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Wednesday 4 May 2011

Voter Apathy? Vote Yes 2 AV

Tomorrow Scots will go the polls to choose the next Scottish Government. In doing so we will use a form of proportional representation, a system which aims to ensure that the number of Parliamentary seats each party wins better reflects their support in the country.

We've done it now since 1999 and no single party has ever had an outright majority in the Scottish Parliament. Miraculously the sky has not fallen in, a plague of locusts has not descended upon the land and Tunnocks tea cakes remain as delicious as ever.

Why do I bring this up now, you yawn?

Because, as you jolly well know, tomorrow Scots, along with the rest of the United Kingdom, will also go to the polls to vote in the referendum on whether to change our voting system, from "first past the post" to the alternative vote or AV; and the experience of electing the devolved administrations shows that it is possible to introduce electoral reform without inducing a national nervous collapse.

AV is not a proportional system. More's the pity in my opinion. (If you want to know more about AV you can read all about it on the Electoral Reform Society's website.) But at the moment it's the only bum numbingly dull electoral systems debate in town. For truthfully, most folk would rather be forced to stir a pot of boiling tripe non-stop for 24 hours while listening to the collected speeches of Nadine Dorries, than discuss electoral systems.

And the doomsday scenario for the Yes 2 Av camp is that this apathy, coupled with fear of the unknown, will see the campaign for change hit the buffers. But actually those of us suffering from voter apathy are the very people who should be voting yes 2 AV.

Trust in politicians seems to be permanently at an all-time low. People are tired of "Punch and Judy" politics. The electorate wants to see fresh new faces and a new approach in Parliament, not the same old party hacks.

Well frankly you can't have that and first past the post. First past the post is all about the old two party hegemony. That's what it's designed for. That's when it works best. If you want to see a new kind of politics, why vote to keep first past the post? It's marching for change in concrete wellies.

The truth is systems can only deliver so much. Certainly that's true of AV which is not the fundamental change that many reformers are looking for. Much relies on changing the culture of politics and the behaviour of politicians, and indeed political reporting, which traditionally rewards those who land political punches rather than build bridges.

Trying to create a new politics on the foundation of first past the post is like grafting a pig's ear onto a mouse's back - entirely alien to the host body.

AV is not perfect. No electoral system is. It will not right all the wrongs of the current political system. But if we say no we are resigning ourselves to more of the same for longer than I can bear to imagine. I'll be voting yes for positive reasons. But even if you're fed up and tired and bored and can't be bothered. In fact especially if that's how you feel, if you're overcome with apathy, why not vote Yes 2 AV?