STV Action’s evidence on Voter Engagement

After we posted some witnesses’ evidence on Voter Engagement to the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee of MPs, some readers asked for STV Action’s own evidence. We gave evidence three times and, as all our evidence would be rather long to post on STV Action, here are links instead to our three submissions:

STV Action’s written evidence of 30 June 2014, “Empower voters to make a difference”:

STV Action’s supplementary written evidence of 27 August 2014:

STV Action’s supplementary written evidence of January 2015, “Empower voters to make a difference with STV”:

FPTP knackered - STV: A big improvement and absolutely fair

We are delighted STV Action is not the only UK website devoted to STV after all.

We strongly recommend you to visit which clearly explains why First Past The Post (FPTP) is not fit for purpose and STV would be so very much better. It was written by David Green, a former Council Member of the Electoral Reform Society.

It is about 7,000 words long and we could not do justice to it by summarizing it, but a few headings from it will give you a flavour:

• Our voting system is only 29% efficient!

• 650 lotteries to elect a government!

• FPTP is bad for national government, local government, voters, parties and the country – it’s bad all round; it is knackered!

• The Return of Multi Member Constituencies

• Doing away with the mark of illiteracy

• STV: Proportional Representation of voters, not just parties

• STV: The Supervote

We hope this is enough to persuade you to read it in full.

Those of you who already support STV will find a lot in it to help you campaign for STV. Those who may support reform and are curious about voting systems can learn much from it.

As the Sligo Champion wrote in January 1919, “[STV] is a big improvement and it is absolutely fair”.


Educating journalists

In a discussion about how badly most journalists understand voting systems on, “Michael BG” has commented “It is not our [Liberal Democrats’] role to teach journalists or people about voting systems. There should be a campaign organisation to do that. Oh wait there is. It is called the Electoral Reform Society. So maybe they could contact the press when they get things wrong about the voting systems.”

Quite so! That would be close to the Society’s main aim and a much better use of its resources than commenting and campaigning on so many peripheral issues even if some of them are worthwhile.

If any journalists happen to read this and would like to know more about voting systems especially STV, is the site to visit.

“STV could allow extending suffrage to do more than add to the ranks of disengaged voters”

This is Tim Ivorson’s supplementary evidence of January 2015 on Voter Engagement to the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee:

1. I see that you have received many submissions in favour of electoral reform, especially single transferable vote (STV). However, you have not recommended electoral reform. I urge you to do so.

2. Please consider the benefits of redistributing voter influence from marginal seats to the whole electorate through STV. Perhaps this is the most significant single improvement you could recommend, but it could also amplify other improvements. (Here are two examples. STV could prevent additional powers for local government being disproportionately controlled by the minority of voters who, voting in marginal seats, are already the most influential. STV could allow extending suffrage to do more than add to the ranks of disengaged voters.)

3. Please consider too the large room for improvement of local government elections in England and Wales by STV, especially where multi-member wards or divisions already exist.

"’Copper-fastening’ the voting system would be undemocratic.”

A blog at calls for more women MPs, which seems a good idea although I do not understand why a higher proportion of women in Parliament is more important than a higher proportion of other groups.

Bizarrely, the writer goes farther, “The presence of female representatives needs to be copper-fastened into the make-up of our representative institutions – and our voting system.”

I commented:

“Although I would like to see more women in Parliament, I see no reason why the representation of women should be more important than the representation of other groups; e.g. sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious views, disability or age or, indeed, of political views. Do you really think that a Lib Dem, Green or UKIP woman would prefer to be represented by a Conservative or Labour woman than by a man of her own party?

The Single Transferable Vote (STV) would help all these groups achieve fair representation. More important, it would ensure the election of the MPs that voters really wanted. That would be real democracy. "Copper-fastening" the voting system to guarantee a certain proportion of women or any other group would be undemocratic. It would prevent voters from having a free choice of representatives.

Encouraging more women and members of other groups to stand for parliament is a different matter. That is acceptable although we should be prepared to accept that some may simply not want to go into politics.”

Women and other groups should have equal opportunities. Only voters should decide whether the outcome is equal.

“Only a preferential voting system, such as the Single Transferable Vote … provides both proportionality and accountability.”

