Mythbusting the AV Debate

Two things have struck me about the roaring yet boring AV debate this week. First, the No campaign are either pathological liars or genuinely don’t understand the fairly simple issue. Relying on such staple claims as “A vote for AV is a vote for the BNP” and “AV will literally kill your baby” is massively irresponsible but seemingly massively effective. Second, the Yes campaign possess all the political and advertising nous of a badly diseased goat.

Making this an interesting debate. Lashings of bullshit from one side, lashings of silence from the other. So, in the interests of not letting the No campaign lie their way to victory, let’s have a quick reappraisal of the claims being made:

1) With AV, the loser wins.

Umm, no. With First Past The Post, the loser is more likely to win. The lowest ever recorded winning vote share in the UK is 26.0%. Twenty six. Nearly three in four of the people who bothered to vote in the 1992 Inverness election voted definitively against one Russell Johnston, and yet he was declared the winner. If somebody can explain how a candidate can be declared the winner of a democratic vote with 26% of voter support, please feel free.

With AV, the majority rules, as it should in a democracy. In every case the candidate who wins can safely say that they were the most preferred choice of the majority of the electorate. No more wins on tiny vote shares, but a preferred consensus. This becomes increasingly important when parties share ideological turf and fracture the vote, which is what allows people like Mr Johnston to get in with the backing of just a quarter of his voting constituents.

One of the more famous No posters has a boxing referee declaring the unconscious fighter the winner, a piece of outright falsification that is so insulting to the intelligence of the public that I’m surprised nobody’s knocked David Cameron out in delicious ironic revenge. For all the relevance this analogy has to the Alternative Vote system they might as well have displayed a poster of a lovely bowl of fruit.

“With AV, the grapes always win.”

2) AV makes coalitions inevitable.

Well, not really, but I’m pretty sure the Conservatives have been banging on about how well the coalition is working and bringing in a mature new politics of compromise and discussion. And suddenly this is now a bad thing. Hmm…

3) Most of the world don’t use AV.

Most of the world don’t have running water. What’s your point?

4) Extremists! There’ll be extremists!

People have to vote for extreme parties for them to gain seats. Don’t blame the system. If 50% of constituents most prefer a BNP candidate, that’s democracy, as well as a hilarious chance to see what would happen if the BNP tried to get any of their proposals through parliament. All together now…Bom bom bom

5) One person, one vote.

Is exactly what AV gives you. Nobody gets their vote counted twice; every set of preferences is counted in every round of voting. Which eliminates tactical voting. Which is the stalwart practice of FPTP. In fact, with the current system, many more votes are effectively discounted than with AV. Going back to our friend in Inverness, the 74% of people who didn’t vote for him might as well not have bothered. Their vote shows for nothing. With AV, the preferences of the majority of constituents is taken into account (except in the very rare case where enough people don’t rank enough candidates, so technically someone can be elected with 50% of the vote. Only themselves to blame for that though…). You know this, I know this, the No campaign knows this. Why the lies?

6) But AV is expensive!

Australia have gotten by just fine without expensive machinery for over 80 years. The figure of £250 million seems to have been plucked from thin air as the breakdown of costs is sketchy at best (thanks to Tom F for putting me on to that!). The long term plan is to automate vote counting anyway, which will cost the same whatever the system, and although we can’t afford to change our electoral system for the better, we can afford to carpet bomb Libya for no apparent reason. And that’s really, really cheap…

In fairness, AV isn’t an ideal electoral system. It’s not by any means pure democracy, and it’s not going to usher a new golden age of open and accountable, yet effective politics. For that we’d need closed-list PR, and when that happens in this country I’ll eat my own hat and the various headgear of others around me. But importantly AV is a fairer system than what we currently have. It can only be seen as a step in the right direction, but it is better than no step at all. For this reason, I’ll be voting yes to AV on the 5th of May.