The voting system used to elect MPs to Westminster is so dysfunctional it is hastening the break-up of the United Kingdom, according to a new report.
Researchers at the Electoral Reform Society found that the ‘winner takes all’ nature of First Past the Post was leading to entrenched regional divides by locking parties out of power in some areas of the country where they still had support.
The researchers note that for the first time in Britain’s history, the parties with the most seats in each of the UK’s four nations are different.
The Conservatives have the most seats in England, Labour has the most seats in Wales, the Scottish National Party dominates Scotland and the DUP has the most in Northern Ireland.
The researchers note, however, that the dominance of these parties in the four separate nations was not actually mirrored by the distribution of votes in them.
The Conservatives did not win a majority of votes in England despite taking nearly all the seats, and Labour was nearly left without representation in Scotland despite taking a large share of the vote.
“The electoral map of the UK suggests that we are a state of four separate and politically disparate nations, with each of our national parliamentary institutions now governed by different political parties,” the authors wrote.
“Yet the way UK citizens vote shows political preferences are far more diverse within nations and regions than the results suggest. FPTP is exaggerating the political differences of the different regions and nations of the UK, leaving many citizens unrepresented.
“Whatever the future of the Union, an electoral system that exacerbates divisions rather than reflects consensus and difference as it truly exists is unacceptable in a democracy; an electoral postcode lottery does not serve voters well.”
Katie Ghose, the society’s chief executive said: “This report shows definitively that our voting system is bust. May 7th was the most disproportionate election in British history – and it’s about time we had a fairer system for electing our MPs.
English votes for English laws: What is it all about?
English votes for English laws: What is it all about?
1/6 So Scottish MPs would still be able to vote on matters which do not relate to their constituents?
Yes, but Mr Hague has insisted the plans would mean English MPs would have the "decisive" say. Asked whether former SNP leader Alex Salmond, who is hoping to win a Westminster seat at the upcoming election in May, would be able to vote on English legislation, the Commons Leader said: "He will be voting on it but the decisive votes will be cast by the English Members of Parliament"
2/6 Who would decide on what was an 'England-only' matter?
So far, Mr Hague has said it would probably be for the Speaker of the Commons to decide which measures should be treated as England-only, adding there would have to be "a mechanism" for making the decisions. He told the BBC: "Most of the recommendations from all the studies have said you would have to ask the Speaker of the House of Commons or some other impartial authority to certify when a piece of legislation or part of it is English or English and Welsh or United Kingdom. That's the system we would have to adopt"
3/6 Why does Mr Hague want to introduce the proposal?
The Commons Leader is expected to argue that the reform is a "fundamental issue of fairness." He will say: "How could it possibly be right for the Scottish Parliament, for example, to vote for a reduction in Air Passenger Duty in Scotland and then for Scottish MPs to come to Westminster and be able to impose an increase in Air Passenger Duty in England? "You only have to think about this for a moment to see how fundamentally important this is and how such issues have to be addressed. Under our proposal this would not be possible without the agreement of English MPs. "The English veto should be extended to taxation when the equivalent decisions have been devolved to Scotland - and under a Conservative Government it will be"
4/6 Are we likely to see the proposals in place anytime soon?
Mr Hague wants to see the reforms debated in the Commons before the general election and has said the proposals will feature in the Conservative manifesto for the general election on 7 May. He said the plans will be "a very high priority" for the Tories if they win an outright majority in the election
5/6 Is everybody happy with these proposals?
Not really. The proposals have fallen short of the English parliament demanded by some MPs, including Tory former Cabinet minister John Redwood, who told the Daily Mail that the plans need to be "strengthened" in order to win support from Conservative MPs. He said: "Scotland can do what it likes under its devolved powers – we are asking for the same." It is believed that some Conservative MPs believe only the more radical option of giving Scottish MPs no vote at all on English matters would meet promises made by Prime Minister David Cameron, who directly linked the English votes issue to the granting of new powers to Holyrood in his immediate response to the rejection of independence by the electorate in Scotland. A Downing Street source has acknowledged there were "clearly different views" within the party but expected "very widespread support" for the chosen option
6/6 How is this likely to affect Labour?
While some Tory MPs may feel the powers do not go far enough, there is likely to be some cheer among Conservative ranks over the potential difficulties it could raise for any future Labour government, reliant on its own Scottish MPs, or the support of the SNP, for a Commons majority. Mr Hague has in fact pointed out the proposed changes would curtail the ability of a future government which did rely on Scottish MPs' votes for a Westminster majority to pass legislation on England-only matters, including health, education and transport. He told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It would be able to get many things through that are United Kingdom matters, but when it came to England then it would have to have regard to the majority in England. That is a necessary corollary of greater devolution to Scotland and Wales"
“First Past the Post is artificially dividing the UK – giving the SNP nearly all Scottish seats on half the vote, while excluding Labour from the South of England and over-representing them in Wales and under-representing the Conservatives in the North of England and Scotland.
“At the same time, cross-community parties in Northern Ireland got a tenth of the vote and no seats, yet the DUP received nearly half the seats on just a quarter of the vote. This situation is unsustainable if the Prime Minister truly wants a ‘one nation’ Britain. Our voting system is breaking up Britain.”
The report additionally found that the election result was the least proportional to votes cast in Britain's history.
Most European countries use a proportional systems to elect their parliaments, with the exception of France.
The Liberal Democrats, Green Party and Ukip want to reform the electoral system. Labour and the Conservatives, who benefit from the current arrangements, tend to be opposed. The SNP also supports reform despite benefiting from the current system.
The Electoral Reform Society was founded in 1884 and advocates changing Britain’s voting system to one which produces results which more accurately reflects the votes cast.