Authority lets down the Arbuthnott report: Not "putting citizens first" for Scotland's parliament (but at least recommended STV for Scottish Euro-elections).
The Richard Report on the Welsh Assembly (recommended STV).


The Scottish parliament commission on boundary differences and voting systems was the official body, whose report is here criticised. To decide whether this is a cogent report, how well reasoned are its claims and how well supported by evidence? Mere assertions are merely authoritarian. Even an authority loses credibility if he issues conflicting commands, so his obedient servants do not know whether they are coming or going. An authority must have principles if he hopes to be followed with some consistency and is not just a monopolist of anarchy. Really, we seek to follow right principles, rather than princes, principals and prime ministers, right or wrong. In particular, has the Arbuthnott commission followed its avowed principle of "putting citizens first"? In this respect comparisons were made with the Richard Report for the Welsh Assembly.

Career boundaries not community boundaries from the single member system and list regions.

The terms of reference of the report, putting boundary differences before voting systems, puts the cart before the horse. It puts the locality of the election before the actual election. This fails to get priorities right. The repeated falsehood of single members having the strongest links to constituents has become conventional wisdom. The McIntosh and Kerley reports challenged it. The most local system, the single member system, gives the least choice, with representation monopolised by one member from one party.

Putting first the issue of how to accommodate British and Scottish single member constituencies under-cuts a debate on voting methods that offer more choice.

Thus, the main report starts just about boundary differences, discussed for about 25 pages or a third its length ( without the annexes ). Westminster's reduced number of Scottish single member constituencies are not "co-terminous" with the single member constituencies of Scotland's parliament - which also has to have regional boundaries for the party list MSPs. Then there are the multi-member local constituencies being created for the use of the single transferable vote. STV is also the method recommended by the Arbuthnott commission for a national Euro-constituency.

STV in multi-member constituencies, for the Scottish parliament, would have removed most of the difficulties with boundaries, which dont need changing as single member boundaries are always in need of re-drawing. With STV, some sense of permanent local identity would become possible. Multi-member constituencies can add or lose a seat in proportion to gains or losses in population. But single member boundaries have become a meaningless tangle of most interest to politicians, seeking safe seats in boundaries drawn and re-drawn round their party's natural local majority. This pre-empts most genuine choice for the voters, saddled with a monopolist of the main local party's candidature.

The single member system is the play-thing of career politicians who get jobs for life in safe seats. It not only cheats the voters of genuine choice, it cheats people of a sense of living in stable and recognisable communities. The monopolistic single member system is the least efficient, most contentious, expensive and time-consuming approach to individual representation.

The Arbuthnott commission found most people didnt care about boundaries. They quoted one opinion from a focus group: "It doesnt mean anything to me...I don't think it matters to us." ( 3.11 ). Well, there is little reason why the issue should matter, because boundaries are designed not ( as the commission claims ) to put citizens first, as members of recognisable communities, but party place-holding members of parliament.

The commission's faulty re-sale with "open lists" to Scotland's parliament.

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Partisan imbalance and role conflict of two types of MSPs.

Moreover, the Scottish parliament's mixed member system's second set of regional boundaries serve not the general public but the interests of the smaller parties, who mainly benefit from votes for a party list, without unsettling too much the single party member monopolists.

The Arbuthnott report seems to pose this as an accident of the system that some of the confused voters have got it into their head was its real motive. They suggest the main parties' holding most of the constituency seats and the minor parties' holding most of the regional list seats may go away. But it has not done so in over fifty years in Germany. No doubt it is better than autocracy and dictatorship but that is not much to sell the democratic tradition of the Scottish people. It is one of the irredeemable flaws in the system. Electoral Reform Society evidence, in the Richard Report, suggests Scottish and Welsh smaller party list members fight a guerrilla campaign to capture the most winnable single seat in their region, controled by a main party.

And why wouldnt they? Parties in British general elections focus on the 800,000 "golden voters" in the marginal constituencies to determine the nation's government. That is the grasping way parties campaign, by manipulating to the utmost unfair systems to their own advantage. If Britain had a fair system, politicians would have to turn their competitive energies to policies, to win power.

Arbuthnott reported this list members' stalking, in terms of the constituency members' complaint of regional members "cherry picking" issues. In section 5.32, the report makes the revealing remark:

If the mixed member system is to be effective, clear and positive roles need to be developed for regional and constituency MSPs,...

This quote tells us not only that the mixed member system is ineffective but that it never was devised on "clear and positive roles," in the first place. It is just an ill-thought-out device to give smaller parties a share of power in parliament, an extension to multi-party oligarchy, without any consideration for democratic first principles.

Also, the Richard Commission found that protocols, to define mixed members' roles, dont work well.

If a shop sold you two goods, say a car and a motor-bike, one good and the other faulty, you wouldnt be unduly grateful because one of them does the job it is supposed to, tho the other doesnt. Say, the faulty good was the car. Then say, you'd already had to take the car back because it was malfunctioning and all the servicers did was make a minor adjustment that by no means solved the problem but left you to limp along for another decade before they would look at it again.

That is only an analogy but it conveys the extent of the sub-standard service to democracy done to the Scottish people by the Arbuthnott commission.

The Arbuthnott report's title is putting citizens first. Actually they have put MSPs' safe seats first. The commission ( with one exception ) would retain the additional member system or mixed member system, as they would call it, for the Scottish parliament.

Dual candidacy's denial of the right not to elect candidates.

At present, the additional member lists are closed lists, meaning the mixed member system is a doubly safe seat system, running in harness with the monopolistic safe seat system. And that's not all. Dual candidates have to be allowed or small parties would only put their leading candidates on the lists. In nearly all but the most marginal cases, the parties not the voters decide who gets into parliament. The votes are mostly rubber stamps.

The commission says:

We note that in the 2003 elections, 88% of successful regional MSPs had fought and lost a constituency seat.

