Alternative voting?

Our Kingdom blog reports that the UK may be moving to the Alternative Vote for Westminster elections. The more observant amongst you will notice this is STV for a single seat, which we used in Northern Ireland quite recently.

If it had have been used at the last Westminster election, theres a fair chance David Burnside and perhaps even David Trimble would have held their seats. It would also probably make Fermanagh and South Tyrone impossible for a Unionist to win.

  • IJP

    Glad to hear it – I’ve long thought, with the exception of three-year terms and compulsory down-the-list voting for Senate elections, the UK should adopt the Australian voting system almost wholesale.

  • Michael Shilliday

    Why not compulsory and down the list voting?

    Aside from 3 year terms I see little wrong with Australian election systems.

  • As I understand it, John Denham was arguing this last year (when Brown boded well to take the country with a steamroller, so the usual Tory whinges should not wholly apply).

    What is emerging is a proportional Upper House and a majority Commons (based on STV and single-member constituencies). Obviously, with the rest of the UK using PR, X-marks-the-spot for Westminster is unacceptable and indefensible in the mid-term.

    If so, hooray!, say I.

    In other words, what has applied in Australia for the last (what?) sixty years.

    Or did I get that wrong?

  • Shore Road Resident

    How is this different to PR?
    It looks exactly the same.

  • dewi

    It isn’t PR because it’s not proportional – it’s like a consensual preference thing. To get proportionality you need multi member constituencies or a combination of single member and multi mamber constituencies.

  • Michael Shilliday

    Its STV for single seat constituencies. I’m also nearly sure that the quota is not set by a formula, but set at 50%.

  • Shore Road Resident

    I see, thanks for that.

  • An Lochlannach

    “It would also probably make Fermanagh and South Tyrone impossible for a Unionist to win.”

    And presumably make North Belfast & Upper Bann impossible for Nationalists to gain (and South Belfast more difficult to retain)?

  • heck

    would this have prevented the implosion of the UUP. both pro and anti powersharing UUP canditates could have run in the same constituency and unionist voters would have decided?

    Similarly could pro and anti war labour canditates run in the same constituency without letting the conservatives win?

  • NOM

    Michael,
    I think the formula for calculating the quota under the Alternative Vote System is the same as under STV:

    Total valid poll/(number of seats + 1) plus 1
    which gives you 50%+1 vote as the quota

    Analagously I think the quota for elections to the European Parliament from NI is 25% + 1 vote.

    I often wish the NI Executive were elected directly from a Single Constituency. With 12 members (10 ministers + the First and Deputy First Ministers) the quota would only be 8.33% + 1 vote so power sharing would still be required but the center of gravity in any cabinet might just lie with the Alliance/SDLP/Unionists instead of with the two larger ethno-sectarian parties.

  • PaddyReilly

    Nice idea, but can’t see it coming to pass. As Greenflag says, power of inertia. There are a considerable number of places in England— the whole of the West County, just about— where the Liberals win 30% approx of the vote and Labour 25% but Conservatives get in with the remaining 45%. This system would give the Liberal party a chance of gaining a significant number of seats: certainly the balance of power.

    And presumably make North Belfast & Upper Bann impossible for Nationalists to gain (and South Belfast more difficult to retain)?

    No, actually, it would make them easier for Nationalists to gain. Nationalists as it stands have no chance of gaining these constituencies until the Nationalist vote is well over 50%: something that is eventually fated to happen due to changes in population perhaps. But under STV Nationalists could win them the very moment their population rises above 50%.

    In South Belfast, we have to ask whether Alliance voters are going to give their second preference to the SDLP or DUP? I think I know the answer to this question. MacDonnell is not in any danger. The total Unionist vote has slipped, in the Assembly elections, to around 43%. It would require perfect transferring between Unionists, plus three quarters of the Alliance transfers to get a Unionist back in here under STV. No chance.

  • dodrade

    In practice though, doesn’t AV produce results little different from FTTP?

  • PaddyReilly

    In practice though, doesn’t AV produce results little different from FPTP?

    Hard to say. In a NI context, the answer is yes. But in England it could produce a radically different kind of society, with Conservatives a permanent minority.

  • PaddyReilly @ 08:05 PM:

    Conservatives a permanent minority

    When were they not?

  • fair_deal

    MS

    The Tories are linking Labour’s renewed interest in this idea with the Tory lead in the polls:
    Link 1

    If true, Labour interest and Tory nerves are probably based on the assumption that Lib Dem voters would go to Labour with their AV. Although the latest polling in London would put that general assumption under some question:
    Link 2

  • PaddyReilly

    When were they not?

    Well I seem to recall vaguely that between 1979 and 1997 Conservatives held an absolute majority of seats in Parliament, something that would not have happened under AV.

    Labour interest and Tory nerves are probably based on the assumption that Lib Dem voters would go to Labour with their AV.

    No chance. Lib Dems will not back Labour candidates in any significant way. At least half of their transfers will go to the Conservatives. But Labour voters may enable Lib Dem candidates to win.

