This is a guest post from Cory Hazelhurst who blogs at the rather excellent Paperback Rioter. He's trying to persuade me to be less ambivalent without realising that ambivalence... well, that's my thing. Good luck to him anyway.
Ultimately not challenging this argument has been a mistake (one of many) from the Yes campaign. It's led to many people who want electoral reform either voting No or, like Jim, have been very ambivalent about AV because it's not a proportional system.
Jim has very generously allowed me to write a piece explaining why people in favour of PR should vote Yes on Thursday.
The main argument I've heard against voting Yes on Thursday is that a Yes vote would be a roadblock to further reform. If anything, the opposite is the case.
For evidence that AV could lead to more electoral reform, people need look no further than the Political Studies Association briefing paper on the Alternative Vote. It was compiled by Dr Alan Renwick with the help of many leading political scientists, including Professors John Curtice, Simon Hix and Pippa Norris.
This is what the PSA has to say on the subject:
“It is clear that changing the electoral system is easier where change has already recently happened: the idea of reform is no longer so radical; more people are familiar with the reform options; there are fewer interests vested in the status quo. Four established democracies – France, Italy, Japan, and New Zealand – have introduced major reforms to their national electoral systems in the last thirty years. Two of these – France and Italy have subsequently instituted further major reforms, while Japan passed a further smaller reform, and New Zealand will hold a referendum creating the possibility of another major reform later this year. (p21)”
After changing the voting system in 1991, Italy changed it again two years later and again in 2005. New Zealand held a referendum to change from First Past the Post in 1992, and is holding another referendum asking voters whether they want to change the system later this year.
To say, then, that AV would be a roadblock for reform is completely missing the point. It would actually be a small but significant step towards reform in the future, and make future reform much more likely than a No vote.
Another argument I've heard on the blogosphere is that AV would hold up reform because it makes it harder to change to a proportional system:
“Truly proportional systems such as that Mixed Member, Largest Remainder or D’hont system, simply ask people to express a party preference and then use centrally controlled party lists and / or second tear ‘top-up’ constituencies to allocate seats to parties on a proportional basis. By allowing voters to rank individual candidates AV is actually a step away from these kinds of system.”
This isn't quite right though. AV would be a small but logical step towards something like Single Transferable Vote. After all, AV is STV for single member constituencies. Another logical step would be to lead to something like AV+, as recommended by the Jenkins Commission. This would be a hybrid of a list top-up system and MPs elected by, you guessed it, the Alternative Vote. So AV would still be a step forward to getting any proportional system.
I'm of the view that people should vote Yes simply because AV is a better system. However, even if you would prefer a more radical change than AV, vote Yes on Thursday, because that's the only way you're going to get it.