Over the coming months there will obviously be much debate surrounding the AV referendum. Mebyon Kernow is committed to a yes vote in the referendum on AV. This is because MK has consistently argued that PR is a better voting system than FPTP. It is true that AV is not the holy grail of a STV system, but, nevertheless principle demands voting for change that takes the system away from FPTP and towards STV.
AV is a big improvement on first past the post for several reasons. One big advantage of AV over FPTP is that it helps to make tactical voting harder to justify by the bigger parties. In the last general election the Lib Dems were for ever claiming that the only way to prevent [sic] a Conservative government was to vote for them – what a joke that turned out to be! The way that AV is set up makes it harder to convince voters that it is necessary to vote for one party in order to stop another from gaining power.
The AV system also makes parties try to broaden their appeal and develop policies which are less extreme because they will have to try and gain a much broader appeal for voters’ second preferences. The argument that AV would favour parties like the BNP just does not hold water.
Naturally we can expect Conservatives to pretty much line up behind the FPTP system as it has stood them in good stead over the years. Labour will be non-committal as they try to woo Liberal Democrats (in case there is another hung parliament) but will still prefer to keep the old Westminster two-horse race going. For the Lib Dems, the AV referendum is the poor price that they have extracted for selling their political souls to the Tories – you have to expect them to push for a yes vote.
The people that I really find hard to understand are those who have consistently called for a PR system but who now intend to vote against AV. To me this is a mystery.
What is the rationale for claiming to be in favour of PR and yet voting for FPTP in the referendum. Some people even want to simply spoil their ballot paper in a protest. For me this makes no sense. It will be hard enough to motivate people to go and vote on this subject in the first place – to try and motivate someone to make a trip to the polling station in order not to vote is surely like trying to push water up hill.
It also seems that some of the proponents of a vote against AV or a spoilt paper are (quite correctly) annoyed with the Lib Dems and don’t want to reward them for their duplicity. Well I would certainly agree that the Lib Dems deserve no reward for their broken pledges and blatantly unashamed U-turns – but I also think that not voting for AV rather than FPTP, when you claim to believe in PR, is such a big ‘tactical vote’ that even the Lib Dems would be proud of the idea. So much for principle and voting for what you believe to be the best option available on the ballot paper?
Some people claim that AV is not STV and until STV is on offer we should vote against it. Again, this is not a very well thought through argument. All that will happen is that the FPTP campaign will get a resounding victory. What happens next? Does anyone honestly believe that the Tories will say “Well we won that campaign with such a large vote that clearly we will have to have another vote with STV as the option.” Somehow I doubt it. The argument that will be used is “As there was such a clear vote in favour of FPTP that is the end of the matter.” There will not be another chance to get a better, more representational system for decades.
If you believe in PR and fail to vote for AV then be prepared to live with the knowledge that there may not be another chance to get a PR system for thirty or forty years – but never mind because the Lib Dems got what they deserved!