So, we are to have a referendum on 5 May to see what we think about a change in the voting system: should we retain ‘first past the post’, or move to the ‘alternative vote’ (AV), a rather feeble form of proportional representation for elections to the UK parliament at Westminster.
First past the post is a ‘winner takes all’ form of voting, long in use in the UK. But not everywhere in the UK. The rotten boroughs and university seats have gone, as have the property qualifications, so there is an approximation to ‘one man, one vote’. First past the post has a long traditional history.
Strange then, that when Ireland was partitioned, with the south becoming independent, and the north remaining part of the UK, that the voting system for both parts was the single transferrable vote (STV) system of proportional representation.
In the south, the Irish Free State, the Republic of Ireland, the STV system has been maintained.
In the north, STV was used in the first two elections to the Parliament of Northern Ireland (familiarly known as Stormont). This was changed to first past the post thereafter because of Unionists’ fears that their majority would be eroded. First past the post remained the system until Stormont was dissolved in the early 1970s.
Yet, for the new Assembly the system chosen was STV. If there has to be a by-election, the system is de facto AV.
And for elections to the European Parliament the system has always been STV — N Ireland is a single multi-member constituency.
So if STV was and is good enough for Ireland — and it was an English parliament that decided this, why is there this reactionary desire to retain first past the post for the UK elections? If STV was good enough for the colonies, why isn’t it good enough for the ‘mother country’?
And, not for the first time, you don’t wonder why Albion got the monicker ‘perfidious’.