Saturday, August 8, 2015

Hi, I'm John MacKay. And THIS...is the STV news.

In the wake of the local by-elections in Glasgow and Hamilton, in which the SNP required big swings simply to "hold" four seats, regular commenter bjsalba sent me this suggestion -

"You wrote "Welcome to the mad, mad world of by-elections conducted under STV."

Might be a good time to review STV in terms of how it works at the main elections - and how it works (or doesn't) in by-elections. Do you have any suggestions for an alternative system? Or changes to improve the current system? How is it done (or not done) in other European Countries?"


STV may have long been the Holy Grail for some electoral reformers, but it actually isn't a particularly popular system in Europe - to the best of my knowledge, it's only used here (for local elections), in Northern Ireland (for Assembly, local, and European elections), and in the Republic of Ireland and Malta (for all elections). So there are limits to what we can learn from international comparisons. The Republic of Ireland take the same approach to filling vacancies that we do - they hold by-elections, and just live with the fact that it undermines the proportionality of the system. By contrast, in the Northern Ireland Assembly, new members are simply co-opted from the same party that previously held the seat. That 'feels' much less democratic, but it actually ensures that the composition of the chamber remains more in line with the voters' wishes (albeit their wishes as expressed in an election that may have been a long time ago).

Neither approach is perfect, but then neither one is an automatic feature of STV, so criticism of any discrepancies that arise is not really a criticism of the voting system itself. I used to be an enthusiast for STV, but what started to change my thinking was the last Irish general election, when it became obvious in the run-up to polling that Fine Gael would probably win an outright majority if they received just 40% of the first preference vote. (In the end they fell short with 36%.) That just doesn't seem proportional enough to me. The problem is that STV discriminates against smaller parties, by creating quite a high de facto threshold to achieve any representation at all. It's not quite as bad as first-past-the-post in that respect, but it's bad enough.

The reason why STV is so highly regarded by anoraks is that it maximises voter choice. But there are other systems that allow voters to choose between candidates from the same party (as well as between different parties), while still producing more proportional outcomes.

* * *

I've been keeping an eye on the Labour leadership betting prices at Betfair, and I can't make head nor tail of what's going on. Jeremy Corbyn finally became the favourite for two or three days, before being overtaken again by Andy Burnham at the start of the week. Burnham then strengthened over recent days to become quite a clear favourite, but is suddenly trailing Corbyn again (marginally) right at this moment. Doubtless, the likes of Neil Edward Lovatt will be telling themselves that these fluctuations must reflect inside knowledge or a mysterious "wisdom of crowds" effect, but I have my doubts. I think it's more likely to be a herd instinct - punters assuming that other punters have inside knowledge, thus creating a snowball effect out of nothing.

Rationally, it seems to me that Corbyn should be an odds-against favourite. In other words, there is a greater than 50% chance that he will be beaten by either Burnham or Yvette Cooper in the final run-off. But as Corbyn seems to be virtually assured of a place in that run-off and the other two are not, his price should definitely be shorter than any other individual candidate's.

21 comments:

  1. For me STV is a crooked system of voting. I have 4 local councillors and due to the system of voting I have ended up with one effin Brit Nat Tory and two effin Brit Nat Independents and one Kipper Independent who are basically effin Tories or Kippers that were too gutless to say so. I cant make up my mind which of them is the most corrupt. I cant hide my contempt and disgust for STV.

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    1. How's that make it a crooked system of voting?

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    2. One of the elected Brit Nats didn't get more than 10 percent of the first preference votes and that is what makes it crooked Keaton. Elected on a sixth count. Oh and the one time leader of the inept and corrupt Moray Council got elected on the fifth count. CROOKED!

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  2. "But there are other systems that allow voters to choose between candidates from the same party (as well as between different parties), while still producing more proportional outcomes."

    And they are???

    OK. so you need time to think it out and write it up. In the meantime I will (again) read through screeds of the stuff available on the internet about various voting systems and try to get my head round them all.

    My last experience of reading up on this subject was not great. I am a Gaelic learner. The saying "Tha mo cheann na bhrochan" comes to mind. It means " My head is in a porridge state." and it is "Brochan tana" (thin porridge) at that. Any help would be much appreciated.

