Why Northern Ireland should say Yes to the Alternative Vote

Is it right that only three of Northern Ireland’s 18 MPs had the backing of over 50% of those who voted last May? Or right that another three had only one in three people vote for them? That is the situation that Northern Ireland found itself in last May after the only election that we place an X on our ballots rather than ranking our candidates by order of preference.

On Monday the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) released a report which stated that the Alternative Vote (AV) was superior to First Past the Post (FPTP) as a system for electing our MPs to Westminster. Saying it suited the electoral conditions prevalent today, particulary the shift to multi-party politics. Of course here we’ve had greater variety in our political parties for a lot longer than the rest of the UK. As a result we’ve been elected our councillors and representatives to devolved bodies by ranking them 1,2,3 etc and not with a single X for a long time.

AV will also lead to more competitive elections according to the findings. It means that the contenders will have to reach out to more of the communities in the area that they wish to represent in order to gain the 50% of the valid votes needed to secure their seat.  We’ve seen a little of that here in recent weeks as some of the parties have attempted to reach out beyond the old divides in the run up to the Assembly elections.

On Monday Ed Miliband said:

“There is no motivation under [the First Past the Post] system for parties to go into elections pretending anything other than that they hate each other equally. No reason to find points of common ground; just to disagree. To secure a majority of votes under AV, candidates will need to be more honest about points of agreement. So a Yes vote is a vote for hope for a better politics; more accountable, fairer with a changed political culture.”

This is as true here in Northern Ireland, our politicians talk about a shared future, this way we’ll know what ideas and ideals they share. Of course with AV we’re not going to have everybody agreeing with everything all the other parties put forward, but we’ll hear more of where they agree. Over the past few months I’ve met many people from all across the political spectrum here in Northern Ireland who agree that AV is the next step we need to take for a difference at Westminster and how the people can hold their MPs accountable.

There is also the end of having to vote to keep out what you don’t want and the ability to vote for what you believe and who closest reflects that. Some here also see that will lead to an end of political pacts between parties. A growing number of people are less tied down to one party but are drawn to the party or parties that closest reflect their own position. We’ve become promiscuous in our voting intentions and that is why the alternative vote is more suited to the needs of the voters. People no longer see politics as “them or us” we want our politicians to reflect us and know we have a range to choose from, it’s why some politicians are scared of giving that power to ordinary people, they feel they will lose control of their own destiny.

The reasons for voting Yes on 5th May are because it empowers the voter not the politician or political machine. It puts you, the voter, in control.

Stephen is currently the Northern Ireland Organiser, based in Belfast, for Yes to Fairer Votes the team campaigning for the yes vote on 5th May. He will also be speaking tonight at the Belfast Skeptics debate on the referendum

A long time a Lib Dem activist, blogger and candidate in Scotland and before returning and continuing to be so in Northern Ireland since August 2010.