Note the term "successful". What's successsful about the list MPs? Theyve succeeded in nothing but get themselves appointed without any personal sanction from the voters. The commission is unconcerned. They quote someone who regards it a democratic right to feather the floor in case candidates fall out of their feather beds. For ( 4.60 ), the commission agrees

that it would place "an unnecessary restriction on the democratic rights of potential candidates, parties and local electors (sic:not ) to have as unrestricted a choice as possible in an election."

The totally restricted choice of closed lists to parties violates the ideal of free choice, used to defend it with. And a single seat monopoly on choice is the greatest restriction on individual choice. The two votes for mixed members are anything but "as unrestricted a choice as possible." The rights, which the commission claims, are rights to double-speak and to be criticised for it. ( That may have something to do with the apparent omission of the word "not" from the quotation. )

The Richard Commission ( chapter 12, sec. 22 ) states the real democratic issue clearly:

Candidates use the list as an insurance against failing to win a constituency contest. This dual candidacy can also confuse the electorate, who may wish to consciously reject a particular candidate only to find them elected via the list. It should remain a basic democratic right not to elect a particular candidate.

The Richard Report pointed out the extent of the problem. In 2003, 17 out of 20 candidates who lost first past the post were appointed to the Welsh assembly from party lists. The report goes on to say ( sec. 23 ): "Adjusting the AMS system would not address this issue." That sums up the futility of the Arbuthnott commission's sop of open lists. With the mixed member system, there is no election worth speaking of. There is no effective choosing out of candidates, only an imposed partisanship. But Arbuthnott simply failed to take seriously the complaints about dual candidacy, because the system wont work at all without it. And they would have been obliged to resort to STV for the Scottish parliament, just as the Richard report recognised was necessary for the Welsh assembly.

The Labour Party thinks that it doesnt matter if you make the Welsh assembly a parliament with legislative and tax-raising powers, without making its members correspondingly accountable to the public. They are living in a fool's paradise of power without responsibility. They are set to repeat the bad reputation of their urban party ghettos in local government, that led to enquiries on standards of public conduct.

The Kerley report for Scottish local elections had the vision of effective elections with proper support for losing candidates thru gaining qualifications while still in office, so they would be able to move on, if necessary, from their political job. This was a philosophy that could be applied to all levels of government. ( The Arbuthnott commission considers it. ) Instead, politicians make hay while the sun shines. Cabinet ranking politicians are abundantly provided for, on corporate boards they may have dealt with as ministers, or with celebrity deals, after leaving office. And MPs are continuously vilified for abnormal self-awards, as in the Press early in 2006.

The Arbuthnott commission have set the alarm clock for Scotland to wake up in two elections time, to review whether the mixed member system beds down better with open lists instead of closed lists of the parties. Presumably they hope the system will have bedded down enough with the Scottish people that they will go to sleep for the rest of their politicians' careers.

The commission wants ineffective "Open lists," leaving officials to be criticised for the actual system.

The Arbuthnott commission have had well over a year to avoid finding out the well-known fact that open lists dont work as a means of individual choice. Ultimately, the X-vote for an open list, as for a closed list, counts only for a party. The party must get its proportion of seats, in the party-proportional count of open, as well as closed, lists. In the process, a candidate on the "open" list could get elected with as few as no votes, none. That is merely because more popular candidates on the list may have won enough votes to carry him on their back into parliament.

The Kerley report on STV for local elections was already going into law. Part of the Arbuthnott voting report's remit was to consider the confusion of four different voting systems in Scotland. They reduced the problem from four to three by recommending STV for Scottish Euro-elections. This was the commission's one positive gesture and it is not a negligible one. Equally, it was the least they could do for Scottish democracy without doing nothing at all. Imagine the storm of protest that would have caused. It's as if the commission decided: let the Scottish MEPs know democracy. Theyre not our bosses.

Ulster has always used STV for Euro-elections and the commission sensibly opted for it. Sensibly, because here was a tried and tested system. Whereas, the commission could not find a presentable open list system for the mixed member system of the Scottish parliament.

"Open lists" are a mirage of democracy. They sound democratic but when you actually get to where they appear to be, democracy is conspicuous for its absence. The commission took good care not to investigate the mirage.

They have thrown that hot potato to the electoral commission. That is to subordinate democracy to bureaucracy. The officials are left to sort out the mess. The only thing the Arbuthnott commission insisted on was that voters should have the right just to vote for a party, vote for a straight party ticket, as at present with the closed lists. As ever, the rights of the small minority of deferential partisans, say 14% of the public, were to be prefered, if no-one else's rights were to be respected. The rights of closed minds wouldnt be forgotten in the move from closed lists. But open minds would find "open lists" far from open. The electoral commission was left to the impossible task of making an individual choice work properly with a vote for a party, that is irrespective of individual choice.

The term "open lists" disguises an illogical concept. All the Arbuthnott commission has done about the Scottish parliament's voting system is take the cue from the Scottish constitutional convention that the closed lists should become open. They, too, dodged recommending an actual open list system, which would make clear their absurdities in practise. That is what happened with the Regional List proposal, an open list, for the first British Euro-elections.

It is no use the Electoral Reform Society asking the commission to ensure that open lists are open enough. They cannot be, because proportional partisanship is the master they serve, and anything by way of individual representation, a secondary consideration. Without a preference vote, the best the open list can do is elect candidates first past the post on each list. That means there is not proportional representation within the party list, only between parties as groups.

That was the rejected Regional List system. And that was why politicians went afterwards for closed lists in Britain, knowing that the ineffective concession of an open list incorporates the corruption of choice by first past the post, which was the reason for moving to proportional representation in the first place. The open lists only reveal that party lists may have a party proportional count but they dont do the job of representation properly. Arbuthnott report has raised the "open list" mirage, as a last ditch ploy to avoid democratising the Scottish parliament.

There was no lack of examples of open lists in use. To get the electoral commission to try to invent an open list is an admission of their failure, and a desperate attempt to dodge democratic progress. They hadnt the courage of their convictions to back an actual system in use. An open list recommendation would have left the commission open to criticism of its lack of openness. The commission shirked its job of testing open lists, which would be found wanting.

