Evaluation of why different voting systems are used in the UK

Why has FPTP survived for Westminster elections?

First past the post has survived largely because the outcomes it produces usually suit the interests of the two largest parties, who have largely monopolised government since 1945. The Labour Party offered a referendum on FPTP before the 1997 general election, but had no incentive to deliver this after winning a large independent majority under the existing system. The coalition offered

a referendum on AV after taking office in 2010 because this was a key demand of the Liberal Democrats when they agreed to participate in the government.

Voters accept FPTP because it is familiar and easy to use, and there is little desire to change it for an untried system that may bring problems of its own. The outcome of the May 2011 referendum demonstrated the lack of popular support for change.

The other systems discussed in this chapter were chosen by the Blair government when it established new institutions in the different parts of the UK. In each case different reasons applied.

Why was AMS adopted for Scottish and Welsh devolved elections and for the Greater London Assembly?

AMS was the price that Labour paid for winning acceptance of its devolution plans from the other political parties. The Liberal Democrats and SNP would have preferred STV for the Scottish

Parliament as they expected that Labour would sweep the board under a less proportional system. AMS was chosen as a compromise that would result in a broadly representative Parliament, but without involving such a radical change as STV. It pacified the other parties by providing an element of proportionality but was also acceptable to Labour because it retained local representation (a feature of FPTP). Labour expected that AMS would enable it to play a part in government in Scotland and in this, at least until the SNP victory in 2007, it proved to be correct. After AMS had been agreed on for Scotland it was decided to use the same system for Wales, where support for devolution was much weaker.

AMS was adopted for the Greater London Assembly because it had already been selected for Scotland and Wales. It would broadly reflect the views of the population of the capital while retaining an element of geographical representation.

Why was STV adopted for the Northern Ireland Assembly?

• STV was chosen for Northern Ireland after the 1998 Good Friday Agreement because it is a highly proportional system, likely to ensure the broadest possible representation of different parties. In view of the background of conflict between unionist and nationalist communities in Northern Ireland, it was important to avoid single-party domination, which could have derailed the fragile peace process. The use of STV ensures that governments are power-sharing bodies

drawn from both sides of the divide. Another reason is that STV was already used in the Republic of Ireland. It had also been used for short periods when a previous Northern Ireland parliament had been in existence, between the 1920s and 1970s, and so had roots in the province.

Why was SV used to choose elected mayors?

Both SV and AV were considered as possibilities when the Labour government was deciding which method to use for choosing the London Mayor — and thus the mayor for other cities. SV was chosen partly because it was simpler to use. It was also preferred because only the top two candidates, after first preferences had been counted, would make it through to the final round. This meant that candidates with little positive support would be less likely to win merely because they were a 'lowest common denominator' second or third choice. In this way the winner would have a clear mandate