  • PaddyReilly @ 08:39 PM:

    Conservatives in a “majority”? I fear not so.

    See this graph, and draw whatever conclusions you choose.

  • Michael Shilliday

    FD,

    Transfers from the last London Election show the big winners are the Lib Dems and Greens, but the electoral system there is designed to screw them by eliminating everyone but the top two candidates.

    Bit difficult to see where Hughes’ transfers went, but its hard to see them going in any huge landslide to Labour.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_mayoral_election,_2004

  • PaddyReilly

    MR your link does not work.

    Conservatives were in an absolute majority in parliament, which is where it counts: and this on a vote of little more than 40%, I recall. Under AV this would not be the case. In 1997 there were only 12 constituencies in the country where the Conservative vote was over 50%, I seem to recall.

  • Sam

    This also makes it impossible for a nationalist to win in S.Belfast

    Unionist Tactical voting would secure durkan a seat in foyle

    and sinn fein would suffer colateral damage as unionists despise sinn fein and will do anything to freeze them out. All in All sf will be left with 1 seat. Or 2 if they get lucky.

  • The Raven

    “Why not compulsory voting?”

    You mean, I should be legally compelled to go spoil my vote….? Go figure…

  • PaddyReilly

    This also makes it impossible for a nationalist to win in S.Belfast. All in All sf will be left with 1 seat. Or 2 if they get lucky.

    Wrong. If there had been AV in 2005, then we might have expected Kieran Deeney to win in West Tyrone, and the SDLP in Newry and Armagh. The SDLP would probably not have won South Belfast.

    But as things stand at present in South Belfast, with the Unionist vote down to 43%, no Unionist, especially not a DUP candidate, has any serious prospect of unseating McDonnell, even with AV.

  • flaminglip

    “and sinn fein would suffer colateral damage as unionists despise sinn fein and will do anything to freeze them out. All in All sf will be left with 1 seat. Or 2 if they get lucky.”

    Somebody’s engaging in a little wishful thinking!

  • PaddyReilly

    The above mentioned South Belfast, which seems to be the Unionist equivalent of Aughrim or Wounded Knee, provides a cautionary example to all people who wish to cite the census returns as a demonstration of what the voters are going to do.

    With 52.03% of the electorate found to be be Community Protestant or Other Christian, and only 41.36% Catholic, the Unionist belief appears to be that they have won the census. However, the SDLP won the Westminster Election, and Unionists only won 2 out of 6 of the Assembly Seats. So what has gone wrong?

    Typically, Unionists seem to imagine that the electorate never changes. It could be that the census was taken in 2001, and Inner city areas change their population very rapidly. But even without that, my calculations are that the Unionist vote goes down by 0.5% per annum, so 52.03% in the census translates into 49.03% in 2007.

    Equally, the census does not ask sufficient questions to determine which side a person is really on. A Protestant who is married to a Catholic is more likely to vote Alliance or SDLP than UUP or DUP. Persons who grew up in England or Sweden, while technically Protestant, are frequently unimpressed by the UUP or DUP. Those who claim to have no religion also seem to have plumped for Alliance or Nationalist. We all know which party the Taoists vote for.

    Net result: Unionist vote = 43%. Alliance = 12.6%. Get used to it.

    Somebody’s engaging in a little wishful thinking!

    Well he’s partly right. Under AV SF would have won just 3 seats in 2005, instead of 5.

  • Hogan

    I’m all for changing to PR…. that is until i read that it might have aided David Burnside in any way!

    As for McDonnell, his personal vote in the assembly went up at least 1500 since 2003 and brought his running mate home (the only party to do so in S/Belfast), what happened to Buck Alec’s vote? up 6 on 2003 and that was on a tide of significant increases for SF all over the place, that tells you what’s going on in South Belfast.

    McDonnell will hold.

  • An Lochlannach

    Paddy Reilly wrote: ‘my calculations are that the Unionist vote goes down by 0.5% per annum…’

    Interesting. Is that a reference to South Belfast only, or does it hold more generally?

  • PaddyReilly

    Does it hold more generally?

    It is calculated from the decline in the Unionist vote between the various 5 yearly European Parliament elections. On average it falls by 2.5% in each 5 year period. Whether this decline is city based or all over I do not know.

  • PaddyReilly @ 06:00 PM:

    Remind me, someone: is there not research showing a consistent attrition against the incumbent party of 0.75% p.a.?

    Does that apply here?

    [Please, can the Administrator get rid of that offensive bit of spam @ 09:28PM]

  • PaddyReilly

    Remind me, someone: is there not research showing a consistent attrition against the incumbent party of 0.75% p.a.?

    This is something different: attrition against the UUP to the DUP may be 0.75% per annum, and now against the DUP back again. This is attrition against the Unionist block, caused not by voter disillusionment but change in the sectarian makeup of the population.

  • IJP

    Michael

    To answer your question in second post: because it’s a mess and has led to this “above the line” nonsense.

    Besides, I prefer free will to compulsion!

