Post either.

Another of the No campaign's arguments is that we should vote No because Nick Clegg wants us to vote Yes. Appealing though that sentiment is, there is a more persuasive point for a Yes vote; David Cameron wants you to vote No.

Meanwhile, outside the infant school playground, this is not about which party wants you to vote which way. It's about parties of all shades off into the distant future.

First Past The Post only works if there are two candidates. This is why only an institution as retrogressive as the British Parliament - still swearing an oath of allegiance to a ruler who holds her position because she is vaguely descended from ancient foreign robber-barons - sticks by it. The Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, the Greater London Authority all use more representative methods and none of the evil things the No campaign talk of are going on there. Hell, even the Tory party don't elect leaders that way.

The No campaign says AV will cost £250m. Most of this will allegedly be the cost of electronic voting machines; yet such machines are not necessary, are not planned, and indeed Australia has AV without voting machines and gets along just fine.

Contrary to the No claims, AV will not let extremist parties in, because they are never going to get over 50% of the votes no matter how many run-offs happen. Channel 4 found the BNP are not even going to have enough votes to make their second preferences swing a seat, not even close. If and when fascist parties rise it is fascists and fascism we should be fighting rather than rigging systems to exclude all small parties.

The Yes campaign's not afraid of being disingenuous either, though.

The beer poster presumes most of us want beer; the cat video presumes we mostly want cats. This works if you're the fraction of a percent who vote for the various socialist parties who would like to support each other as second preference, but not far beyond it. The implication - that all non-Tory parties are essentially the same - certainly doesn't apply to party politics as the British public know and vote for it.

AV will not put an end to tactical voting; we'll still be scared that if we don't put the main Tory-challenger second then it'll let the Tory in. AV might make centre parties work harder to get second preference votes from the margins, but then again it's also easy to imagine that it may - like First Past The Post definitely does - drag the policies of candidates to the centre. AV will not stop elections being fought by vested interests, nor will it make MPs more accountable. It will not stop candidates lying, nor will it end cheapshot polices.

But what AV will do is widen who elections are aimed at. Currently, it's all about a few thousand easily swayed gullibles in a handful of swing seats. Under AV, it'd be about a greater pool of slightly-less-gullibles in a larger number of swing seats. The leverage becomes greater. Most importantly, AV opens the door to further reform, to a greater plurality of voices being heard. Look at the make-up of the UK's institutions run by other electoral methods and you plainly see that.

In 1997, Wales voted Yes to having a Welsh Assembly by the narrowest of margins; 50.3% to 49.7%. On the same day, Scotland was asked if it wanted a parliament with tax-raising powers and overwhelmingly voted Yes. Polls in Wales showed that had they had the same offer as Scotland - and I defy anyone to give a good reason why they weren't - they would also have voted a strong Yes. Many people were not against devolution but actually against such a crap offer.

But as this year's new Welsh Assembly powers demonstrate, grey politics tends to work incrementally. Had Wales said No in 1997 they wouldn't have had this year's chance of improvement. Don't let the UK make that mistake, thinking that a vote against AV will somehow advance the chances of a fairer system. The reverse is true.

The only thing to be said abstaining from voting at all is that, as with any election, you give your mandate to the power-crazed fuckheads in charge. But the only reason to abstain is if you genuinely think that it will make no difference at all. As the switch from Labour to ConDem has proven in stark terms, there is a spectrum of how wrong government can be. Lives and livelihoods exist in the gap between bad and worse.

The only strong reason to vote No is if you genuinely believe First Past The Post is a fairer system, in which case you are too hard of thinking to deserve a vote at all.

No comments: