In last week’s UK elections, the pro-independence Scottish Nationalist Party took control of the Scottish Parliament, and campaigners for a new voting system, the Alternative Vote, were thoroughly routed in the public referendum on the issue.
It’s now time for a referendum in Scotland. No, not on whether the country should go independent. But on the Mixed Member Proportional Representation voting system that is used there. After all, this system – and the PR system used in the Welsh Assembly too – were foisted on the public by the politicians. There were referendums on devolution, but not on the voting system that would be used to elect the new bodies.
When the first Scottish Parliament was chosen, it was clear that voters did not fully understand PR there, with its constituency elections and regional lists voting – though they may understand it better now. But the fact is that the whole complicated scheme was concocted by the politicians then in office to keep things pretty much as they were. (It didn’t exactly work, as the rise of the SNP shows, but then most political schemes don’t exactly work.)
Apart from tiny areas in central Edinburgh and Glasgow, every constituency in Scotland and every constituency in Wales, along with almost all in England, rejected AV in the referendum. One has to wonder whether the Scots and the Welsh, if actually asked what system they wanted for their own devolved governments, would chose the systems we have now. For my part, I don’t much like constitutional changes, like the choice of voting system, being decided by the politicians already in power. Nor even by simple majorities in a referendum where only a minority of the electorate actually choose to vote. But the latter is definitely better than the former.