The commission didnt deign to recognise the great democratic experiment of letting a sample of the people decide for themselves the best voting system. British Columbia's government set up a randomly chosen Citizen's Assembly on electoral reform. Its members were obliged to construct working models of the alternative systems, which came down to STV and Mixed Member Proportional, as the Additional Member system is called there.
STV's proportional count of the preference vote is very involved. But it is based on the simple principle of letting all the voters elect their representatives in order of choice. As listed in the full Citizens Assembly final report, the citizens found that Mixed Members involved all sorts of arbitrary decisions that were not based on, and could not be resolved by, democratic principle.

Whereas with a preference vote for the proportional count, you might as well have freely transferable voting, allowing the voters to prefer candidates of more than one party . This establishes the people's preference of coalition, if no one party has majority support. In short, STV is the uniquely democratic method of voters prefering representatives and prefering governments.

The Richard Commission could have brought out this crucial point. ( Ive discussed it on other pages. ) By and large, their chapter on electoral arrangements was a refreshingly competant assessment. Ive borrowed some of their observations.

If and when the public get effective elections, it seems they only get them for things like local elections in Scotland, with modest powers. Would the long turned-off voters appreciate how to use STV and realise it was at last worth bothering to canvas or research the best candidates to make the world a better place?

The Arbuthnott commission on advantages of STV.

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The commission makes four points ( 4.34 ). The first two points are really only about the disadvantages of the mixed member system that STV doesnt have. So, the commission's first two points do not state positive advantages of STV and do not generate discussion of its merits.
These two points are to do with the fatal inconsistencies of two kinds of vote for two kinds of members. ( I discuss this, below, in context of the commission's alleged second disadvantage of STV compared with the Mixed Member system. )

The third point as much as says that STV is the most democratic system:

Of all possible voting systems, the single transferable vote gives the maximum power to individual voters over the choice of their local representatives.

The report gives no explanation why STV gives most power to the voters. For instance, the commission noted ( 4.68 ) with concern the number of people selecting MSP candidates for both constituencies and regional lists "has in some cases been very small." The commission fails to appreciate this is not a concern with STV, because all the people may prefer between several candidates of the same party in a multi-member constituency. STV effects primaries of all the parties, within the general election.
STV is even more comprehensively democratic than this, with regard to effective choice of government, about which, in their next section, the commission gets the wrong end of the stick.

Nor is it explained why democracy is not an over-riding consideration with a commission whose guiding principle is allegedly "putting citizens first." Elsewhere, the report shows what its authors really believe.

Section 2.13 recommends STV for Scottish Euro-elections. It is interesting that they regard the choice as only for a few Scottish MEPs. That is probably the way to look at it. You are only prefering a few representatives, tho from among a large number of candidates. It is the ones that stand out for you, the voter, that matters, whether by party or any other consideration, such as ability, distinction, age, gender, class, occupation, race, ethnic group, religion, paramount issues, whatever.

The Scotland wide constituency and the small number of members elected make it ideal for widening public choice, enhancing the profile and accountability of MEPs and placing citizens, rather than the political parties, in the lead role.

This quotation gives away the real agenda of the Arbuthnott commission, which is only to put citizens first in advisory or less empowered parliaments or assemblies but retain, if possible, the leading role of the parties for a legislative body like the Scottish parliament.

The leading role of the parties becomes a totalitarian motif, if, as G K Chesterton said, there is really only one party. ( That is the Establishment or ruling class. )

Section ( 4.97 ) substantiates this impression, where it is said of European elections "a party vote makes less sense" because none of "the parties compete for government office." The commission's oligarchic belief is that parties come first for governmental or powerful parliaments.

In section ( 4.98 ), the commission states: "We believe that introducing the single transferable vote to elect them ( MEPs ) would allow Scottish voters to select the best team of parliamentarians to represent the country."

Presumably the Arbuthnott commission means "parliamentarians" as distinct from government ministers. But since the latter comes from the former, one has to ask oneself, why the Arbuthnott commission wants the "best team" for Scotland in Europe but not for Scotland in Scotland.

History shows that good leaders have been good parliamentarians. If they cannot lead parliament, they can hardly lead the country. Arbuthnott takes its cue from the Plant report's artificial break-up of integral parliamentary functions, in order to justify two sets of job-protecting dysfunctional voting systems for two sets of parliament, executive and advisory.

The Arbuthnott commission puts parties first in the Scottish parliament and citizens first in local and Euro-elections. Two out of three aint bad, as the song wryly says. Three out of three would have been a lot better, especially as the third is the one that matters most, Scotland's national government. And the Kerley report had already pioneered the STV reform for local elections.

This democratic voting system in Scotland's parliament would have sent the Establishment a most unwelcome signal to make the Westminster parliament and all Britain democratic. Also, the current one-party government in the Welsh assembly would have looked, as bad as it is, for having rejected the Sunderland and Richard reports for STV in local and assembly elections.

STV is the only system that works at every level of government. In science, that is evidence that STV is the right system and that the other less functional systems are wrong.

The commission on disadvantages of STV.

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The commission claims more disadvantages than advantages.

1) "Complicated."

Any specialist subject is complicated or it would not be a specialty. Gordon Rattray Taylor instanced how easily scientists can make fools of themselves when they stray from their subjects to pronounce on other areas. A celebrated biologist's latest book was recently criticised in the press for doing just that.

Here we have a microbiologist in the chair, who appears to have performed on himself a head transplant. Like Worzel Gummidge, he has taken off his science head and put on his politics head. That is the effect the Arbuthnott commission achieves with a series of key statements as dogmas.

"Casting votes for candidates in order of preference complicates the act of voting."

The commission typicly does not try to justify the assertion. Actually, a preference vote is more straight-forward than the exigencies of tactical voting forced upon the electorate by First Past The Post. This gives an X-vote which the voter is obliged to decide whether he will use it as a first preference or a second or a third etc, against the probabilities of higher preferences being disenfranchised as "wasted votes".