  • Dewi

    Re: Demographic change – much more concentrated in Belfast South (and North) than in any other constituencies. The contrast between the age groups is astonishing. Both constituencies will be nationalist majority within 15 years.

  • PaddyReilly

    We’re talking about something different here. I’m talking about the Unionist (and Nationalist) vote in the European Parliament elections and Dewi is talking (I think) about the Catholic community section of the population in the census. Equating the two is subject to certain caveats.

  • rj

    Hogan @ 02:35 PM

    I wouldn’t worry too much about Burnside.

    Recent history in South Antrim shows that McCrea beat Burnside in September 2000 by-election and a few months later at the full election the UUP vote went up, with significant reductions in Alliance and SDLP votes (3% less and 2% less than local government votes on same day) and Burnside won. It appears that seeing McCrea win scared some people into voting tactically.

    Possibly unimpressed by their new ‘moderate’ MP, in 2005 many of those voters deserted Burnside. Alliance votes went up by 5% and SDLP held firm, with a 3% increase in Sinn Fein vote. McCrea won.

    In 2007, for the Assembly, DUP established a 34% to 20% lead over UUP in South Antrim. Burnside was only elected fourth – well behind McLaughlin of Sinn Fein and McCrea and even beaten by Ford, with Alliance up a further 4%.

    Even if some Alliance votes transferred to UUP (a big question), Burnside needs a number of SDLP votes too. So McCrea is probably safe (despite initial post by MS) as long as we can see.

  • Michael Shilliday

    rj,

    So seem to be having trouble with what I said, I said that had AV been used in 2005, he probably would have held on.

  • Sorry for coming to the party late…

    AV is a terrible system; and it isn’t proportional representation in any sense. It tends to exaggerate the dominance of the largest party more than even FPTP does. So, if you think it would be a healthy thing for Labour to have had overall majorities of over 200 in the 1997 and 2001 British General elections, and for FF to be in permanent single party government, go ahead and support it but if that prospect doesn’t appeal then you need to look at another electoral system.

    Why are Labour coming around to this idea? Because they think it might help them avoid having their asses handed to them in the 2010 General Election.

    As for the Australian voting system.

    Compulsory voting: personally I am not in favour but that’s a matter of personal taste and ideology.

    Above the line voting: STV gives voters the power to thumb their nose at party machines; so Australian parties decided to make it very difficult for people to exercise that right and to allow them to concoct shady dealings behind closed doors with other parties. A bad idea, unless you’re an Australian party boss.

    Informal voting: in Australia, votes that have less than three preferences marked are ‘informal’, which is a deceptive way of saying spoiled and not counted. Load of shite. Personally, I always vote the ticket but if people want to plump, that’s their business. An electoral system should try and reflect the will of the people, not second guess their business.

    As far as election regulations go, the Aussies can cover their system in Vegemite and cook it on a beach barbie.

  • PaddyReilly

    Well Sammy, I think you are assuming that the electorate would behave in exactly the same way under AV as they do with FPTP. IMHO, what would happen if people knew that they had more than one chance, is they would vote more often for parties that under FPTP would have been spoilt votes.

    So the huge majorities for Labour in 1997 would not occur. Socialist Labour and Social Democrats would have eaten into those numbers. Another factor is that the Conservatives, prior to 1997, would not have had 18 years of unchalleged majority, and so would not have provoked the huge swing to get them out that we experienced in 1997.

    Net result would be something a bit more like the 4/5/6 party system that obtains in NI, rather than the 2 alternating parties system of England.

  • rj

    MS

    I accept you were looking back and I was looking forward.

    I still think that those who had deserted Burnside in 2005 after voting tactically in 2001 would not have been rushing to give him later preferences if available in 2005.

    It would have needed all of Ford’s 9% for Burnside to catch McCrea, or else a proportion of SDLP and/or SF transfers. Certainly possible that Burnside would have won, but not by any means certain. Perhaps that’s a “fair chance”.

  • Net result would be something a bit more like the 4/5/6 party system that obtains in NI

    I am not convinced by this. That is certainly not the case in Australia.

  • willowfield

    A Protestant who is married to a Catholic is more likely to vote Alliance or SDLP than UUP or DUP.

    On what evidence is this assertion based?

  • PaddyReilly

    On what evidence is this assertion based?

    Anecdotal, combined with conjecture. But the decline of the Unionist vote in South Belfast is real, so I had to cast around for reasons to explain it. If you know of any DUP politicians with Papish wives and six Papish weans, I would be glad to hear about them.

  • willowfield

    I know many “Protestants who are married to Catholics”, including myself, and I doubt any vote for the SDLP. UUP, Alliance and DUP, is my personal assessment of those whom I know – with UUP the most likely I should think.

    If you know of any DUP politicians with Papish wives and six Papish weans, I would be glad to hear about them.

    You never mentioned DUP politicians: your assertion was in respect of “Protestants who are married to Catholics”, and you said such people were more likely to vote SDLP or Alliance than UUP or DUP.