Tomorrow almost never comes

There appears to be a gob-smackingly dumb "middle way" appearing in the AV debate. It runs like this: AV isn't proportional and is a poor compromise, so let's vote "no" and campaign for a better system after. This is amazingly politically naive. In evidence, look back at the devolution vote of 1979.

People forget this event as it was a miserable failure. Labour, in government but not in power at the time, was reliant on Liberal, Plaid and SNP votes to keep it afloat against a barrage of confidence motions from the Tories.

To keep Plaid and the SNP on side, Callaghan's government agreed to devolution (called "devo" in those devil-may-care days) against the wishes of the Labour party itself. The resulting Bill was a right dog's dinner, offering Scotland an assembly with all the power of a Metropolitan County and Wales a talking shop with all the power of a parish council.

People in favour of independence or full devo (still then often called "Home Rule") campaigned for a "no" vote – the miserable little compromise should be voted down, they said, then we can have a real debate about real Home Rule.

Wales voted it down resoundingly. Scotland voted for it, but a provision in the Bill said that people not voting were classed as voting "no" unless 40% of all voters said yes. So "yes" won a plurality of those voting, but "no" won the referendum.

Of course, the next government immediately started on a new, better devolution bill, didn't it? Er, no. The entire issue was kicked into the long grass. The people, it was said, having voted "no", had not just rejected devolution, they had endorsed the existing system. They had, in effect, voted "yes" with a song in their hearts to rule from London. It also led to the SNP being wiped out in the general election two months later, handing many SNP seats to the Tories. It would be 1997 before the people were asked again – four whole governments and a political generation later.

People who want the Single Transferrable Vote (STV), like me, are aware that AV is indeed a "miserable little compromise". It's not proportional. It doesn't end safe seats for plutocratic Tories or so-called socialists. STV provides a full choice for the voter while AV makes us choose between career hacks (and X-voting generally doesn't even let us choose in the first place). STV gives the voter real power at the ballot box and the rest of the 5-year term – you have 5 MPs and can play them off against each other, persuade one to change her mind, keep on top of another to make sure he keeps to his promises and so on. The Irish, with good reason, love and adore their STV system because it works so very well.

I want STV. Anything else is not up to the task. And to get it, I'm voting "yes" to AV. Because a win for "no" is not "no to AV", it's "yes to the current way of doing things". And the current way of doing things is very very broken. For people like Lord David Owen, clearly suffering from the early stages of dementia, it seems a good bet to kick out AV and get STV later. What he's forgetting is history: kick out AV now and the next time we'll be asked will be at least 4 parliaments away: 2031 or thereabouts. He won't live to see the consequences of this stupid idea. I'm planning to.

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One comment

  1. Another prime example is Australia’s "no" vote on becoming a republic. The majority were in favour, but not of the proposed solution. So they got no solution, and no debate. They’re not a republic. They’re exactly what they were, and with no sign of that changing.Of course as one anti-AV/pro-STV person (well says they are despite acting like some sort of Tory party robot) proclaimed to me, there’s no guarantee that a yes vote will get us a STV vote. But as I pointed out to him, a no vote certainly won’t.

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