The ruling parties hadnt the courage of their convictions to give the people an honest choice. That two-party system hypocrisy has been a Labor-Tory campaigning cheat since the 1950s and a long term apathiser of the electorally blackmailed British people. This voting blackmail must be removed before politicians can set a civilised example to their people. It may not be easy to undo that long term bad example to citizenship. Remedies would have to include a wider awareness of democratic method.

The X-vote does not properly enfranchise the voters. They were effectively disenfranchised before many gave up pretending otherwise by still voting. The evidence, Arbuthnott quotes in section 6, talks of "a deep distrust amongst many citizens, particularly the younger ones, of established politics and the relevance of voting." Voting systems that dont work properly can scarcely be anything but irrelevant. An establishment determined to stay established is bound to provoke "distrust," "disengagement," "disinterest" and "dislike." The Labour party establishment has been doing just that, by vetoing every move to effective voting, most recently from Wales' Sunderland and Richard reports. Whereas, the Arbuthnott commission holds out for safe-seat man in the Scottish parliament.

The commission knows the confusion of voters over "the second vote" for additional members as a second preference. But all it can suggest is re-naming it and "educating" the voters in the system's own confusion, as a bad guide might lead one into a morass.

It is interesting that David Attenborough's film "Life On Earth" shows some footage of him as a young man meeting a New Guinea tribe, which had no contact with the outside world or understanding of other languages. The first attempt the film shows of the tribe trying to communicate is thru their number system. The numbers in order were shown by pointing to an order of positions on the fingers and arm. They were natural preference voters before practicly anything else!

Of course, number conveys order, as in the preference vote, besides ratio, as in a proportional count. The fact that STV alone uses both these essential characteristics of number, ordinal numbers and rational numbers, is the arithmetic explanation of why STV is the only voting system that works properly. The other voting systems, that lack either order in the vote or proportion in the count, are arithmeticly incomplete and, in consequence, grossly misleading and inaccurate.

Both natural man and mathematics refute the criticism of the preference vote. Millions of people have used it for political and professional elections for over a century. Richard Wood MP supported an additional member system in the Hansard report. Nevertheless, he went so far as to say of the government's proposal of an open list instead of STV for the first Euro-elections, that it was "an insult to the intelligence of the British people" that they wouldnt be able to use a preference vote. The Sunderland report made the same comment that it was an "insult" to suggest that the Welsh people shouldnt be given STV for local elections because they wouldnt be able to use it.
There you have it, Arbuthnott commission!

As the dissenting member of the commission, John Lawrie says, the Scots are going to get used to preference voting for local elections. The commission itself has proposed STV for Scottish Euro-elections, which would only make people more used to it. The commission has not ruled out its eventual use in the Scottish parliament, in which case STV would become the norm.

The commission continues against STV by saying:

The process by which votes are translated into seats would also be made more complex and lack transparency potentially undermining confidence in the voting system.

John Lawrie says there is no evidence for lack of confidence in STV. And the commission gives none. The Jenkins report was miffed because Irish voters like STV more than the politicians do. STV may be complex but it is false to say that it lacks transparency in either the republic of Ireland or Ulster. Every step and stage of the count is put up on a board, which voters are said to keenly follow.

The complexity of the count is unavoidable if it is to be democratic rather than dictatorial. The difficulty of democracy is worth the effort of sharing power between people instead of concentrating too much power over others. That said, STV is more logical than other systems because it seeks to follow the democratic principle. Other avowedly democratic systems let oligarchy in by the party back door and end up as so many unjustifiable make-shifts, because one cannot serve two masters.

Finally, the commission are just making excuses against the admittedly democratic system of STV. For example, when the commission chooses open lists ( section 4.64 ), complexity is tolerated and lack of transparency from electronic counting is ignored:

The Commission acknowledges that open lists might increase the complexity of the ballot paper and complicate the act of voting, but then difficulties should be eradicated once electronic voting is introduced.

Whether the ballot is electronic or not makes no difference to the voters' understanding of their part in the voting procedure. But an electronic count would completely lack transparency, unless, perhaps, it was programmed to appear on an electronic board analgous to the manual count boards at present used with STV.

Instead of just making an assertion that STV is too complicated, the Richard Commission looked at the evidence. Their statement in chapter 12, section 41, may be taken as definitive:

One of our members joined a group of observers of the Northern Ireland Assembly election on 26 November 2003. This confirmed that voters have no difficulty in understanding the voting system and the requirement to specify preferences. The system was universally felt to be fair and the counting system enjoyed the confidence of all the parties.

2) Electing a government.

The Arbuthnott's second point against STV is:

Although it enhances voter choice over the election of individual candidates, the link between an individual's vote and the election of a government is less clear than in a mixed member system.

Again the commission leaves us with a bare assertion. I wont do the commission's work of speculating why they think this is so. I shall just explain why the truth could hardly be more otherwise. It is transferable voting which ensures the voters may choose the prefered majority for a government. It is non-transferable voting which prevents their doing so.

The admitted fact that STV elects the individual candidates in order of choice is precisely what enables voters to elect a government of the prefered candidates from the prefered party or parties. In Ireland two parties have asked the voters to prefer their candidates on a coalition program, to all intents and purposes the manifesto of one party for government. The respective voters for these two parties may or may not transfer their preferences as asked. The decision, whatever it may be, is the voters'. No other system offers the voters individual freedom of choice and their choice of national unity, according to how they transfer votes beyond party lines if they wish.

Other systems offer an X-vote for party divisions. They put party first. Choice of individual representation and choice of government are largely left to the parties. Take the mixed member system, as a government-forming instrument, since the commission commends its clarity in this respect.

The mixed system is firstly one X-vote for one of two parties that first past the post obliges non-supporters to tacticly vote for. As the Richard Commission points out, this does not suit a country with four main parties. This also disproves the commission's claim to be "putting citizens first" because tactical voters are denied their first choices.

