Members of the Liberal Democrat party have electoral reform in their DNA. No doubt, for some their first words were not mummy or daddy but single transferable vote (STV) in multi-member constituencies. So winning the AV referendum matters. Fellow Liberal Vision blogger, Andy Mayer set out clearly why he thinks people should vote yes. I have speculated in another place about the alternative vote and whether it will lead to a more liberal society.
Right now the polls don’t look that encouraging for the supporters of change. Polls can be wrong and there is still time to make the case but what if AV is rejected by the voters?
My fingers are hovering over the keyboard as I feel that what I am about to suggest is heretical. I should state clearly I am not arguing for a no vote by writing that members of the Liberal Democrats should not panic if the voters reject AV. In fact, it could turn out to deliver proportional representation in the future.
On Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday, Norman Lamb argued that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to change the voting system. Some though believe that by adopting AV now Britain will eventually get STV. If Norman is right and the vote goes the Lib Dems way, our electoral system is likely to be set for a very long time.
Liberal Democrats believe our current system of first past the post (FPTP) is discredited. As far as they are concerned it won’t stop being discredited if AV is rejected. There is a belief that the Prime Minister will have to make concessions to Nick Clegg if the vote goes Cameron’s way. One concession might be reform of the House of Lords elected under STV. This will give voters a chance to become comfortable with a different system. If they like it they will be able to compare it to FPTP and make up their own minds about which system better reflects the wishes of voters. In that situation, could we be looking at another referendum in 10 years or so on STV?
This time period gives the party a chance to prove itself in government, develop policies for future government and perhaps move from the third party to one of the main parties. Right now that may seem fanciful but this sort of thing has happened before.