More Referenda, More Nonsense

We don’t do referenda very well in the UK. I’m not sure if they’ve been successful in other parts of the world, but the last one we held descended into an avalanche of BS that froze the debate beneath so many lies that the truth couldn’t be found. When placed in the hands of the public, the truth lost out.

So now we, and by ‘we’ I actually mean ‘they’, the Scots, have a chance to vote on another constitutional matter: whether or not to embrace independence and leave the United Kingdom. It is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, so how is the debate shaping up?

Not very well, is the answer. Frustratingly, neither side seem to be arguing about the issue itself: independence. Instead it has devolved into a tit-for-tat argument as to whether or not Scots would be better off outside the union or not, when in fact they should be discussing the philosophical core of the question. It is very much like when the AV Referendum descended into talk of “Will this be good or bad for Nick Clegg?” or “Will this let in the BNP?” when in fact these are all transient issues, inconsequential when picking a piece of constitution that could last hundreds of years. If Scotland becomes independent every Scot could become broke, or they might each become over-night millionaires, and yet it wouldn’t matter. They are choosing the future of their country, to reject or accept the motion based upon the state of their wallets over the next few years, or even decades, is incredibly short sighted.

The cynic in me feels that the Yes campaign would like to avoid this philosophical core of the debate, because it appeals to a nationalism rooted in a bygone era. Yes the Scots have had to put up with atrocious acts by the English hundreds of years ago, but seeing as how the current population of Scotland are not hundreds of years old, to resent the English for acts committed by those who are dead against those who are also dead isn’t very logical. A more reasonable objection to unionism would be to call for a republican state free from monarchist rule, but the yes campaign have already stated that they’d like to keep the monarchy, significantly diluting their argument.

Despite my Grant ancestry, I consider myself English because, well, I was born and raised in the south, but like my northern brothers and sisters, I cannot stand conservatism. Tory policies offend me to my very core, but dissatisfaction with the policies of successive Westminster governments cannot be used to justify seceding from the union, because this is an ever repeating argument. If Scotland leaves the UK because they don’t like the policies of the nation as a whole, then what’s to stop the Isle of Skye leaving Scotland when the successive Scottish elections doesn’t go their way? And so on, and so on. Dissatisfaction with a democracy isn’t a reason for independence, it is a reason for devolution. Unfortunately the Yes camp seem to be focusing all their attention on pointing out how shit the conservatives and labour governments have been. That might be true, but that’s democracy folks.

Now, to those who believe passionately in a Yes vote, I hope you don’t think me unfair. If you want to argue that you feel no kinship with the other nations of our union, then that is a completely legitimate argument, and I wish you the best of luck making it, but so far that is the only argument that stands up and I don’t think it’ll find a majority.

As should be clear by now, I hope that Scotland votes No to Independence. But once that No vote is secured, we should completely overhaul the way our democracy functions into a federal system where Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish parliaments have full control over their state-wide policies, leaving issues such as foreign policy to a core executive government.

Something does need to change, and Scots need more autonomy, but a bitter divorce is not the way to go.

Cameron’s Painful Swing

It has been a while since we discussed politics on this wee blog. Since then we’ve had a local elections, a revolt over Europe, bitter division over gay marriage and the resurgence of terrorism as a political punch-bag. The big picture is one of a nation whose political parties are becoming gross caricatures of their former selves, lurching to extremes rather than straddling the often uncomfortable centre ground where elections were won.

So first off: the local elections. The big shocker of the night was just how crazy the electorate are willing to be to teach the political classes a lesson. UKIP, the cuddly face of the bitter right, managed to poll 23%. Pretty impressive, given that their vote was considered a “wasted vote”, but despite this they polled strong, coming in third behind Labour 29% and the Conservatives on 25%. The Liberal Democrats whimpered into 4th with 14%, disappointing but actually above what they usually poll nationally.

So why care? It’s not as if Nigel Farage’s eurosceptic party managed to gain control of any councils, and with that share of the vote they aren’t going to form the next government. Hell, with our awful first-past-the-post system they are unlikely to secure a single seat. But, as subtle a shift as it had been to the nation at large, to the political classes the shift was seismic.

You see, those loonies that voted UKIP used to vote Conservative. They were Cameron’s loonies, and the party had grown lazy depending upon them to turn out every five or so years to keep up the fight against Labour and the Liberals. Suddenly, the right wing swivel-eyed loon vote is split and now we’re into a four horse race, and this simple change in the landscape has caused all the nonsense we’ve had since.