Secondly, there is an X-vote for a party. If your party is one of the two big parties and it is the weaker in your region, then your regional vote probably goes to the same party to help them get extra seats in the region. Only if a bigger party of choice has more than its share of single members in the region, so that a regional vote wont help them win more seats, is it worth that voter giving the regional vote to another party. And you cannot be sure that is the case, till the results come in, when it is too late.

A small party supporter, voting for his party regionly, might vote tacticly for the prefered of two bigger parties in the single member constituencies. But it is not possible to distinguish that kind of vote from a kind of vote, such as the one previously mentioned. That is to say, two X-votes cannot distinguish whether the voter is primarily a supporter of the party given his regional vote or the party given his constituency vote, if they are different.

Logicly, the voters have a preference for one candidature to another, so it would be logical for a voting system to allow them to express that. It is not the fault of confused voters, who assumed that a second vote meant a second choice, because that would correspond to the reality of people having first and second choices. The blame for the confusion is with government that has landed them with a system that doesnt allow ordered choices, tho the Mixed member system misleadingly appears like the Supplementary Vote, which is a second choice.
( Londoners had to use both systems, one day in 2004, respectively for the Greater London Council and the Mayor, as well as a Euro-elections closed list system. Complication and confusion may go unchecked so long as the voters dont get STV for any or all official elections. )
The mixed member system admittedly doesnt allow the definitive expression of first and second choice either of individuals in parliament or parties in government.

And if both votes go to mixed members of the same party, it is also not possible to distinguish whether the voters only voted for one party because they didnt want any coalition or because they couldnt risk voting for a second party, lest it help lose a seat and office to the less liked of the two bigger parties. Yet coalition has proved almost inevitable in a proportional mixed system.
If the mixed member system were giving people what they want, then they would be expressing a desire for coalition in their vote. But the vast majority of them are not, either because the system scarcely allows them to express the coalition they want, or it is giving them coalitions when they dont want them. Either way, the ambiguously mixed member system almost completely fails to translate individual votes to choice of government. The Arbuthnott commission's claim is demonstrably false.

The German and New Zealand 2005 general elections:

While it was sitting, the commission only had to deign to look at the evidence before it in the news-papers. The 2005 German elections showed how hopelessly irrelevant, for choosing a government, is the mixed member system of choosing party monopolies and party lists. The government was chosen by the parties themselves. It took a month to decide who would be the new Chancellor and almost three months to form a government.

The mixed member system could give no indication that the public wanted a coalition of the two main parties. Practicly no one uses their two votes to vote for both of them. That is about zero support for the supposedly democratic coalition of Germany.
Only a transferable vote could show how much cross-party support there was for the grand alliance by how many voters chose to prefer candidates of both parties.

The Electoral reform Society web-site, which should know better, defended the German system by accusing those who criticised the 2005 German election result as really criticising the wishes of the people.
Nonsense! They cannot make the mixed member system immune from criticism by wrapping it up in the flag of democracy. That is after the manner of patriotism being the last refuge of a scoundrel.
The criticism of the mixed system is that it is undemocratic because it lacks a transferable vote to prefer the political spectrum of parliament and of the government.

Also in 2005, New Zealand had a similarly close result between the two main parties. The National party held out a fortnight for all the results, in case they got an extra seat to swing the formation of a government. Tho there was practicly no change in the NZ multi-party government, it still took a month for it to resume office.

New Zealand adopted the German feature of "overhang." Dont ask. It's to do with small parties getting an extra seat or so on the basis of strong support in the constituencies, despite poor showing on the party lists. That means the system redundantly takes two counts to do the same job, a job of making the public into party hacks, which cannot be justified, anyway, on democratic or scientific grounds. The two totals cannot both be a correct party vote and beg the question just how partisan the voters are.

Overhang is what statisticians call "spurious accuracy," because the system has already countenanced the inaccuracy that excludes parties below 4% threshold of the votes. The threshold itself is arbitrary. Germany's is 5%. Other European countries have less than either. The "system" is riddled with such futilities, which Ive discussed on other web pages.

Scottish and Welsh electoral evidence:

The commission quoted 2003 evidence ( 4.19 ) in a crude bar diagram that showed about 46% disagreed or strongly disagreed that parties not voters should decide which of their list candidates should get into the Scottish parliament. About 14% agreed or agreed strongly. About 17% neither agreed or disagreed. Some 23% were unaccounted for. Even on this less than exemplary statistical research, there's only 14% could be counted as partisans or strong partisans. Yet party lists treat everyone so.

Then you have to take this evidence in conjunction with other sources. If people dont know what the dickens regional lists are all about, that might give a clue to the missing and ambiguous responses. ( 5.13 ):

There was almost no spontaneous mention of regional MSPs and many appeared not to be aware of their existence. Even when prompted, most were unable to describe their role, only one or two interviewees knew that regional MSPs were there to provide proportionality in the Parliament.

This was also evident from Welsh public meetings held by the Richard Commission:

In preparation for this meeting I held a consultative meeting with 160 senior citizens and I found they had not the slightest idea of what the list member was. I think this is one of the reasons why we have got a low voting turnout. People simply do not understand, it does not work clearly and obviously so that they can understand what their vote does.

Public meeting, Merthyr Tydfil

PR in its present form is undemocratic, when 20 AMs are elected to the Welsh Assembly without anyone personally voting for them. They get rejected by voters in the constituency then get elected by the back door by the regional top-up list.

Written opinion
Public meeting, Merthyr Tydfil

The allocation of regional seats is disproportionate to the votes cast. We see a party who receives the most in the regional vote is left empty-handed, whilst a party that is rejected under the First Past the Post system is rewarded with the greatest number of the regional allocation. This system cannot be a fair and equitable system.

