AS SCOTLAND votes in a new government on Thursday, the UK’s electorate is being asked to give their view on a new voting system to elect MPs to the House of Commons.
The referendum on the ‘alternative vote’ (AV) will be the third ballot paper that voters will be handed when they attend one of the 36 polling station across the isles.
At present, the UK uses the ‘first past the post’ system, but as part of the Con-Lib coalition deal, both parties agreed to hold a referendum over whether this should be replaced by the alternative vote, which, it is thought, could bring more proportional representation.
The five candidates standing for the Shetland constituency seat for the Scottish Parliament, although not affected by the outcome, mirror the views expressed in the national debate on the issue
Not surprisingly, Lib-Dem candidate Tavish Scott backed the move towards AV, as party policy has for a long time called for a voting system that does not favour the two large parties.
“Despite the rubbish talked about by the dinosaurs in the ‘No’ camp, AV is a simple and sensible way forward which gives the voter more control. It ends the need to vote tactically in marginal seats. It means that, to win, a candidate needs to collect the support of at least half the electorate.
“The ‘No’ camp wants to restrict a voter’s choice to one party. But most voters don’t live in such a simple black and white world. They will welcome the chance that AV gives them to rank the parties in their order of preference,” Mr Scott said.
In contrast, Conservative candidate Sandy Cross said AV seemed “rather complex”, adding that the benefits it might bring would not outweigh the disadvantages.
“It seems to me that AV also demands a higher level of political engagement and knowledge of the relative merits of different parties than I believe many people actually have.
“I am not personally against some degree of proportional representation in elections, and I think this might be worthy of further exploration for the UK government – it seems to work okay in Scotland.”
Labour candidate Jamie Kerr, meanwhile, said he was undecided but would tend towards a ‘No’ on the AV question.
“Even the ‘Yes’ campaigners don’t think it is a good system. They say it is a stepping stone for something better. At the moment I lean towards a ‘No’, because I think the debate has not been had properly. It is all being done in a bit of a rush, and it is an option no one wants.
“It does not mean that I don’t want the voting system changed, but this time round I am not persuaded either way, and therefore my default position is ‘No’.”
Jean Urquhart for the Scottish Nationalist Party said AV would be the “worst of all the alternative voting systems”, and she therefore will vote ‘No’.
“What can happen with AV, and what cannot happen with any of the other voting systems, is that everybody gets somebody they don’t want. That is quite spectacular.
“I don’t like the first past the post system; I don’t think it is fair. I think the system we have voting for councillors (Single Transferable Vote) is one of the fairest, but the AV system could mean that 40 odd percent want candidate A, and we all end up with C.”
Finally, independent candidate Billy Fox said AV would be a step in the right direction, which is the reason why he has decided to vote ‘Yes’ in the referendum.
“Returning a no vote would kill any chance of voting reform for the foreseeable future,” he said.
“It is important to understand that any change would only affect the Westminster elections, the voting system for the Scottish Parliamentary elections of a constituency vote and additional regional list vote would not change.”
Explanations of these voting systems are available at www.aboutmyvote.co.uk or by contacting The Electoral Commission on 0800 3 280 280.
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