This is Michael Meadowcroft’s supplementary evidence of 6 January 2015 on Voter Engagement to the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee:

The Committee’s Report reads well and it contains many positive and constructive proposals for tackling the endemic problem of voter disengagement. However, its report as whole is undermined by its failure to grapple with a fundamental cause - the high incidence of “safe” seats under our First-Past-the-Post electoral system. This problem lies at the core of the problem and all the other practical and, in themselves, important changes, are “second order” issues.

The objective evidence is available from at least one definitive source, formerly the Nuffield General Election Study, now simply the Palgrave Macmillan publication on each recent election. In 2005, when the electoral turnout was at its lowest, the study remarks:

One possible reason why the turnout was so low once more is that voters again felt that it was obvious who would win the election. If voters’ willingness to vote (or the parties’ ability to mobilise voters) is influenced by such considerations, then we might expect to find that turnout was higher in marginal constituencies than it was elsewhere. This indeed was the case. (Page 249, The British General election of 2005, Denis Kavanagh and David Butler, 2005).

The study goes on to quantify this fact, showing that the average differential was some 5.9% but in some categories reached almost 10%.

If a Select Committee comprising Members of Parliament, elected under the First-Past-the-Post electoral system, under which some 70% of seats are “safe”, is not prepared to address the effect of safe seats on voter disengagement, then the public is likely to regard the MP members of the Committee as being motivated by self-interest to one degree or another. To feed such cynicism is to risk all the Committee’s practical proposals being undermined. This would be unfortunate.

The Committee really needs to accept that the existence of so many parliamentary seats that are “safe” for one party or another is a powerful reason for a great deal of voter disengagement. The logical consequence of such an acknowledgement is to seek a solution that will end the problem without having other disadvantages. “Proportional Representation” which seeks only to provide proportionality between political parties, and which therefore needs to increase the power of the parties, via a party list system of one type or another, is to seek a selfish outcome which makes the situation even worse when the public is already alienated by the parties’ manipulation of the electoral system.

Only a preferential voting system, such as the Single Transferable Vote, as already used in all Irish elections other than those in Northern Ireland for the Westminster Parliament, and latterly introduced successfully in Scottish local government, provides both proportionality and accountability. It also gives all sitting MPs a good opportunity to prove their electoral popularity and their potential success at the hands of the electorate. I commend this to the Committee.

"People will not vote unless they can see their vote can make a difference"

This is Anthony Tuffin's supplementary evidence of 7 January 2015 on Voter Engagement to the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee:

The evidence supports STV - Many people will not vote unless they can see their vote can make a difference


1. I write again in response to the question “To what extent could electoral reform, rebuilding political parties or changes to party funding improve public engagement and voter turnout?”.

2. I am not a member of any political party. My interest in electoral reform is to improve the voting system for voters and I believe that would help to increase voter engagement, which is the purpose of your enquiry.

3. My original evidence is referenced VUK0105. I urge you to re-read it and answer the questions I posed in it.

4. In passing I comment that changes, other than reforming the voting system, may or may not help to increase voter engagement but they will not tackle the fundamental truth that, in most constituencies with First Past The Post, there is little incentive either for electors to vote or for parties to campaign for votes.


5. Changing the voting system to the Single Transferable Vote (STV) would make most votes effective instead of ineffective. This would:

5.1. Provide some incentive to all electors everywhere to vote;

5.2. Encourage political parties and candidates to campaign vigorously everywhere to get out the vote.

6. You have not given proper attention in your interim report to the weight of evidence you have received in support of reforming the voting system, particularly to introduce STV.

Incentive to vote

7. There is self-evidently little incentive to vote in a safe seat, where one’s vote will not affect either the local or national result.

8. In paragraph 168 of your interim report, you refer to “get out the vote” campaigns “but noted that parties will always focus their campaigning in areas where increased votes are likely to provide an electoral advantage, rather than campaigning equally across the country”.

9. It would be political suicide for any party to change that practice so long as the present voting system, with safe seats, lasts. Therefore the voting system must be changed.

Independent expert opinion

10. Professor Vernon Bogdanor has explained some of the many faults of First Past The Post and its irrelevance to 21st century politics in the UK in his article of 4 January 2015 in the Financial Times:

The Committee’s treatment of evidence

11.In paragraphs 179 and 180, you cite several witnesses who advocated reforming the voting system mainly by introducing STV.

12. In paragraph 181, you dismiss that peremptorily by stating, “Westminster has a settled view on First Past the Post.” I have three comments on that:

12.1. If you are genuinely seeking the public’s view, Westminster’s view is not relevant.

12.2. You have not stated in what way Westminster’s view is settled. It could be that it is settled in favour of reform, but you imply that it is settled against reform.