Written opinion
Public meeting, Merthyr Tydfil

All these public comments came from Merthyr Tydfil because that was where the commission held its meeting after the subject of the electoral system had been covered by the media. It is an apt illustration of the fact that people dont notice things unless they are drawn to their attention. ( The Arbuthnott commission has no such excuse for not noticing, because its job was to attend to voting method. )

It also explains public ambiguity towards PR, because most people think that the ambiguity of the Additional Member system is real PR. If they knew about STV, they would be able to judge it on its own merits, as the Citizens Assembly of British Columbia proved. At meetings, STV was most favored alternative to AMS. As one such speaker from Haverfordwest said: "any list system keeps power within the political parties." The reaction in favor of single member constituencies owes much to the reaction against unaccountable lists, as "PR."

Welsh Liberal Democrat Assembly leader, Mike German accepted the Richard Commission, set up during their partnership in government, by saying:

Wales needs a Welsh Parliament with primary law-making and tax-varying powers, elected by a fair voting system which allows people, not political parties, to choose their representatives.

The Arbuthnott commission has called for educating voters out of their confusion but the mixed member system is itself an irrepairable mass of contradictions. The incompetant Establishment needs educate itself in democracy before it can educate its misled citizens.

The quoted Scots woman who thought regional MSPs were reserves to replace the dead is not more laughable or more wrong than this commission that says it's "putting citizens first" when it's putting place-holders first, since the mixed member system reserves MSPs' safe seats so that only death can unseat them. And then indeed some list member might get appointed to a party's safe constituency seat. Just as the good woman said.

The Richard Commission was more positive to the Welsh people than the Arbuthnott Commission was to the Scottish people. A whole chapter, fairly edited, of the Richard report was written by the Welsh people. It covered varying views and was impressive and instructive. Whereas the Arbuthnott report was on the people not by them.
I cannot blame them for picking-out an irresistible "school-boy howler" type remark. But the howl is really on them. The picture of a confused and clueless public, they portray, is a mirror they are holding up to themselves. Let us hope the establishment has the sense of humor to see and remedy its own folly.

3) Not local enough and too local.

The Arbuthnott commission follows lemming-like the Plant and Jenkins reports into the same logical trap of trying to have one's cake and eat it. They claim STV does not give a strong enough local link in large sparsely populated constituencies. That's their third unnumbered point. While their fifth point claims the opposite, that STV gives too strong local links.

STV cannot both be too remote and too local at the same time. The Kerley report followed the standard plan of varying the number of seats per constituency in proportion to local population sizes. This variation recognises there is a trade-off between preserving the independence of a few of the remotest and smallest local communities, like the Highlands and Islands, and how proportionly represented are all the main opinion groups within those communities. But that is true of any system. It is just that critics like to blame this fact of life on STV, as, say, they might as well blame the weather or a bad harvest on STV, if it avoided democratic choice.

For instance, the trade-off also exists with the mixed member system. And it leaves the Highlands and Islands worse off. The single member constituencies of the mixed member system are up to twice as large, because up to half the MSPs come instead from regional lists. The regional MSPs by definition offer no local representation. Whereas STV could provide two members in a constituency about the same size as a single member constituency in the mixed member system. STV in a Highlands two-member constituency would give at least two-thirds proportional representation. Whereas the mixed member constituency MP would come in on a split vote between four strong parties and several smaller ones. Not much more than a third of the voters ( if that ) could elect such a representative, who also monopolises some two-thirds of the people who voted for others. We've seen it in the Highlands for British general elections and former single-seat constituency Euro-elections.

The truth is directly contrary to the commission's third point: in the remotest areas, STV can be just as local as the mixed system and give twice as much representation, at the same time.
As to the commission's fifth point ( contradictory to the third ), that STV is too local, it is a denial of the historic Commons tradition of independent local democracy.
The commission fails to appreciate that a transferable vote is the only way voters can ever transfer their loyalties beyond their most immediate interests. It is the means by which the voters can transcend the factions of party and every other social division thru prefering candidates in their own and other groups, who most respect the interests of us all.

4) Appointment vs representation of women and minorities.

The commission's fourth point, sandwiched between the above-discussed self-contradiction, is that STV impedes parties from promoting gender and minority representation. By representation, they mean appointment on party lists. With STV, women and ethnic minorities have the power to prefer their own candidates. The commission's fourth objection is to democratic representation instead of oligarchic appointment. This point shows where the commission is coming from, in its Establishment prejudices, but it doesnt contribute anything but confusion to the establishment of what constitutes a true democracy.

Britain's half a dozen undemocratic methods where one democratic method would do.

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The commission follows and quotes ( 4.36 ) as authority, but doesnt attempt to justify, the Plant report's belief in having different voting systems for different institutions. To follow this Plant report advice is to be lost in moral and intellectual darkness. ( I have criticised the Plant report on another web page. )

This means that voting rules are not to make elections effective, whatever the institutions or political bodies. Instead elections are for bodies to affect as they see fit. Elections no longer serve election first, they serve the incumbents' incumbency first. The Plant report invented an apology for oligarchy over democracy, in terms of political bodies determining elections instead of elections determining political bodies.

The Plant report's "Ministry of Truth" notion, that there is a different truth, to the electing of different bodies, denies scientific progress. And in this, I must admit they have some academic backing. For, they refered to the social choice theorists' scepticism of a definitive democratic method. Those ethnocentric academics base their electoral deductions on voting methods that use preference voting with only majority counting. ( This is explicit in Iain McLean's "Democracy and New Technology." ) Most of the democratic world by now uses proportional counting. What kind of an arithmetic is it that shuns on principle the use of rational counting? Well, an ethnocentric one, because social choice theory comes from countries whose electoral systems traditionly used majority counting.

Social Choice theory had to adopt some semblance of rigor, so they brought in preference voting into their calculations. But preference voting doesnt make sense without proportional counting, as the two independent inventors of PR as STV, realised a century and a half ago. To prefer many candidates corresponds to electing several representatives in the count. To use a preference vote, only for single vacancies, just like the Supplementary Vote or Second Ballot or more exhaustive ballot, is to confuse an election count with an exclusion count.

