I couldn’t quite muster the energy to write this post in the immediate aftermath of the UK General Election. Aside from the lack of sleep that comes with doing an all nighter to watch the votes come in, I wasn’t entirely sure if we’d got the result we wanted in Scotland. On one hand I was over the moon that the SNP had won an absolute landslide victory in Scotland (56 seats out of a possible 59), but on the other hand we still ended up with a Conservative government in Westminster? More concerningly, it was a majority Conservative government.
When your whole country has voted left in an overwhelming majority and you still end up with a right leaning party who’s sole aim is to please the 1%, it’s hard not to feel somewhat confused. I know for many people in Scotland right now the question we’re asking is – how much influence will we really have? I’m also aware of how much worse this is for left wing voters in England (& Wales) who will have much less autonomy from Westminster than Scotland will.
Do we need a new electoral system?
I suppose one question that naturally pops up when a party with just 36.9% of the vote wins over 50% of the seats is – are we using the right voting system? This point is compounded by the fact that parties such as the Greens received over 1 million votes across the UK yet only received 1 seat in parliament. Even UKIP, as much as I deplore them, would be well within their rights to suggest it was unfair they received just 1 seat in parliament despite receiving 12.6% of the votes. So I think many in the UK may now be left asking, is the current First Past the Post system that we are using a fair one? And I guess those asking this may then follow that up with, is it even possible to change the system when the people who benefit most from FPTP are the only ones with the power to change it?
Is there a benefit to the First Past the Post system?
There is a line of thought that the current First Past the Post system in the UK provides more stability to a country because it provides a higher likely-hood of a majority government. A party with a majority of course being more (easily) able to pass through legislation that it wants than a party with a minority who will have to seek support from opposition parties. However, this is on the assumption that having 1 party able to pass through all its bills in parliament is actually what is best for a country at all given times. It also assumes that different parties can not work together (and compromise) to push certain legislation through should it be good for the country. There are examples of minority governments working well when they genuinely try to do what’s best for the electorate that they serve. The SNP being a prime example of that in 2007 when they formed a minority government in Scotland. They were later re-elected as a majority government in 2011 due to what was (in most part) a very successful previous term in government working with other parties.
The main issues with First Past the Post
The main issue with FPTP is that it wastes votes. For example, say the winner of a FPTP seat in parliament received 18,500 votes from his constituency to win his/her seat, but the candidate who got 2nd received 18,000. All 18,000 people who voted for the 2nd placed candidate will essentially see their votes wasted. And if this happens repeatedly to the one party over a number a seats, you end up with a situation where a political party with many supporters receives very little representation in parliament. Equally, you may find some parties with disproportionate amounts of representation in parliament too.
So whilst on the one hand I am using the SNP as an example of a successful minority government. Going by the figures I also have to say that – in this particular election – it is also true that they received a disproportionate amount of seats versus the percentage of votes they got in the UK General Election. With just 4.7% of overall votes (in the UK), their 56 seats tower above parties such as the Liberal Democrats and UKIP who both received a larger percentage of votes, yet took in much less seats due to the nature of the system.
Now, I should add at this point that I’m still very happy that the SNP secured 56 seats during this particular election. However, if we are to really do this fairly and have an accurate representation in parliament of the parties that people actually vote for, then we need to move away from a First Past the Post system. Gone are the days when we can polarise UK ideological identities into a system that promotes 2-party politics.
What system should we use instead?
Most experts suggest some sort of Proportional Representation, i.e. a system which allocates seats based on the number of votes a party receives. However, there are many forms of PR and which one is best for the UK would need to be decided.
What has happened so far in the aftermath of the result?
So far the rhetoric from Downing Street towards Scotland (and vice versa) has been reasonably constructive (all things considered). For me though, rather than Scotland’s own particular predicament, what has concerned me most since the result has actually been UK-wide issues. In particular, the news that Michael Gove has been appointed to abolish the Human Rights Act in the UK and replace it with a so-called British Bill of Rights. To me this is extremely alarming. Additionally, the prospect of the UK separating from the EU if David Cameron gets his way, and the continuing slashing of our National Health Service and education budgets is also deeply concerning. It just seems madness to me to take money out of the two most vital public services our country has (education and healthcare) and then use that to fill a hole made by bankers who gambled our economy away. Meanwhile many of these bankers (and the politicians who should have put in the legislation to stop this exploitation) will continue to receive tax cuts under a Tory government. How is this fair? How is this the best thing for people in the UK?
So I await with hushed breath to see what other announcements come our way in the coming weeks, months and years. My great hope is that the SNP will be the conscience this country needs over the next 5 years until we can (hopefully) rid ourselves of the Tories once again. Otherwise, I genuinely hope for Scottish independence. Seriously, a Britain run by Tories is not a Britain I want to be a part of, and it’s a problem Scotland is always going to have if we don’t separate for good. Just my thoughts though.