My Vote Counts

May is the month of local government elections here in Spain (22nd) and in the UK (5th). In the UK the day also brings elections to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, possibly Stormont (I’m not sure), but most important in many ways, a referendum on the voting system. Although I have long wanted to see a change in the UK voting system, I shall not be able to vote for it in the referendum. My vote is here in Spain. And here in Spain, my vote counts equally with every other vote cast.

In Spain a system of proportional representation is used so that seats are allocated on the basis of the percentage of votes cast in favour of each party. Each party assembles a closed list of candidates in order of precedence determined by the party, and a line is drawn, as it were, at the percentage obtained; those above the line are deemed to have been elected, and those below, not. If you want to know more, you can find a full account at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_of_Spain.

I say that my vote is here in Spain, but that extends only to local elections and elections to the European Parliament. As a foreigner, I have no vote in the national elections, which seems entirely reasonable to me.

In England, on the other hand, I had a vote at every level. Sadly, for the whole of that time my vote was of no practical use at all. My allegiance was initially to the Liberals and subsequently to the Liberal Democrats. I lived first in a rock-solid Labour constituency (Salford West), then in an unassailably Conservative constituency (Kensington and Chelsea). In the other constituencies where I later had my vote, all were either safe seats or Labour/Conservative marginals. Not only that, but the voting system - simply electing the candidate who polled more votes than any other single candidate - led to a situation where a Liberal Democrat candidate had to secure four votes for each one won by his/her rivals in order to win a seat; that’s a statistical reality, based on the total national vote for each party.

If I wanted my vote to ‘count’ in some way, the only solution was to ignore my party allegiance and instead vote for the candidate I least objected to in the (usually vain) hope that this would ensure that the candidate I most objected to would not be elected.

That, in a nutshell, is why if I had a vote in the UK referendum, I would vote for a switch to the alternative vote system. If introduced it would mean that in future, someone in my position could vote according to their party allegiance, and then use the order of preference to indicate the least up to the most objectionable alternative candidate. It’s interesting, but not surprising to see that the greatest opposition comes from past and present members of parliament who see the imminent disappearance of ‘safe’ seats. Then again, as the saying goes, would you expect a turkey to vote for Christmas?

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