Had the social choice theorists done their job of criticising democratic principle properly, they would have had to follow arithmetic, like everyone else, and admit that proportion as well as order is a feature of properly conducted elections. But that would be tantamount to admitting that STV is the definitive electoral system we should be using. And their criticisms would be confined to improving democracy instead of denying it. This evidently didnt suit them. It would not have suited the powers that be. A few years ago, American political scientists met to celebrate fifty years of social choice theory. The political and academic idol of tenure has been duly worshipped.

The benighted Plant report's plan was that powerful decision-making bodies, such as the national parliament, should hold onto the monopolistic single member system so that executive action by one party could not seriously be challenged. Further to that, they wanted advisory assemblies, like the House of Lords, to have only weak voting systems. Out of power so long, Labour allowed small parties gain some seats with a proportional count. But that count had to be only of party lists, which give no representative legitimacy, that would challenge the main parliament with its crude first past the post elections.

In short, the Labour party's Plant report had it all worked out, so that whatever the different voting methods you used for different parliaments, they had a reason why they shouldnt be democratic voting method. So, Britain has half a dozen undemocratic voting methods where one democratic method would do. That was the idea. In fairness, Tory attitudes have been no better. And Liberal Democrats have failed to take this democratic cause to the people. It is a remarkable testimony to British rulers' aversion to democracy, apart from the likes of the Sunderland and the Richard commissions. So far, only the forthcoming implementation of the Kerley report, for STV in Scottish local government, offers the slightest modification of that situation.

The Plant commission would have quaked in their safe seats at the Arbuthnott commission's creeping democracy. But Arbuthnott's heresy of Plant orthodoxy still sends the wrong signal. By leaving the Scottish parliament with a mixed member system, it implies that the executive parliament can have power with less reponsibility than advisory bodies. If this default were to become the conventional wisdom, then every elected body would want to become an executive power with diminished responsibility. Such bodies would even have a ready-made defense in court against their excesses. It's a boost to delusions of political grandeur. That needs no encouragement from a correctness politics that lacks a sense of the ridiculous.

The implicit assumption behind the Plant report's misconceptions is that government must be a campaign of ritual conquests in lobby voting divisions. The Arbuthnott commission seems to share something of this anachronistic outlook of dominate or be dominated, in its second prefatory quote to chapter 4 on voting:

electoral systems are rarely designed, they are born kicking and screaming into the world out of a messy, incremental compromise between contending factions battling for survival, determined by power politics

Certainly, the Arbuthnott commission forebore to design an electoral system. Instead, it left the electoral commission to design "a messy, incremental compromise" in the form of open lists for the Scottish parliament's regional members. As for factions, battling with power politics, the problem is that the generals lack armies from the general public. The commission's and other researchers' evidence shows the public are sick and tired of politicians - war-weary, one might say. ( Section 6.2 to 6.5 ).

Turn-out for the Scottish parliament fell from just under 60% in 1999 to 50% in 2003. The commission regards it as "ironic" that devolution of the franchise to Scotland should see this fall-off in participation after two elections. But it could be the perfectly natural and rational response to the fact that the single member system and the closed list are two combined systems that effectively disenfranchise voter representation. No wonder if people are increasingly reluctant to participate. ( section 6.8 ). The mixed member system makes people stooges. The first vote is up against seat monopolies. The second vote is up against voting for the oligarchy of lists.

This additional / mixed member system is not, by the way, a system "in its own right" ( chapter 4, recommendations ) as the commission asserts. The commission wants it called the mixed member system. It is a mixture of two systems that agree on putting party first but conflict on government by party monopoly or government by party sharing. Putting party first makes the mixed member system undemocratic. Contradicting itself, over monopolising or sharing government, makes mixed members illogical or inconsequential and thereby unscientific. ( Ive discussed this on other web pages. )


Politics doesnt work because it hasnt joined "the free state of science" ( H G Wells ) where decisions are based on free enquiry that may upset authority's cherished assumptions. Instead, the party system is designed to suppress free votes in parliament for all but the exceptions that prove the rule. MPs are whipped into orthodoxy and dressed down, by the prime minister, who seems more like the prime fixer for the powerful and wealthy, that they are not to have opinions of their own but to follow the manifesto, the back-doors agenda of interests supporting the party oligarchy.

Out-siders, the general public are effectively kept out, in Britain, by half a dozen undemocratic voting methods, where the democratic method would do.

The political class have waged a hundred years war for party orthodoxy against democratic freedom, especially blocking dissent, even in their own ranks, so imprudent as to recommend the democratic voting method. Greenland glaciers are moving faster than the political class.

Wales' subsequent one-party government ran the Sunderland and Richard Reports into the glass doors of their pretend democracy. The Arbuthnott commission, like the characters in the Monty Python sketch with plasters on their noses, have adopted a creeping democracy.

I was pleased that the Richard report remembered the Kilbrandon report of thirty years previously. I hope that these reports and the Sunderland report, which has also had shelved its daring to recommend democratic method, wont be forgotten, and that sooner, rather than later, these recommendations will prevail.

The Arbuthnott report must be regarded as a barometer of the political times, which still lack much insight into the reasons for, or much will to avert, the serious decline of democracy. Rather than having an inner light, it is a reflection of the "power politics" it refers to.

The Arbuthnott report is in the manner of an authority that doesnt realise how questionable are its assertions on voting systems. But progress requires free enquiry. And it is essential that this is effectively backed, for all official elections, by the free transferable voting, not a party-deferential pretence of democracy in "open lists" or any other non-transferable voting. The Arbuthnott report delays at a crucial time for democratic progress in Britain as a whole. And that may not be accidental.

Appendix: Strayed evidence to the Arbuthnott commission.

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I sent the following e-mail to the Arbuthnott commission. They say all senders are included on the list in their report. But there is no mention of me there!

