Consultation on Scotlands electoral future.

(Response by Richard Lung.)

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1) Integrating election procedure into community life.
2) Theory of turn-out.
3) Trustworthy politics.
Further references.

1) Integrating election procedure into community life:
a democratic infrastructure based on the library system and other community centres.

Introducing myself, I am English (which is why I don't fill in your questionnaire, which is no reflection on its importance) but was approached at end of 2009 by a request to work with me, should the occasion arise, which I agreed to, and which turned out to be from the Constitutional Commission of Scotland. The aspirations of the draft constitution are close to my own heart and mind and this evidently had been noticed of my Democracy Science website.

That site includes a discussion of using libraries as standing polling stations:

That page was meant to be a further reason against the false economy of closing libraries, which is as hugely unpopular in Scotland as the rest of the UK.

Britains antiquated democracy is symbolised by the flying polling station, an after-thought to our lives, that appears for a day in some makeshift location. It presents the voter with that ultimate in information poverty, the bare cell of the polling booth, where the ballot paper is likely the first and last intimation we receive of who wishes (allegedly) to represent us. This consists of names and their parties, offered to the electorate, as tho the candidates were enemies, surrendering only their names and dog tags.

The library system and the community centre with the information infrastructure of the Internet, the modern interactive electronic media, should be the basis of a democratic infrastructure. They could become standing polling stations with up-datable election campaign resources, announcements, inaugurations, meetings and discussions, giving a more level playing field to all citizens seeking candidature.

Radical ills require radical remedies, if the kingdom is to develop a civic culture.

In my own innocent youth as a student, I was required to write an essay on different election methods, I thought I knew all about it, from sitting up on general election night. I started my essay, to get it over with, by trotting out all the conventional wisdom that saw nothing wrong with the first past the post system. Reluctantly I realised that I would have to consult a couple of books. One of these was Elections and Electors by JFS Ross. Then I saw the light.

Even so, I set aside this new knowledge for several years, as of no vital import, before making scientific method of elections one of my lifelong preoccupations.

The moral of this story is that the voters need to be educated. JFS Ross made me aware that STV gives a much larger proportion of the population representation with a much greater freedom of choice. It was a good while longer before I appreciated the power for uniting a nation that a transferable vote offers. Parties generally do not like admitting the voters might have more than partisan loyalties. But questions of national destiny cross party lines.

Whatever the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum, it is likely to be a divisive business, and the transferable voting system, that allows voters to transcend divisions to express degrees and kinds of national unity, should give the nation a better sense of direction.
The proviso is that the people understand this unifying electoral power of the STV system.
(Not, then, the Maltese parties instructions to prefer the candidates of their party "and then stop.")

First recommendation:

Democracy must have a democratic infrastructure, as of the information-rich standing polling station, for practical purposes, included in the library system and other community centers, to develop a civic culture in the local community.

2) Theory of turn-out.

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Supposing representative democracy is brought into the common traffic of peoples lives. This by itself would not solve the turn-out problem, if the representation is not representative enough to justify the voters turning out for.

All my life, the monopolistic single-member system has never represented my views nor even offered a good choice of candidates.

Assuming for theoretical purposes, that all the voters have perfect access and perfect information about the candidates, an expected turn-out can be statistically predicted, depending on the amount of choice, and given "effective voting," as Australian pioneer reformer Catherine Helen Spence called the single transferable vote.

For a single member system with two (realistic) choices, as in the United States two-party system, there are four logical possibilities of choice:

1) Both Republican, R, and Democrat, D, are equally prefered

2) Both R and D are equally unprefered.

3) R is prefered to D.

4) D is prefered to R.

Only in cases 3 and 4 do the voters have any reason to express a wish or vote. As that is only half the cases, the expected turn-out is 50%.

This is the direction of the United States, followed lately by Canada. As the saying goes, what starts over there, ends up here, as British voting trends suggest.

The binomial theorem shows how increase in choice decreases the proportion of voters who are equally disposed, preferentially or unpreferentially, to all the candidates, and so have no reason to participate in the election.

