I’ve had it with the AV campaign. The claims of the no camp are, largely, spurious inventions – it won’t lead to more coalitions than First Past The Post, benefit the BNP, kill babies and soldiers or mean some people get more than one vote. The claims of the Yes camp are also, largely, spurious inventions – it won’t abolish safe seats (just move them around), MPs by and large aren’t lazy lackadaisical scum who need to be whipped like recalcitrant mules and it won’t mean a more collegiate, intellectual politics.
AV has some admitted advantages over First Past The Post – preference voting is simply a better way of expressing nuanced political choices. “I’d like this person, but if not then this person, that person and this other person and, quite frankly, the local independent crack pot to a Tory” is a good thing to have in a country where around a 3rd of voters don’t vote for one of the two main parties. It also has disadvantages – electoral landslides are likely to be bigger under AV than they would under FPTP for instance and 2nd parties are likely to be further under represented when overall opposition size remains the same.
First Past The Post isn’t great, but it suffices. AV is only marginally better than FPTP on most criteria. Yes or No, we will have largely the same results of largely the same campaigns. The one major change this referendum has had is to block any move towards PR for a decade or more.
If No wins, then there’s a tacit endorsement of FPTP. If Yes wins, we’ll have just changed the system. The Great British Public would, quite rightly, ask “but weren’t you saying just a few years ago AV was what we should move to?”. The constitution is not something to be trifled with lightly. We can’t put ourselves in a situation where we alter the voting system again after it’s only been used a handful of times.
The only hope for PR, therefore, is to call the legitimacy of the referendum itself into question. I had hoped that the threshold amendment would pass, and there’d be a majority for Yes but not enough of one to force a change. That way there’d be a case to be made that we should have a more open referendum, one run on AV which offered a number of options – STV, AV+, List PR, AV and FPTP. Sadly, that was knocked down by the Tories with Lib Dem help, as was Caroline Lucas’ motion to just add STV as an option.
I can’t bring myself to vote No – on the question asked, I’m in favour of AV. But it’s not what I want. So I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. I’m going to spoil my ballot. I’m going to add an STV option and rank that 1. I’ll rank AV 2. If sufficient people do this to make the noticeable, and AV loses like it looks likely to, maybe we can call the legitimacy of the referendum into question.
There’s precedent for looking at spoilt ballots in detail, after the 2007 Scottish election the Gould inquiry did this. It’s a bit gesture politics, but AV is only a gesture towards meaningful reform and, even if the spoilt ballots would have swung it in favour of AV otherwise, its loss on that basis is not a great hardship. Reform for reforms sake is meaningless, it won’t provide momentum for PR and is perhaps likely to delay any move to PR.