AV: Yes, No or Meh? What are we being asked?

I don’t know about you, but I find the outcome of the AV referendum less interesting than the fact that we’re being asked about voting systems at all.

Like everyone else, I’ve got my own prejudices here – I particularly dislike the fact that it’s a question that is subject to a referendum in the first place – a strong enough reason to resist the change itself, perhaps?

I don’t know whether to vote Yes, No or just say meh and stay indoors. But I think that there are some bigger important questions lurking in a squabble over a minor change, and I’d like to help pull together a catalogue of the various arguments to see if that will help the undecideds to make their mind up.

I’d like your feedback on what these questions are. I’m less interested in the answers to the questions below for now. Please tell me if I’ve got the structure right (and whether my structure is over-weighted towards my own prejudices).

These are the questions that I think we should be asking: have I got them right, have I conflated some or left others out? In your comments, I’d be grateful if you could stick to the shape of the debate rather than its content because I think that there are subsequent posts that would be worth reading about each of these questions.

Proportionality: Is AV a more proportional system of voting and is proportional government necessarily a good thing in itself?

Legitimacy: Will the AV system make governments more legitimate in the eyes of the voters and capable of taking big decisions on our behalf?

Quality of government: Will a parliament elected by AV make for better government or not? Will the policies be better (not just in terms of popularity, but in promoting long-termism)?

Coalition government: Will AV result in more coalition government than First Past the Post (FPTP) and is this a good thing?

The cost of voting: The ‘no’ camp are placing a lot of emphasis on the cost of the referendum and the cost of counting AV results in future – especially at a time of public spending cuts. Is this an important consideration?

Framing and referendums: Is a referendum the right way to decide this issue, and are we being offered two options that we don’t really like when a better one could be on the table? Should supporters of other options hold their noses and vote for AV as it will then legitimise other systems and make a future change easier? Should our attitude to these questions effect the way we vote or should we simply vote for the option on the ballot that we prefer?

Political context: Different parties have different views on how this will effect the outcome of elections. Supporters of AV may be swayed by the possibility that this system will result in governments more to their personal liking. Presumably, opponents will do the same. Is this a debate about the ethics of voting or is it really crude political gamesmanship? Should we simply vote for the option that will return the most MPs for our preferred political party?

There you go. Are these the right questions? Is anything missing? In debates involving trade-offs, the priority of questions matters – so are they in the right order of importance?

Let me know what you think?

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