Willie Sullivan: Switch to STV has made big difference to democracy

Scotland turned its back on first past the post (FPTP) for local elections in 2007. With the single transferable vote (STV) system we now rank our candidates in order of preference – a change that’s made a big difference to the way we do democracy

Since last week’s elections, we’ve focused on Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Manchester, Birmingham and Portsmouth, and it seems the English are now drawing the short straw.

The average Edinburgh voter could pick from more than seven candidates, representing more than six parties, while the people of Portsmouth had less than three candidates to pick from under FPTP. Glaswegians had even more choice – a surprise for a city once portrayed as one-party fiefdom, where even a turnip in a red rosette was guaranteed to win.

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STV has changed all that. Now we know that in Edinburgh and Glasgow every single vote was hard fought.

We also have a more effective vote. Quite simply, Scots are more likely to get something for their trouble when they go to vote.

In Edinburgh, 72.66 per cent of voters are now represented by their first preference. In Manchester, just 55 per cent of voters could say the same and the majority in Portsmouth simply threw their votes away, but that’s FPTP for you.

The system means a range of parties in the chamber – we would have no Greens in any Scottish council under FPTP – and that coalitions must be formed. Some politicians might not like it, but voters should be pleased that power is now shared, with all the checks and balances that affords.

Willie Sullivan is the Scottish director of the Electoral Reform Society