Why Election Reform is not enough

The Election has done something that has never happened before - The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are the majority party in Northern Ireland, Labour in Wales, the Tories in England and the Scottish Nationals (SNP) in Scotland. The union has never been so fractured in terms of the representation in each country.

Parties like the Greens, UKIP and Lib Dems have many more votes and many fewer seats and there’s a legitimate argument for change. The debate about what needs to change is underway.

One question, then, has to be whether a proportional representation (PR) system would deliver better government than the current system. It’s likely that given the way that first past the post (FPTP) has delivered a majority government with only around a third of voters that most would worry that it’s not fair. A straight split by votes creates a different situation where the likelihood would be that the smaller parties would end up calling the tune on balanced issues. It’s probably not fairer in reality, but it would feel fairer at election time. There’s also issues of representation if voters in one constituency are represented in some way by an MP put in place by PR.

Consitutionally our constituency MP’s represent all voters however they vote, but party systems break that bond whenever a whip is used.

If we move to PR we probably end up with the norm being minority and coalitions where FPTP provides a norm of majority governments. That may be a good thing, we haven’t tried it, but if we are to do so then I think we should think more widely and question a range of different aspects of how we are governed.

The voting system and the flavour of PR, the structure of parliament, whether all MP’s should be voted in at the same time, Lords reform, both for purpose and make up. Whether the Prime Minister (and other key roles) should be an elected post, the regional and local settlement, resolving the West Lothian Question, the Union itself (with all of us involved in that) and our relationship with Europe. The nature of our representation matters too, are those we elect delegates, or representatives or a mixture. Constituencies will have to be redrawn, and their balance and boundaries and the number of them is all in the mix.

Much of this is being discussed already or committed to being discussed albeit in parts and pieces. It would benefit from an overview and a long term strategy.

We may have thought the election was about economic strategy, or the NHS and education, turns out it’s become about the very fabric of our society. Good.

William Buist

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