Home Uncategorized Local elections in England should be fairer – look at Scotland

Local elections in England should be fairer – look at Scotland

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In the UK, election day is scheduled for May this year. Advisers are to be elected over most of England, as well as throughout Scotland and Wales. Not to mention that the key elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly will take place on the same day.

There is a lot of bad in Britain’s local democracy, but councils are an important, if not unnoticed, part of our political mechanism. Yet there is a key issue that divides Britain’s local democracy into two distinct categories: the voting system used.

Councilors in England and Wales are elected through the First Past the Post, making local elections there incredibly unrepresentative, often leading to localized one-party states. In contrast, council members in Scotland and Northern Ireland are elected by single portable voting (STV), a form of proportional representation that ensures that councils largely reflect how people vote in the ballot box.

In England, the local elections in May will again be very unrepresentative – as in the House of Commons. Take Westminster City Council in the heart of London. In 2018, the Conservatives won more than two-thirds of the available seats (41 out of 60), gaining just 42.8% of the vote. Moreover, Labor won only 19 seats with almost the same share of votes (41.1%). And although the Liberal Democrats won 9.4% of the vote, they were left without seats.

In neighboring Islington, Labor received 60.6% of the vote. Of course, here the party received a clear majority of votes, but 6 out of 10 votes should not justify their receipt of a whopping 47 out of all 48 available seats. The Greens received a quarter more votes, but were left with the only remaining seat on the board. While libdemas and conservatives were left with nothing.

Representative democracy must be just that, representative. Instead, First Past the Post rewards the largest party disproportionately, and unfairly punishes the smaller. What England has is, at best, half-representative, and at worst, half-representative.

Next Wales sits in an awkward middle. Welsh councils are now empowered to modernize their electoral system to a single vote thanks to Local Government and Elections Act (Wales).. This welcomes development as it paves the way for a better democracy. However, as the law delegates the power to change the voting system to individual councils, where there are incentives for administrations to maintain the status quo, this is unlikely to lead to a wave of change. Any steps towards reform are likely to depend on the influence of the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru on administrative coalitions, as well as on the appetite for reform in local Labor parties. However, compared to what was before, the situation is expected to improve.

In contrast, voters in Scotland can be confident that the votes they cast in this year’s local elections will not be wasted. The second Labor Democrat and Liberal government in the era of devolution introduced a single figurative vote (a form of proportional representation) for council members beginning in the 2007 elections. Each of Scotland’s 32 councils is divided into multi-member chambers consisting of three to four advisers (with some exceptions) who are elected by the electorate in order of preference. According to STV, councils reflect how people vote in ballot boxes, voter turnout is severely limited, and citizens have a wide range of votes representing them in council halls. This is good for democracy.

Take Edinburgh City Council. In the 2017 election, parliamentary seats generally reflected the way people voted, and each district was represented by advisers from several parties. The SNP received 27.1% of the vote and 19 seats (30.2%), while the Conservatives received 27.7% of the vote and 18 seats (28.6%). Labor received 18.4% of the first preferences and 12 seats (19.1%), the Greens – 12.4% of the vote and eight seats (12.7%), and the Liberals – 13.6% of the vote and six seats (9.5 %).

Compare that to the 2003 Edinburgh election, where Labor won a majority of the vote with just 27.4% of the vote and the SNP did not get a seat with 15.6% of the vote. Thanks to STV in 2017 there was a strong link between seats and votes, as in 2022.

Of course, the Scottish STV setup requires some fine-tuning. The fact that the wards have mostly only three or four members weakens proportionality. Analysis of data by political scientists John Kerry and Simon Hicks (2011) indicates that the electoral advantage (where there is a fair balance between proportionality and the number of representatives in any constituency) is four to eight members. Eventually in Edinburgh, this led to the Conservatives gaining the most first votes, but eventually getting one seat less than the SNP. Perhaps there are lessons from the Assembly of Northern Ireland, which also goes to the polls in May and uses STV with wards of five people.

However, the principle is correct, and the establishment of local government in Scotland meets the minimum goal of broad proportionality and empowerment of voters, which is in stark contrast to England and Wales. Changes should be made to improve Scotland’s STV system, but reaching England and Wales by this point would be a big step forward.

There is a better way to elect advisers in England and Wales than the First Past Post, not to mention our MPs in the House of Commons.

Proportional representation works effectively in Scotland, Northern Ireland and most legislators throughout the democratic world. Thursday, May 5, 2022, will yield another series of unrepresentative results in England and Wales, as opposed to much fairer local elections in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Changes under this Conservative government are unlikely, but if the time comes to abolish the First Past the Post in Westminster, and it happens, local authorities should not be left out.

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