On Friday 04 Feb 2005 18:21, you wrote:

To the Arbuthnott Commission.

Dear Commission members,

I have just written a web page on "Citizens Assemblies of Canada choose a Voting System."

When coming to the question of the simple majority system, I paid particular attention to the problem of drawing boundaries, because I thought this has been neglected in a balanced comparison with a voting system using multi-member constituencies.
The Canadian web page ( also about British and other countries' experience ) is an up-to-date review of my thoughts on the subject, refering to many of my web page discussions and reviews of previous official reports.

It may be worthwhile to review how Scotland has arrived at its present multiplicity of voting systems, and what this tells us.
In 1973, the Royal Commission on the Constitution, the Kilbrandon Report was published after four years work. This included the unanimous recommendation of the single transferable vote ( STV ) for a Scottish parliament, as well as for a Welsh assembly and any English regional assemblies. The report took very seriously the need for the rest of the UK not to be destabilised by Ulster-style one party rule under a simple majority system.

However, the Labour government did not heed its own commission's advice. Subsequent commissions or conventions looked to proportional representation by other means.
In 1976, the Hansard Society commission's Additional Member System ( AMS ) tried a Best Losers system of proportionly electing minor party MPs from single member constituencies. But criticism showed this was no substitute for allowing the voters to make their own order of choice, for a proportional count, instead of having the order left to the vagaries of best losers in a single member system.

In the early 90's, the Plant report confirmed political aversion to STV by contemplating only the other main contenders as options. So, when Labour returned to power in 1997, there was a closed list for European elections, a supplementary vote for mayoral elections, different versions of AMS for Scottish and Welsh elections ( as well as for London ).
These AMS versions differed from the Hansard Society's Best Losers version, which was exposed as too anomalous to be credible. So, the German system's closed party lists were used. But the Best Losers AMS had been meant to avoid giving too much power to party managers listing the order of candidates' election.
Hopefully, we can get back from this abandoning of democratic standards.

Set up by the 1997 Labour government, the Independent Commission on Voting Systems recommended yet another version of additional member system, called Alternative Vote Top-Up. It is significant that the chairman introduced his report at the press conference by saying that they decided on a system that had a realistic chance of being adopted by the government. This, in effect, meant that, as the report put it, if they didnt go the STV way, they had to go the mixed system way of PR.

The irony is that none of these reports with an eye to "practical politics" have the slightest chance of ever being adopted. The Best Losers AMS was exploded by its own anomalies. The Plant report's Supplementary Vote is wanted nowhere outside the Labour party, which is no basis for a constitutional settlement. And as Mr Bell MP, the leader of a 100 opposing Labour MPs, said: AV top-up would "sink without a trace".

The Kerley Report for Scottish local government was helped by terms of reference that explicitly said the elections should be democratic, a consideration too often forgotten. But the especial importance of this report was that it envisioned what amounted to a New Deal between voters and representatives.
Kerley recognised that politicians are only human. They dont want to lose their jobs any more than the next person. They should be given the opportunity for vocational qualifications and support. If they lose their seats, then they have learned skills that will stand them in good stead for other employment. In any case, job turn-over is much greater in an increasingly changing world.

The condition for such advantages must be that voters are given a voting system that will allow them to effectively choose their representatives, so that it is worth their voting at all. This opened the way for STV, in which there are no safe seats, because the voters proportionly or equitably elect candidates in order of preference - the representatives they most want, rather than the ones they are landed with.

In the Kerley report, there was already a hint of adverse experience with AMS for the Scottish parliament. But the Sunderland report on Welsh local elections was perhaps a stronger endorsement of STV. And that was followed by the Richard Commission recommending STV for the Welsh assembly.

In 2004, British Columbia's Citizens Assembly recommended STV, which was the studied choice of 160 people randomly taken from all walks of life in the Canadian province, an impressive testimony that STV can be the people's favorite ( as Ireland has shown ) and not just that of leading authorities.

I would particularly commend the Citizens Assembly's Final Report to the Arbuthnott Commission, because "ordinary" people in an explicitly Westminster-style democracy express just the kind of concerns found in your consultation document and consider how best to meet them.

Former Irish premier Brunton recently documented a recommendation that STV be generally used for the European elections. That speaks volumes for Irish confidence in the value of their system, that they think all of Europe would benefit by its adoption.
It is of special relevance to Scotland's present situation, that Eire distinctively uses the same electoral system for all levels of government. STV is the general-purpose system, whereas the weaknesses of other systems are thrown into relief, at different levels.

Furthermore, people are using STV for their professional elections, for instance in health and education and many other areas. This trend can be expected to continue.

Using the same voting system, at different levels of government, allows the more local levels to be nested in the boundaries of the more remote levels - more easily certainly with a multi-member system. An obvious point rarely made is that levels of government primarily regulate locality of representation, whereas number of seats per constituency primarily regulate choice, which is what an "election" means.

The four different voting systems, that Scotland faces, are partly a legacy of the Labour party endorsing the Plant report, recommending different voting systems for different levels of government. ( Its constraining influence lingers in the consultation document section 3.6. ) I criticised the Plant Commission for this during its deliberations and, since then, on my web site. My motto has been that Britain has half a dozen undemocratic voting methods where one democratic method would do.

Please recommend the single transferable vote for Scottish MSPs and MEPs, as well as for Scottish local elections. Like the Kerley report, I believe single member constituencies should be avoided, as being too unrepresentative, while allowing for fewer seats per constituency in rural areas.
The Scottish Parliament is bound to be more party political than local government. And to do justice to Scottish diversity of opinion, I would recommend constituencies generally with as many seats as the Irish Republic originally had, rather than a mainly three or four member system that only caters for mainstream opinion and may turn off other voters. That is to say an STV system as proportional as the Citizens Assembly has recommended for British Columbia - tho it is a province with the population of Eire and a land area comfortably larger than Austria and all of Germany, east and west.

Yours sincerely,
Richard Lung.


Richard Lung.
3 March 2006.

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