12.3. You have not cited any evidence that Westminster’s view is settled and the evidence I have noted is that it is settled in favour of the principle of reform although not in favour of any particular system at present. Westminster has voted for:

12.3.1. Regional list voting for the European Parliament, except in Northern Ireland;
12.3.2. Single Transferable Vote (STV) for all elections in Northern Ireland except to Westminster;
12.3.3. Additional Member System (AMS) for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and London Assembly elections;
12.3.4. Supplementary Vote (SV) for electing Mayors and Police & Crime Commissioners;
12.3.5. Allowing the Scottish Parliament to choose its own system for local government elections.

Scottish referendum

13. In paragraph 188, you state, “The recent referendum on independence for Scotland, where turnout was 84.6%, showed that there is clearly scope for greater levels of participation at the polls.”
14. Quite so; this was achieved without online voting, compulsory voting, increased postal voting, weekend voting “cast-anywhere” voting or a public holiday, which are among your recommendations. The high turnout in the Scottish referendum was because every vote was effective, everybody knew that every vote was effective and both campaigns had to work for every vote.

15. That does not happen with First Past The Post elections. You know it does not happen. It is why your parties have target seats.

The Committee’s interim conclusion

16. Although you have made several recommendations in Part 8 (Conclusion) of your report, you have ignored the elephant in the room. That is the need to change the voting system so voting everywhere can be effective and parties need to campaign for every vote.

17. You have also ignored the weight of evidence you received in support of changing the voting system, mainly to STV.
18. In paragraph 57 of your Conclusion and Recommendations, you state, “Throughout this inquiry we have made a particular effort to take into account the views of the public, and the evidence we have received from individual members of the public”
19. That is not my perception. You have not taken into account the many views and much evidence in favour of changing the voting system, mainly to change it to STV.

My Recommendation

20. Based on the evidence, I see no option for you but, in your final report:

20.1. To acknowledge properly the weight of evidence you have received in favour of changing the voting system, especially the evidence in favour of STV;

20.2. To recommend Parliament to introduce STV for all parliamentary elections or, possibly experimentally, for all local elections

21. If, despite all the evidence you have received on changing the voting system, you really cannot bring yourselves to recommend Parliament to legislate on this, you should at least recommend setting up a Citizens’ Constitutional Convention, not dominated by politicians, to consider the proposal.

Why should I vote?

This is Anthony Tuffin's evidence of 20 June 2014 on Voter Engagement to the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee:

"1. You ask us, the public, why many people do not vote. I would rather ask you, MPs, why many of us should vote with the present voting system.

2. I live in the very safe Conservative constituency of Chichester, so why should I vote?

3. Based on recent election results for the constituency:

3.1. If I vote Conservative, I shall very marginally increase the Conservative majority in the constituency, but I shall not help to elect the Conservative candidate who will be elected even if I stay at home. Nor will I help to elect a Conservative Government.

3.2. If I vote Liberal Democrat, I shall very marginally decrease the Conservative majority in the constituency, but I shall not help to elect the Liberal Democrat candidate who will not be elected even if I do vote that way. Nor will I help to elect a Liberal Democrat Government.

3.3. If I vote Labour, I shall not even marginally decrease the Conservative majority in the constituency because Labour is in third place; I shall not help to elect the Labour candidate who will not be elected even if I do vote Labour. Nor will I help to elect a Labour Government.

4. The situation becomes more complicated if I allow for the recent increase in UKIP support and decrease in Liberal Democrat support:

4.1. If Labour replaces the Liberal democrats as runner-up, voting Labour instead of Liberal Democrat would very marginally decrease the Conservative majority in the constituency, but it would still not help to elect the Labour candidate or to elect a Labour Government.

4.2. It seems unlikely that there will be enough UKIP votes to elect a UKIP candidate but, if enough Conservative voters defect to UKIP and the Liberal Democrat vote holds up or increases, the Liberal Democrats could win the seat. In other words, the voters would have moved to the right and more against EU membership, but the MP would be to the left of the present one and more in favour of the EU!

5. In a marginal seat, there is strong motivation to vote if one supports one of the realistic contenders, but there is little motivation if one supports any other candidate.

