Since the Brexit referendum we’ve seen Brexit come to dominate British politics. It has been incredibly divisive and has created more problems than it has solved. It has sent both of the major political parties into turmoil. We need to ask ourselves how we got here and more importantly how can we avoid this kind of anarchy in future.
The fundamental problem of Brexit is that there is a clear disconnect between the Members of Parliament who are meant to represent us, and the will of the people. The vast majority of MPs are natural remainers and yet the public voted to leave the EU. This represents an obvious flaw in the system and David Cameron tried to fix this by way of a referendum. This evidently hasn’t worked and one of the reasons why is because the UK system isn’t geared towards referendums. Referendums introduce another mandate which can and will come into conflict with the mandate that MPs gain when they are elected to the Commons. This can be seen now as remainers in the Commons are being forced to enact something they see as fundamentally wrong and damaging to the country. This is a complete anathema under a Parliamentary system and will ultimately lead to an outcome that nobody will be particularly happy with. For this reason, it’s best to avoid referendums and leave it to those who we elect to make decisions on our behalf which is precisely their job.
There must be another way to avoid this kind of problem arising in the first place. The simplest solution would be to make sure there is a far better correlation between the views that are held by the general public and the views that are held within Parliament. This is obviously the best way for a democracy to function. However, under the current UK system this currently doesn’t happen.
The system used at the moment is first past the post (FPTP) where the country is split into tiny constituencies and each constituency elects one person to represent them in Parliament. This has some benefits such as ensuring a local constituency link so that local problems can be raised and dealt with at a national level. The system also increases the chances of a single party gaining a majority due to a landslide effect which in turn should allow for the formation of a strong and stable government, as Theresa May would say. The landslide effect means that the larger parties get a dividend for getting a higher percentage of the national vote. A simple thought experiment demonstrates this; if every constituency voted 51% for party A and 49% for party B then their national shares would be 51% and 49% respectively. However, party A would win 100% of the seats and B none. Whilst exaggerated this demonstrates the fundamental problem that parties that have a large share of the vote will win in a higher number of seats at a local level and this can be seen in the 2015 election where the SNP got just over 50% of the vote in Scotland and yet took 56⁄59 seats. This is clearly entirely undemocratic and a poor way of running a country. It also means that minor parties such as the Lib Dems, the Greens and UKIP get far fewer seats than they deserve. Even if one doesn’t agree with their politics they still deserve fair representation.
It is now time to reconsider voting reform. There are several models that would lead to far more satisfactory outcomes. One of these is the single transferrable vote (STV) system. This system works by electing multiple representatives to represent one area. On the ballot you list the candidates in your order of preference and then candidates that get above a set threshold (i.e. a fifth of the vote if 5 candidates are to be elected) and any additional votes are transferred to second preferences. If at any point no more candidates have crossed the threshold the candidate with the lowest vote share is removed and their votes are redistributed based on next preference.
This system has some key advantages. It will lead to a far more proportional representation of the popular vote and maintain the constituency link. Further, if you believe one of your MP is not doing a good job of representing your interests then there are other local MPs who should represent you. STV would be far better at dealing with an issue like Brexit which has caused internal divisions within both parties. Parties are able to stand multiple candidates in one area under STV; therefore, they could stand a leaver and a remainer and leave it to the public to decide which candidate/opinion they prefer leading to a far better representation of people’s views in Parliament.
Brexit has been an issue which has divided both parties for decades and it is time that we introduced a system that can cope with it. The public have a right to have their voices heard and referendums clearly don’t work either. The time has come to abandon FPTP and to bring in STV as our voting system for general elections.