The binomial theorem gives the logical possibilities of choice as two to the power of the number of choices.

So, for two choices there are two to the power of two, which equals four possibilities. That is in symbols: 2^2 = 4.

Whatever the number of choices, the number of possibilities, for total indifference to all the candidates, is always two, namely all candidates equally prefered or equally unprefered. Therefore the neutrals dramatically decrease, as a proportion of the voters, with the successive increase in choices of representatives available.

So, for three candidates, the logical possibilities are 2^3 = 8. Two out of this eight are indifferent, so the turn-out is eight minus two equals six. That is as a ratio, 6/8 = 3/4 or 75% turn-out.

In theory, an (STV) four-member constituency should give a turn-out of 14/16 or about 87.5% and a five-member constituency a turn-out of 30/32 or 93.75%.

Hence the democratic justification of "The HG Wells formula." Wells repeatedly advocated "proportional representation by the single transferable vote in large constituencies."

In case anyone asks has STV ever actually polled over 90% turn-outs. It has in Malta, with the highest turn-out in Europe. Whereas Northern Irish STV Euro-electiuons have the highest turn-out in the United Kingdom.

Theefore, it is as well that the draft Scottish constitution specifies a minimum of four-member STV constituencies, which is one more than the minimum of three in the Irish constitution.
The Irish constitutional convention recommended a minimum of five-member constituencies.

Irish politicians twice tried to remove STV in referendums, that proved to be against the popular will. Recently the Irish constitutional convention overwhelmingly reaffirmed support for the STV electoral system.

At present, the Scottish government does not have home rule in the basic right to improve election method in Scotland but must seek permission from Westminster.

As Roy Jenkins remarked in his commission report on electoral systems, turn-out in the early Irish republic was extremely high. This has fallen. But the whittling down of the size of constituencies to mainly three or four members, cutting out all but mainstream opinion, presumably would be a factor in that.

No doubt, a three to four member system in Scottish local elections is less than best, given a four-party political system with significant minor party presence, and of course Independents important in non-political local issues. Larger multi-member constituencies, especially in the cities, would encourage a broader political spectrum of representation and participation.

The Scottish local elections turn-out in 2012 of just over 39% is low, tho higher than English local elections turn-out at 35%. That is why the first part of this submission emphasises the need for democratic infrastructure in Scotland as well as the whole UK.

The Arbuthnott report did recommend extending the use of STV to Scottish Euro-elections. And they left open its use for the Scottish Parliament. This diffidence may be attributed to Westminster disapproval of the Richard report recommending STV for the Welsh assembly, because the Additional Member System denies voters the fundamental right to reject candidates, largely due to dual candidature in single-member constituencies and on party lists.

The Arbuthnott report dealt almost jocularly in some instances with public mystification over AMS. Obviously this is not going to help turn-out, not to mention the problem of spoilt ballot papers that arose in the 2007 Scottish AMS election. The public are not to blame. The difference between STV and AMS is practically the difference between a logical and an illogical system.

This is not merely my personal conclusion but more or less the consensus of a string of official reports, the Kilbrandon, Kerley, Sunderland, Richard, Arbuthnott, Tyler, the Councillors and (Helena Kennedy) Power reports.

Not to forget the secret history of the Jenkins commission. The Ashdown diaries, 1997-9, reveal that Jenkins confided that the then Premier, Tony Blair would not give us STV. Hence the Jenkins commissions indigestible concoction of an AV Top-up system.
Why do you think Jenkins called Blair "a second-rate intellect," at the time?
Government asked some of the above-mentioned commissions to consider AV+, which they gave short shrift.

Second recommendation:

Democratic principle urges the use of STV for all official elections. A countrys election law shouldn't be a miscellany of incompetent voting rigs for the benefit of political incumbents. It would be helpful to a nations well-being if the public could be confident the politicians knew what they were doing.

3) Trustworthy politics.

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My third recommendation generalises from the second. Namely that a principled conduct of politics is necessary to win the respect of the voters and their re-engagement. Going round the country, the Power commission found how lacking that was.

