I’m very much against AV because I’m very much in favour of proportional representation. However, what the ‘yes’ lot and the ‘no’ lot forgot to ask is: ‘what is Parliament for?’. It might seem obvious but it really isn’t. At present, the ‘first past the post’ system means that we have 600+ elections, rather than one. The British electorate chooses a member to represent their constituency, not a government to run the country.
I’m not suggesting that there shouldn’t be any mechanism to make sure that local interest is taken into account. But it would be better to distinguish between two chambers (The House of Lords could have a crack at that). That aside, Westminster doesn’t strike me as the place where local interest is at the heart, but you get that curious mix of people who do ‘country-wide politics’ and those who serve their constituency, even when those constituencies have another government looking after them :).
I believe Westminster should be about governing the country, steering the direction, whilst leaveing to a ‘federal’ chamber the scrutiny of legislation from the point of view of more localised interest (the asymmetrical nature of our democracy remains of course).
Electoral systems are not an article of faith, they should serve a purpose. You cannot choose how to elect people, without thinking of the functions of the institutions. That’s why I believe a proportional system would be better suited for choosing a government. It would convey the political leaning of the population rather than the choice of a person locally.
Some people fear ‘hung Parliaments’ and coalitions. They keep on saying that ‘we’ve never had it in this country, we’re not used to it’, even ‘it’s not British’. Well, those people haven’t been to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the past 10+ years. Coalitions are about accommodation, adjustment, co-operation. It’s not about imposing one’s beliefs, but about finding agreement on how best to promote the common good. A strong government is a democratic government, one that reflects the complexity and diversity of the population.
I can’t vote so I have no dilemmas on AV. I don’t like it and the videos of the ‘yes campaign’ convinced me of how rubbish it is. If I could, I would probably vote ‘yes’ not in support of AV but of electoral reform. Referenda are a tricky thing because the question is framed in narrow terms. When the North-East had a referendum on devolution, the proposals were so appalling that people rejected it. They were against those specific proposals, not devolution. There is a danger that in rejecting AV, electoral reform stalls for quite a while. I feel it’s one of those moments of ‘close your eyes and think of Britain!’