With fewer than eight weeks to go until the next UK General Election, the profound changes currently affecting the British political system show no signs of abating. Time and time again it has been repeated that this could be the most important general election to be held in this country in a generation. Some may go further than that. This could possibly be the most significant election held since 1918, one in which Sinn Féin won a landslide of the Irish seats and ultimately led to southern Ireland leaving the United Kingdom. This May we could see the SNP wipe Labour off the map in Scotland, UKIP win several seats in England and once again, another coalition government. Also, with trust in politicians at an all-time low and people more often than not feeling that their views are ignored, could this be the best time to change the voting system?

When discussions regarding the voting system arise, many people acknowledge that the electorate overwhelmingly voted to reject the AV system in 2011 (62-38 per cent). This of course does not tell the full story and the subsequent four years have led to further political earthquakes and the effective creation of a six party system across the UK.

The vast majority of opinion polls within the past year show that neither the Tories nor Labour will win an overall majority in May. The Conservative Party and the vast majority of the Labour Party stood firmly against the proposed implementation of AV and in fact against any change to the first-past-the-post system. The obvious answer to this was that FPTP benefited both Labour and the Conservative parties and has allowed the UK to swing back and forth between the two for the past 90 odd years.

The main argument in favour of the current voting system is that it creates a stable and strong government. This means legislation can be passed easily and tough decisions can be pushed through. However the previous election and the increasing hostility of public opinion towards the two-party system, mean that this view is slowly becoming an inadequate one.  If we carry on down the path we are currently on then the two major parties will find it increasingly tough to win a majority in Westminster. Henceforth it is now likely that the idea of changing to proportional representation will move higher up the agenda after the election in May.

It must be noted, that the AV voting system is not a proportional representation form of voting but a majoritarian one. To many this was one reason why the ‘no’ side won so decisively and easily. Many who believed in PR thought that AV was just as bad as first-past-the-post and in the words of Nick Clegg it was a, ‘miserable little compromise’.  It is highly possible that if another referendum campaign is held on converting to a PR system, that after a fair debate the result would be somewhat different to that of 2011.

Of course the current electoral situation is not the only reason for changing our voting system. Other voting systems are used throughout the UK for different elections. In Scottish Parliamentary and Welsh Assembly elections, the additional member system (AMS) is used. In Northern Ireland, the single transferable vote (STV) is employed. It must also be pointed out that STV is very often seen to be one of the fairest ways to vote in elections and is the method recommended by the Electoral Reform Society. The politicians in these parts of the UK enjoy a greater sense of trust from the electorate and have not been affected by the same scandals as they have in Westminster.

It is worth pointing out also the difference in just how much different electoral systems herald different results. The 2010 General Election saw the Conservatives win 307 seats (47 per cent of seats) on 36 per cent of the whole vote. On the other hand the Liberal Democrats won 57 seats (9 per cent of seats) on 23 per cent of the vote. This shows the major flaws in the first-past-the-post system and also why the Liberal Democrats were so keen to change it! On the other hand if one looks at the 2011 Scottish Parliament Election, these discrepancies are on the whole non-existent. The SNP won 69 seats (53 per cent of seats) on roughly 45 per cent of the vote (constituency and list vote). This landslide for the SNP allowed a majority to be formed. This system of course has its faults but has proven to be much fairer than the majoritarian alternatives – and it can still create strong governments but in a fair manner.

It is unlikely the British electorate will accept the status quo for much longer. As the quality of British democracy decreases, the sudden urge and need for huge change increases. The recent expenses scandal, cash for access controversy and the discord between the MPs and their constituents, heightens the suspicions that people have about Westminster.

Urgent but small steps must be taken one at a time to gain the electorate’s trust once again. The reform that our voting system needs could be the first of many necessary steps taken to change British politics for the better. A fairer more proportional voting system that allows people to feel as if their vote can actually make a difference is a vitally crucial component of increasing turnout and trust. As we saw last year in the Scottish referendum, when people know that their vote actually matters and can make a difference, people will turn out in their droves to tick that box.

DISCLAIMER: The articles on our website are not endorsed by, or the opinions of Shout Out UK (SOUK), but exclusively the views of the author.