"Robson rotation" is a case in point. This randomises the order of candidate names on the ballot paper, so surnames beginning with letters early in the alfabet dont benefit from listing in alfabetic order.
Once educated in statistics and research methods, as part of a social science degree, I recognise this as a means to get rid of the noise or random fluctuations, in data, distorting the meaning of the voters electoral message. Academics recognise that if they don't take such factors into account, they will be criticised by their colleagues for slip-shod research.

All too often in politics, anything goes, perhaps because politicians are a law to themselves. In this respect, a written constitution on clearly democratic principles can serve as a basis of national purpose.

The law makes cases sub judice, to prevent the verdict being drowned out by prejudice. Yet in the court of public opinion, this abuse is all too often what happens from people in privileged positions in the mass media, without the balanced debate required by a US style Fairness Doctrine (before President Reagan abolished it).

The Alternative Vote referendum was a national disgrace. Apart from the fact that a referendum, for a voting system that not even reformers really wanted, should never have been held, I have no quarrel with the result. The crowing victors got what they deserved. But it was conducted in complete disregard for the truth. Short of the ritual civil war turning into a real one, it was politics as barbarism.

AV does not "bring in fascism" as The Sun said, on the back of Baroness Warsi. Australia, whatever its faults may be, is not a fascist country, nor is it going to get rid of AV, as a No campaign leaflet baselessly claimed. Nor does the alternative vote give more votes to some (potentially extremist) voters than others.

The No to AV campaign, unlike the Yes to AV campaign, didn't allow discussion on its website. That tells you all you need to know about the relative honesty of the two sides of the argument. The No campaign had too much to hide.

On television, John Reid recoiled from the alternative vote as "un-British" while David Cameron stood in the wings with a frown of disapproval, presumably of this un-British system of alternative voting that essentially elected him as Tory leader.

Politicians conducting a debate, at this nonsense level, are also pushing thru, on the nod, planetary life-threatening decisions, such as the renewal of trident nuclear weapons, and its hyper-polluting spin-off and accessory, (uranium fission) nuclear power stations.

British politics appears to be about where science was when an academic told Galileo, he had no need to take any notice of his observations, because Aristotle was the authority on those things. Aristotle was a renowned scientist, if not always to be taken on trust. Not authority, as in the guise of John Reid and David Cameron, but a self-discipline, as imposed by recognised rules of scientific method, is the arbiter of decisions.

Science progressed when scholastic reasoning, up in the air, was brought down to earth, by a proper regard for evidence. In politics, progress depends on a proper regard for democracy. No-one can know everything. That is why top-down politics fails, being oligarchic. But everyone knows something, so democracy is the engine of scientific progress. HG Wells celebrated this "democracy of science," in the profession itself, by initiating a Charter of Scientific Fellowship, as well as the Sankey Declaration of Human Rights.

Third recommendation:

A new contract between rulers and ruled (as in a Scottish constitution) of honest politics, such as in observing scientific standards of evidence, without theoretical presumption or experimental ambiguity; due process of law without prejudice, and the media abiding by a Fairness Doctrine.

Finally, a vibrant local politics, mindful of the national interest will be handicapped for lack of power to assert itself thru effective voting method. So the three recommendations, which do not claim to be exhaustive, depend upon each other to be realised. The new broom will have to be broad.

Further references:

John Stuart Mill MP speeches on Parliamentary Reform for the classic case of democracy as peace-making power sharing, thru "Mr Hare's system." Mill would have accepted as second best, a reduction in constituency sizes from a national constituency.

HG Wells: A Charter of Scientific Fellowship is also on my website, as is the Sankey declaration. And there is a bibliography with discussion of his writings on electoral reform: World peace thru democracy. HG Wells neglected third phase.

Wells is forthright, for example, in 1918 (In The Fourth Year) with regard to the sabotaging of STV/PR, which had been part of the 1916 Speakers Conference compromise deal: "British political life resists cleansing with all the vigour of a dirty little boy." He starts as he means to go on. A historic denunciation.

JFS Ross, Elections and Electors, also deals with this in the chapters on the Speakers Conferences.

(May 2014
with minor amendments)

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