The main arguments used by the ‘No to AV’ campaign are, if taken to their logical conclusion, arguments against democracy. Every one of their leading arguments could be used an argument against holding elections at all.
Firstly, they focus on the cost of AV. Their claim that it would cost £250m has now been thoroughly discredited, although it still appears on their website (the figure includes the cost of the referendum itself, as well as the price of electronic counting machines that no-one is calling for). But just as important is the reality that there is a cost to democracy. The No campaign may as well argue that we could save money by abolishing elections altogether.
Secondly, the No campaigners argue that AV is too “complex”. This insult to the intelligence of British voters (who are quite capable of ranking candidates in order of preference) has been undermined by the reminder that the Tory Party does not use first-past-the-post for electing its own leader. The Tories seem to be saying that they’re clever enough for complexity – but we’re not. They may as well argue that democracy is too complex for the public to grasp and we would be better off trusting an hereditary class to rule us instead.
Thirdly, they suggest that there would be lots of coalitions under AV leading to “politicians’ fixes”. Both academic studies and the experience of Australia have called this claim into question. But even if it were true, the argument ignores the reality that a single-party government without a mandate from the majority of the population is itself a fix. The argument comes down to stability. It is argued that coalitions are unstable. By the same token, it could be argued that public opinion is unstable. Dictatorship would be so much more orderly.
Fourthly, a number of No campaigners keep repeating their claim that AV would help “extremist” parties to get elected. They have yet to explain why the BNP are campaigning for a No vote or why they think so many people would give their second preferences to the far-right . But the way to defeat racists and homophobes is to campaign against racism and homophobia, not to manipulate electoral systems. The No campaign are saying that under AV, the wrong people would win. By this logic, all elections should be abolished in case the wrong people are elected.
The No campaign’s arguments are based on a failure to trust people to make their own decisions and to govern themselves. The same arrogance and contempt for the public inspired the nineteenth century opposition to votes for women and working class men.
In contrast, to vote Yes for AV is to vote for an improvement that marks a step in the right direction, taking us closer towards the day when people really are trusted to govern themselves.
That’s why I’m voting Yes.