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‘We can’t afford to throw away this opportunity’

May 4, 2011

Emma Sandrey – a Cardiff based volunteer – tells YTFV Wales why she is saying ‘YES!’ tomorrow. This essay was originally intended for ITV Wales, but they were unable to find anybody from the No campaign to fulfil the opposing slot …

It’s only a day to go until the referendum on whether we should change electoral systems from First Past the Post to the Alternative Vote. This campaign has been called a lot of things by a lot of people; from ‘once-in-a-generation’ (if we overlook this opportunity, we more than likely won’t see another chance for reform for a whole generation), ‘boring’ (we’d sooner get riled up about how votes are wasted in a television talent contest), ‘engaging’ (proper grass roots campaigning spear-headed by ordinary people) and ‘a waste of money’ (because democracy isn’t something we should be funding?).

I’m not going to tell you how you should perceive the Yes and No campaigns; chances are, you’ve made your mind up about that already. Instead, I’ll tell you what I know; politics is becoming more and more irrelevant to those whose lives are directly impacted by it – the general public.

Levels of engagement are low – we have ‘representatives’ being elected on as little as a third of their constituency vote. Little wonder then that many feel as if their vote doesn’t count – because under First Past the Post, a lot of the time, it genuinely doesn’t. Politicians know this – which is why most voters are lucky to come into contact with one candidate, if at all, during elections. It is not the electorate who are to blame for low turn out; it is the snobbery of dinosaurs who can’t bear the idea of more people having a say, threatening their safe seats, their jobs for life culture.

So it follows that a positive change in the system, reform, is a start, an olive branch towards bridging the gap between politicians and the people they are supposed to represent. Instead of merely needing a third, AV demands that the winning candidate achieves an actual majority (50% or more) by running off candidates in order of preference (with the least popular dropping out at each round, with the second, third etc… preferences being counted and votes re-assigned) until someone has the most.

It is not complicated. It is not expensive. It doesn’t require £250 million funding for counting machines. No money will be saved by a ‘no’ vote. It won’t help elect the BNP, as they don’t command enough support. It does not allow you to vote more than once. Wanting a better democracy, a fairer, more balanced Westminster will not kill babies or deny soldiers the essential equipment that they need.

It may create coalitions but, hey, so did First Past the Post! With opinions diversifying and the political landscape changing to reflect that, coalitions and hung parliaments are an inevitable part of our political future. Two party politics just isn’t the way the forward and it isn’t true to how people feel.

If MPs have to impress more of us, there’s less of a chance that they’ll behave inappropriately – meaning events such as the expenses scandal are significantly less likely. If an MP had to answer to a wider approval base, rather than the largest minority, wouldn’t they think twice about taking liberties at the tax payer’s expense? If the large majority of your constituency didn’t have to vote you in, why would you care how they feel or what they think?

Under AV, you can declare multiple preferences – much like in day-to-day life when you decide with friends what film to see at the cinema or where to go for a meal. You go for what pleases the most people, overall, rather than end up with a majority of

disgruntled mates doing something they didn’t agree to. Having the ability to express various opinions also rids the need for tactical voting; you can vote for what you truly want, rather than the person you hate least.

We can’t afford to throw away this opportunity. Democracy is too important to take for granted. How can we go abroad, preaching about the virtues of it, when ours is so clearly broken?

The No campaign wants the electorate kept in their place – with little say in how the country is run. We at the Yes campaign believe that it should be the people who hold the power, not the politicians. That’s why we are voting yes on May 5th and that’s why you should too.

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