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    1. Basically an open list system of some sort. Try here -

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_list

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    2. I read a fair bit (not all, to be honest). Doesn't realise there were so many variants and complex, to me anyway.

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    3. I read a fair bit (not all, to be honest). Doesn't realise there were so many variants and complex, to me anyway.

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    4. STV locally in the last Council elections disillusioned me as far as STV is concerned:
      Party A had well liked energetic candidate with huge personal vote where so many of his "surplus" votes went to Party A's second candidate that he was elected without putting in much effort.

      Party B hoped to get 2 candidates elected but as happened got only 1 - the one who came first alphabetically though not necessarily Party B's best or preferred candidate. All this in a 4 Councillor ward

      It is a fact that voters tend to give first preference to the Party candidate who comes alphabetically first on the list.

      I think the added member system ( d'Hondt system) as for Holyrood is by far the best giving Constituency representatives and proportionality through the list though I cannot quite see how it would work for wards in local Council elections.

      Maybe STV with all its faults is the best system for local elections

      D'Hondt or variants on it is widely used in other countries - for instance in Germany - though it is worth noting that there the list vote is seen as more important than the Constituency vote since the list percentage is understood to determine the final percentage of representatives any Party obtains

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    5. It is a fact that voters tend to give first preference to the Party candidate who comes alphabetically first on the list.

      All you'd need to do to eliminate this problem would be to randomise the order of candidates on the ballot, so it's not an argument against STV itself.

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  3. Fred Dibnah Fae GlesgaAugust 8, 2015 at 9:48 PM

    Irrespective of the voting system the working class people in the UK/Scotland etc are no better off.What has been created is Parliament/Assemblies and a new middle class taking tax payers money and producing wind.

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    1. Fred Dibnah Fae GlesgaAugust 9, 2015 at 12:10 AM

      And believe me, I know all about wind.

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    2. It's not easy trying to work out who is the troll and who is the troll that trolls the troll.

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    3. Fred Dibnah Fae GlesgaAugust 9, 2015 at 7:32 PM

      It is so easy you apply common sense.

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  4. You appear to have an irrational hatred of people who are middle class, Fred.

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    1. Fred Dibnah Fae Glesga on SundayAugust 9, 2015 at 7:38 PM

      No not at all a vibrant hard working middle and workink class is progressive. Unnecessary Quango talking shops that take revenue away from the public services is not requiredl

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  5. Things are much worse in Italy. People vote for a party which selects the candidates - who may well have nothing to do with the constituency they are elected for. So if one wants to vote for Party A, one votes for Mr/MsX, the candidate selected by Party A for that constituency.
    A Berlusconi-inspired recipe for widespread parachuting and.voter apathy!! It is also unconstitutional but the current Italian parliament (which seems to have been elected illegally) is taking baby steps towards reforming/ changing the Electoral law.

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    1. What difference does it make? You are, at the end of the day voting for an individual who is part of a Party. It is the party who decides the policy. One individual will hardly ever make a difference to their constituency. It's mosty lip service from individual MPs.

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  6. The system used in Denmark is basically d'Hondt with personal votes (which then determines who gets elected from each party), and it works quite well -- nobody ever complains. I made a simulation of how the Danish system would have worked if applied to the 2005 Westminster election here: http://www.widmann.org.uk/ukelect2005/index.html (I might update this to use the 2015 data instead one day.)

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  7. Chart of what bookies thinking in aggregate on the chances each candidate has at being next UK Labour Party leader:
    http://corecursion.blogspot.co.uk/2015/08/next-uk-labour-leader-what-bookies.html

    Some bookmakers have Corbyn as the favourite, but if you mean all the odds given across the various bookmakers Burnham is still favourite.

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  8. - Scotsman: Kezia Dugdale backtracks on Jeremy Corbyn criticism

    - New Statesman: What would a Jeremy Corbyn victory mean for Scottish Labour?

    - Tom Peterkin: Scots Labour fray lacks Corbyn-mania

    - Martyn McLaughlin: Corbyn win bad for Scots Labour

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