The Yes Campaign is made up of people from many, different backgrounds and with a range of political allegiances or with no party allegiance. We all have our reason for supporting the campaign for a Yes vote in the May 5th referendum. We all have a story about why we became interested in electoral reform.
Over the next weeks Fairer Votes Edinburgh will be publishing the personal stories of some of our activists.
This is my story.
On the 16th of February, 2003 I went on my first demonstration. I joined a million people on the streets of London to protest against a second war with Iraq. I had a great day out. The crowd was friendly and vibrant and noisy. I had my air horn and led some chanting. We shared food and optimism. The government wouldn’t go to war after this. After a million people had said “NO!” to the war they wouldn’t invade. With 1 in 60 of the population on the streets of capital we wouldn’t go to war. I left London that day full of expectation that Tony Blair would change his mind, or at the least MP’s would change it for him.
Whether we were right or wrong about the war there were a million people saying Britain didn’t want this. Surely we had a democratic mandate for peace. Surely no MP would see the buses coming back to his constituency and think his job was safe if he voted for the war. Surely no government in its right mind would ignore a million voters. Surely?
Well, sure enough we were ignored, and Britain went to war and nearly eight years on people there are still coalition soldiers serving in Iraq.
It took me years to work out how our MP’s could ignore the voices of so many of their electors. Despite swearing not to vote for them at the next election I found myself casting my vote for the same party in 2005. Who else was there? I lived in a two-way marginal. A vote not cast for my usual candidate was effectively a vote FOR the other side’s candidate. I closed my eyes, gritted my teeth, swallowed the sick feeling and voted as I always had done. What choice did I have? I took the lesser of two evils and voted for a candidate who had voted for the war. What choice did I have?
That’s when it struck me how Party leaders had been able to ignore me and my million friends. The voters who mattered, the voter in the House of Commons, the Members, were more scared of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition than they were of a million voters. Only the Leader could decide if they were re-selected as candidates. Only the Leader could decide which candidates in marginal seats got Party support. Only the Leader could decide which candidates’ constituencies got useful investments. So on and so forth, and I and millions of voters like me, had no choice but to accept the candidate put up in front of us or to risk splitting the vote and letting in One of THEM.
One of the big advantages preferential voting systems have over X-voting systems is that they give voters more power than party hierarchies. Preferential voting systems give voters choice about which of two similar candidates they prefer whilst still allowing them to say I want one of these two before they other chap. They give voters power by removing the false choice of only one candidate from one of the main stream parties, they remove the risk voters have of splitting the vote and letting THEM in.
If we had had the Alternative Vote in the 2005 election I could have voted FOR the party I wanted to vote for but NOT FOR the sitting MP who had voted for the war. I could have put my first preference for the Anti-War party candidate, then (holding my nose) my second preference for the Pro-War Party Candidate. Damn it, I could have even stood myself. There would have no risk of splitting the vote and not getting the Party I wanted.
I got involved in the Yes to Fairer Votes Campaign because I never ever again want an MP who is more scared of their Party Leader than he or she is of a million voters on the streets of London.
Preferential voting systems take power from Party Leaders and puts it back in the hands of the voters. The Alternative Vote puts power back in the hands of the people whose sons and daughters are expected to fight and die for our country and whose taxes are used to pay for it.
The Alternative Vote puts power back in your hands.