It has always been Cameron’s agenda to move the Conservative party to the centre right. That was the reason for those painful huskie shots during his time in opposition. Unfortunately the centre is not a place his party likes to sit, as in the centre you can still catch the odd whiff of the unwashed left. And now that their ranks are breaking for UKIP, the pressure has been to follow them, ceding the centre ground to the despised liberals. This panic led them to rebel over their own Queen’s Speech, attempt to sign into law an in-out Europe referendum, try to bring down the gay marriage legislation and lately to stand tough over terrorism with a badly thought through ‘snooper’s charter’.

But it ironic that of all the things that Cameron has got spectacularly wrong, the move towards the centre is one of the few things he got ri… er.. correct. The right of British politics is similar to its left counterpart, the domain of the political pariah. The tory party (against the wisdom of its leadership) is banking on being able to move right and scoop back up the UKIP vote whilst still holding the rest of its support, but this assumption is terribly flawed. A conservative move to the right would allow the liberals to strengthen by appealing to pro-business centre-right conservatives reluctant to support a party that could pull us out of the EU. Moving right would also allow the Labour party to sneak into the centre, saving them from the leftist-protest persona they have fallen into.

David Cameron has become trapped. He needs to stop the UKIP threat, but he has no tools to fight them. So far every attempt by his back benchers to move the party right has simply handed UKIP better poll ratings. If he can’t convince his party of political realities soon they will find themselves in opposition in 2015. Tee hee.

The Case For AV Part 3: Cost and Impact

A central plank of the ‘No To AV Campaign is that AV is an expensive system to implement. A figure of 250 million pounds was concocted based upon the referendum itself, educational leaflets and vote counting machines. These sums were hotly denied by the Yes To AV camp, so which side is correct?

In other areas of the UK where popular elections have been switched to AV it is true that vote counting machines have been employed. But these were during a time when money was not so tight and the relatively small cost of the machines was easy to bear. There is no reason why AV cannot function without machines, Australia has managed quite well without them for years.

As you’d expect the true answer can be found in the treasury, after all it is this department that allocates public spending. Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, stated, “the Government has no plans to reopen departmental spending review settlements as a consequence of a Yes vote in the referendum on AV.” In other words, the funds allocated to hold the next general election will be exactly the same regardless of the outcome of the referendum.

But other than the ‘cost’ of implementing AV, what would the impact be upon our electoral system? Analysis of previous elections is shaky, as it is difficult to determine how voters would behave if tactical voting and negative campaigning were eliminated. Studies do suggest however a generally more proportional result with landslide elections being slightly more dramatic.

In the short term the results wouldn’t be overly dissimilar. Political parties would still run campaigns as they have always done and would get similar results. The shift would take place over the course of several elections, the results gradually favouring the party that indulges in the least negative campaigning. A boost would also be given to smaller parties that have always struggled to demonstrate their level of public support, strengthening their hand in influencing the larger parties.

The doom-sayers would have us believe that AV would destroy certain principles that we hold dear, but in truth it is a small, yet significant step in the right direction. Those who fear change need not fear AV, it is an improvement, not a replacement.

The Case For AV Part 1: Removing the Rot

Imagine the scene: ten friends gather together for a game of cards, one suggests that they get some cheese and biscuits. After some initial discussion (and much agreement that the idea is splendid) they put it to a vote. Mary and George vote for Goats Cheese, Sabine and Harold vote for Cheddar, Betty and Barry vote for Applewood, Margaret votes for Brie, whilst Terry, Gordon and Samantha aren’t hungry and vote for no food at all.

The results are as follows:

Goats Cheese: 2
Chedder: 2
Applewood: 2
Brie: 1
Nothing: 3

If this were a general election in the UK, the vote for ‘nothing’ would win. First past the post is a one-round election which gives victory to whichever candidate receives the most votes. Sounds fair, right?

Wrong. Take a look at the results above. Another way of displaying the results could be thus:

Cheese and biscuits: 7
Nothing: 3

The overwhelming majority wanted cheese and biscuits, the problem was that their vote was split when it came to the fine details. Quite understandably they had opinions more complex than simply wanting cheese, they had preferences for specific cultivations, but through the distortions of the voting system, the majority was denied their consensus (cheese) simply because they wanted to express their precise opinion.

