We all know well that over the years, there has been a significant portion of the Scottish population that has expressed dissatisfaction with the UK political system and has sought more autonomy or even independence for Scotland.
The UK political system is too centralised and the first-past-the-post electoral system (FPTP) leads to disproportionate representation, as smaller parties may struggle to gain seats even if they have a significant share of the popular vote. Critics also argue that FPTP creates a ‘winner-takes-all’ dynamic, potentially excluding voices and perspectives that are not aligned with the majority in a particular constituency.
A system well past its sell-by date
One could even say that FPTP favours the appearance of extreme politics, if the system allows one party to keep its position, and within this party, a radical faction arises.
Many Scottish citizens advocate for electoral reform and support alternative systems such as proportional representation (PR). They argue that PR could result in a fairer and more representative distribution of seats in the UK parliament. Proponents of electoral reform often contend that PR would better reflect the diverse political landscape and range of opinions within Scotland and the wider UK, and this is undeniable.
In the last seven UK general elections, since May 2021, the largest party has gained 75% of the Scottish seats based on just over 43% of votes. At the same period of time, during the six Scottish parliament elections, the average result for the largest party gained 45% of the seats with 37% of the regional votes.
New poll: only one in five of the general public say the UK political system is working well
The survey showed that 48% of people think the political system is failing to deliver for the people, compared to only 20% that believe it is working well. This indictment comes amid growing calls for political reform.
On Wednesday, hundreds of people from constituencies across the UK gathered in Westminster to lobby MPs to change the voting system to a form of PR. MPs heard hundreds of personal stories about how the current system is letting people down, denying millions a real voice in politics. Constituents have been making the case that, to deliver real and lasting change, first we need to sort the system.
Democracy campaigners have long argued that FPTP is at the heart of dissatisfaction with the UK’s political system, pointing to lower levels of inequality and higher rates of satisfaction in those countries that use PR.
A survey conducted by Stack Data Strategy shows that the public supports a move to PR by a margin of more than two to one, with only 18% saying they oppose a proportional system, compared to 42% in favour, including 50% of Labour and 45% of Conservative 2019 voters. These results reinforce previous polling showing public support for reform, and will bolster the case of those who participated in the Sort The System mass lobby last Wednesday.
Changing Starmer’s mind on PR
The poll results also add to the pressure on Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer, who in recent months has consistently said that electoral reform is “not a priority” for an incoming Labour government. Starmer’s ambiguity stands at odds with his party, which voted overwhelmingly in favour of a manifesto commitment to introduce PR with support from a large majority of both trade unions and Labour members. A number of senior Labour figures, including first minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, and Greater Manchester mayor, Andy Burnham, have nonetheless called on Starmer to commit the party to bringing in PR.
The findings of this survey lend weight to their argument, with dissatisfaction with the political system most pronounced outside of London, highlighting the extent to which the Westminster system, underpinned by FPTP, concentrates power in the hands of a small and unrepresentative elite.
‘Westminster is not working’
Commenting on the survey and in the context of Wednesday’s mass lobby, Klina Jordan, chief executive of Make Votes Matter, said: “This polling confirms what we already know – Westminster is not working. People are fed up with a political system that is out of touch with the needs of the people. We are encouraged to see, once again, that the public is behind our call for proportional representation. With hundreds of people meeting their MPs on Wednesday as part of our “Sort The System” lobby, we will ensure that Westminster hears the public demand for reform.”
There is a lot of pretence when politicians discuss measures for reducing regional inequality – readily exemplified by the largely empty rhetoric of ‘levelling-up’. If politicians really want to commit to a fairer more regionally representative system they should start by securing the foundations for electoral system reform; otherwise, the United Kingdom, a ‘union of equals’, might find itself turning, sooner rather than later, into a patchwork of independent nations.
This article is based on a press release from Make Votes Matter
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