This is the first in a series of guest posts by Dr Stuart Emerson, mathematician and Fairer Votes campaigner in Leicestershire.
Stuart has distilled the experience of the Leicestershire Fairer Votes group on the streets of Leicestershire. Here he gives us the 7 key questions that are asked by ordinary voters and 7 answers to those questions. I hope this briefing will be useful for Edinburgh campaigners and those out on the streets in other towns and cities.
There will be more from Stuart over the next week or two.
A SEVEN POINT BRIEFING FOR CAMPAIGNERS
on THE ALTERNATIVE VOTE SYSTEM
These are SEVEN QUESTIONS which come up repeatedly in some form or other in conversation with members of the public. Here are our straightforward potted answers for Campaigners to use. (Question 5A is a follow-up question which tends to occur only when you the Campaigner have brought up Australia in your answer to Question 5.)
1. What’s this about a Referendum and what is it all for?
ANSWER: There’s going to be a national referendum on 5th May 2011 on a proposal to change to a fairer voting system called The Alternative Vote (or AV for short).
2. Isn’t some fancy new voting system going to be confusing for everybody? I’ve heard that other voting systems are very complicated.
ANSWER: AV is a simple improvement to our current system. It’s easy for the voter: the ballot paper is just the same, and the only change is the way you cast your vote: you vote your preferences (1, 2, 3 …) instead of marking one X-vote.
3. What’s wrong with the way we do it now? We’re a democracy aren’t we? Why do we need to change anything?
ANSWER: Did you know that, in our current parliament, more than two thirds of our MPs do not have a genuine majority: in each of their constituencies more people voted against them than voted for them? What kind of democracy is that?
4. It’s not a proportional system, so how can AV possibly improve our Westminster parliament?
ANSWER: AV will make every MP much more truly representative of his/her constituents, because every one will have to win over half the votes cast – a genuine majority. So AV will increase the accountability of our MPs and the legitimacy of our parliament, both of which are desperately-needed improvements.
5. Don’t all other voting systems mean a hung parliament every election with small parties calling the shots, like in Israel.
ANSWER: AV will NOT make a hung parliament significantly more likely – look at the evidence of Australia where they have used AV for decades. They’ve had only ONE hung parliament since 1945, whereas in the UK we’ve had TWO!
5A. Australia! I’ve heard that Australians do something called “the donkey vote” to protest against AV.
ANSWER: Not so. The so-called “protest donkey vote” in Australia is NOT a protest at the AV system – it is a protest against compulsory voting (and the hefty fine you get for not voting!). Nobody is proposing compulsory voting for the UK; so the Australian donkey is a British red herring!
6. I never bother to vote anyway because in the constituency where I live the party I support has no chance. My vote is just a wasted vote.
ANSWER: AV will vastly reduce the number of wasted votes, and eliminate the need for tactical votes, and bring an end to split votes.
7. This referendum is just a cynical move by Nick Clegg – it’s just a fix to give the LibDems more seats.
ANSWER: AV is NOT the property of the LibDems or any other party. The YesToFairerVotes campaign is supported by people of good will of all political parties and of none who just want to see our democracy be better.