This is the problem the Alternative Vote system tries to address. It is not a proportional system, such grand reforms are beyond us for they would surely destroy the grip of the two main parties (you can’t get turkeys to vote for Christmas), but AV is a much better system than first past the post,

Nothing corrupts democracy more than a first past the post electoral system. This is because it erodes the point of elections: a moment in time when the people express their will on how they should be governed. This no longer happens in the UK. Instead, once every four years or so, the British public turn out to vote AGAINST policies, rather than for them. Doubt it? Take a look at any campaign literature in the run up to a General Election: ‘Only Labour can defeat the Tories here!’ ‘The Tories don’t have a chance, only the Liberal Democrats can stop Labour!’ and the such.

Our elections have become riddled with tactical voting as voters no longer believe in voting for the party they’d like, only to stop the party they despise. This approach soon infects the whole way they approach politics, always believing the worst and focusing on negative opposition.

And thus we find ourselves in the cynical mess we’re in today.

Tactical voting is not going to disappear in any non-proportional system, but AV gives the voter a chance to express a positive before they resort to the negative. This simple expression may not change who gets elected, but it does change the way we interact with politics. When entering a polling booth, the voter should think about what they WANT, not just what they hate, and AV would facilitate this.

Labour and the Conservative party fear such a change. They have thrived on nothing more than not being the other, encouraging hatred of their opposition, whilst bringing policies to within a wafer of each other to fight for those few voters disinterested enough not to buy into the hatred.

This homogenising of politics only reinforces apathy and negative voting. The only way to break it, is to change the system, and this is our only chance. In this series of articles I will look at the various aspects of the Alternative Vote, from cost to impact upon our parliament.

In Part 2, ‘AV around the world: A Tried and Tested System’.

Top 5 No2AV Lies

No2AV Campaign Poster, image by incurable_hippie

No2AV Campaign Poster, image by incurable_hippie

The latest poll has support for AV dwindle to 42% whilst the No vote takes the lead with 58%. So far it’s a victory for big money and dirty tactics, but Paddy Ashdown has had enough; he’s mad as hell and he’s not gonna take it anymore!

Prompted by the deluge of lies and smears from the No 2AV Camp and an increasingly personalised campaign (“Say No To President Clegg” reads one No2AV Advert), Ashdown has struck out at the Prime Minister, demanding he disassociate himself from the campaign.

In honour of Ashdown’s stand, here’s a list of the top 5 blatant lies the No2AV camp have farted into our lives:

5. AV Leads To More Coalitions

Utter tosh! Australia uses AV in their general elections and has had less coalitions than us. All analysis of previous elections shows that the results wouldn’t have been swayed towards coalitions (assuming the same voter intentions).

4. AV Is Too Complicated For Voters To Understand

Nonsense! If you are drawn to more than one candidate, you rank them in order of preference. I know some people can be thick, but not THAT thick. It is a list. Just how stupid do these Conservatives think the electorate are? No wonder they aren’t bothering to argue the issue using facts, they seem to believe the public are made up of grunting farmyard animals that can only respond to images of sick babies and sad soldiers.

3. AV Would Lead To BNP MPs

Crap! AV means that an MP needs to reach 50% support in the constituency (or the greatest once all preferences are taken into account) to be elected. Now Baroness Warsi might be thinking to herself that the BNP are a good choice for her second preference, but it might surprise her to find she is in the minority. The BNP oppose AV, because they know they don’t have a chance in hell of securing a majority in a constituency.

2. AV Destroys The Principle Of One Person One Vote

Bullshit! Every vote in counted the same number of times. Once a round is over and a candidate eliminated, every vote is recounted ignoring the eliminated candidate. Just because your candidate hasn’t been eliminated yet, doesn’t mean your vote wasn’t included in that round.

1. AV Is Expensive

Complete and total fucking lie. The No to AV camp have decided that to be able to handle voters writing lists, we would need expensive vote counting machines. It doesn’t seem to matter that this isn’t the intention, nor that no other AV electoral system have had to use them. No. All that matters is that the No2AV Camp have imagined a figure, and that’s what they’re sticking to. What shits. What grubby little lying scumbags.

Whilst the Liberal Democrats shouldn’t quit the coalition over losing the referendum, they should threaten to quit if Cameron doesn’t put a stop to this. Losing based upon facts is fine, losing because of this shit undermines the very concept of democracy.