6. So there is motivation for Liberal Democrat and Conservative supporters to vote in Sutton and Cheam but not for supporters of the Labour Party or other parties there:

6.1. Curiously, indeed bizarrely, if enough Liberal Democrat supporters defect to Labour, the Conservatives may win the seat. In other words, the voters would have moved to the left, but the MP would be to the right of the present one. Do you think that is what those Labour voters would want?

6.2. On the other hand, if enough Conservatives defect to UKIP, the constituency may become safer for the Liberal Democrats. Do you think that is what those UKIP voters would want?

7. So why should I vote with this voting system, which can produce such bizarre results and not reflect my political views or those of most voters?

8. If elections were by Single Transferable Vote (STV), these anomalies would not happen and more votes would become effective. I and others would be more motivated to vote."

The Church and justice in voting

The following letter, by Colin Buchanan (the last President of the Electoral Reform Society), was published in Church Times on 23 January:


Your report by Tim Wyatt (16 January) of Show Up, a movement to 'encourage Christians to get involved in politics', did not touch on a major factor in 'disillusionment'. The simple truth is that voting under our present 'First-past-the-post' electoral system is for large numbers a fruitless exercise. In the past this has been most marked in the 200 or so 'safe' seats, where voting is cosmetic only; but in may this year we may also see 200 or more seats where no less than five political parties (six in Scotland) with nationwide credibility are in contention with each other, and with other minor parties also standing. The upshot could be large numbers of MPs (of almost any persuasion) returned with a vote of between 20% and 35% of those who voted, and returned not because they were most wanted, but because the five-way split of votes made it wholly random which of the candidates would be returned - and the chances are that the result would not only be random, but would in a proportion of seats return the candidate least wanted by the 65%-80% of the electors who had voted for other parties.

The curious factor in this is that for nearly 100 years the Church of England has used the wholly just system of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) in its own major elections, and thus holds the high moral ground over against the injustices we are likely to see in the May election. In our General Synod, and its committees, we can demonstrate that the people have elected the people they wanted - the present parliamentary system cannot do that all.

This is a justice question, and, if we are to do what the report advocates by 'seeing politics as another mission field', then please can all who are speaking for us, and all who have a chance actually to engage, put the axe to the root of our unjust electoral system? Exhorting folk to vote within a laissez faire acceptance of the system is precisely opting out of our 'mission' responsibility.

Yours sincerely

Colin Buchanan (retired bishop)

STV would help solve the devolution problem

This is an extract from Anthony Tuffin’s evidence on The Future of devolution after the [Scottish] referendum to the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee:

What implications does further devolution to Scotland have for how the House of Commons should deal with legislation that deals with only part of the UK?

It is totally unacceptable for MPs for Scottish (or indeed Welsh, Northern Irish or Greater London) constituencies to vote on issues for Sussex and Yorkshire that MPs from those counties cannot vote on in relation to the devolved areas.

The Conservative Party is absolutely right in saying that about Scottish MPs but I have not heard it say it about London MPs.

Although the Labour Party is right to be suspicious of the Conservative’s real motives in wanting to reduce the voting rights of MPs from Scotland, Labour must recognize that the present situation is untenable and, with more devolution, will become more so. Ostensibly, the Labour Party thinks it would be wrong to have two classes of MPs, but we already have two classes of MPs.

Both parties are more concerned about party advantage of whether about 40 Labour MPs from Scotland should be able to vote than about fairness, democracy or what would be constitutionally right and proper.

Both parties are ignoring the elephant in the room of the First Past The Post (Winner takes all) voting system, which distorts voters’ views. It exaggerates Labour supremacy in Scotland and Conservative supremacy in England.

Electoral reform is essential to any new constitutional settlement.

Parliamentary elections by Single Transferable Vote (STV) would increase the proportion of Labour MPs to Conservative MPs from England and reduce the party’s dependency on Scottish MPs votes. It would increase the proportion of Conservative MPs from Scotland and reduce the party’s dependency on English MPs’ votes.

The Labour Party would have less to fear, and the Conservative Party would have less to gain, from restrictions on the voting rights of Scottish MPs. This should make it easier to reach agreement.

First Past The Post exaggerates political differences between England and Scotland. It makes England look more Conservative than its voters are and makes Scotland look more Labour than its voters are. It disunites the United Kingdom.

STV would reduce or eliminate the exaggerations. It would present a more accurate picture in the House of Commons of the UK as it is.

Although STV might not solve the whole problem, it would help considerably to reduce it.

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