Proportional representation: Changing British politics for the better

Why proportional representation needs to happen if we are to change British Politics for the better, and why the voting system of single transferable is the way to go.

Vote polling station
Vote polling station
Stuart Irvine

After the glitter protest to Keir Starmer at his speech at the Labour Party conference by a man from the People Demand Democracy group pushing for electoral reform, proportional representation has never been more prevalent in the public sphere.

Not since the 2011 UK Alternative Vote referendum, where the Yes side lost 32 per cent to 68 per cent of the vote. Despite this, advocates have persisted throughout time, and certain significant political parties in the UK now rank it as a high priority.

The Green Party and the Liberal Democrats are supporters, and the Labour Party membership voted to include it in their general election manifesto at last year's Labour Party Conference.

So in this article, I will explain what proportional representation is, how the single transferable voting system works, why we need to use it, and examples of it being used successfully in other countries.

What is proportional representation?

It is also important that you start by learning what proportional representation is, as this was one of the factors contributing to the 2011 Alternative Vote referendum's loss, along with the fact that explaining it all seemed quite difficult.

That being said, proportional representation is an electoral system that focuses more on voting percentages determining how many seats you win, as with first past the post in which voters cast a vote for a single candidate, and the candidate with the most votes wins.

As stated on Parliament.UK: ‘If a party gained 40 per cent of the total votes, a perfectly proportional system would allow them to gain 40 per cent of the seats’. 

What is the single transferable voting system and how does it work? 

Like any other system, proportional representation comes in a variety of forms, but the most often used is the single transferable system, also known as ‘ranked-choice voting in multi-member seats’ in the United States.

How it works is, that you rank candidates according to your preferences by placing your first, second, and third choices--or as many as you like--on the ballot. This differs from voting for just one candidate, as you would under the First Past the Post system.

Candidates are chosen based on their ability to receive a quota – which is calculated by how many candidates are needed in the area and the number of votes cast plus one.

A candidate is declared elected if they meet this quota, and their remaining votes are then divided among the other contenders according to their second-choice selections.

If this isn't the case, the candidate with the fewest votes withdraws and their votes are reallocated, a process that keeps on until every seat is filled.

Why single transferable voting is the way to go

Taking everything into consideration, why would STV improve British politics? To begin with, it would give us a sense of greater representation. STV makes it possible for a greater variety of candidates with various points of view to be listed.

Minority groups, for instance, would be given a voice because they are typically ignored. Additionally, more independent candidates would be in the running as STV places more emphasis on a candidate's personal values than their party affiliation, giving those without a party affiliation an equal opportunity to win.

Voters would feel represented since they voted for the winner, and with STV, votes are reallocated depending on a candidate's position on the ballot, so no vote would feel wasted.

Under STV, elections would be more fruitful and clean since candidates would be vying for the top slots on voters' ballots, and wouldn't want to run unfavourable campaigns because doing so may result in their elimination.

Also, it would imply that there would be no safe seats and that candidates would need to run their campaigns to win over all voters, not just those in certain regions or among a party's core supporters.

The list could go on, but the post I read by Dylan Difford’s article on the Electoral Reform Society website is very telling of how STV would improve British politics. His model projected the results of general elections from 1945 until 2019 if STV had been utilised.

How Single Transferable is used successfully in other countries

As a consequence, the results were very different to the results we know, with a party only obtaining a majority in four of the last 21 general elections under STV, with collations occurring in the majority of them.

While STV seems promising in principle, how does it function in practice? There are several instances of STV being employed rather successfully in other nations, including Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada.

For instance, since 1948, it has served as the primary means of choosing senators for Australia. Additionally, STV was used in Canada to elect Parliament members from 2004 until it was voted out in a 2009 referendum, however, it was still in use in certain regions of the country.

Several large American cities, including Cincinnati, New York, and Cleveland, employ STV as well. Finally, STV is employed in our own United Kingdom, where elections are held in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Most notably in Northern Ireland, which has been using it since 1998 to elect representatives to its assembly and local administrations.

Final Thoughts

All things considered, the Single Transferable Voting System is a solid, tried-and-true voting method that helps to consider all points of view and gives voters a sense of greater representation and voice.

Since there are many significant changes that need to be done in the times we live in, wouldn't it make sense to start with the method we vote for our representatives? 

Useful sources