Direct Democracy

The impressive turnout in the Scottish Independence Referendum was the most outstanding feature of the whole affair. Voter registration to take part in the referendum was very high leading to expectations that the turnout would be 90%+. In the event the turnout was a credible 84.6%, so a great number of voters (enough to make the difference) could still not make up their mind even though the pros and cons of independence had been spelt out. It would be reasonable to conclude that the importance of the once in a lifetime decision was the motivation behind the high turnout, but there was another important factor – every vote counted.

This was a nationwide Scottish ballot with the whole country being treated as a single constituency, meaning that each vote cast was of equal importance and counted in the final result. Counting took place in each electoral division with individual results being announced so it is evident how different parts of Scotland voted. For the record the highest votes against independence were Orkney Islands (67.2%), Borders (66.6%), Dumfries & Galloway (65.7%) and Shetland Islands (63.7%) – the furthermost from and the closest to England.

By way of comparison; in the 1974 general elections, Harold Wilson’s Labour Party thought that the European issue was important enough to warrant a referendum even though it was all about joining an economic area and there was no apparent sovereignty issue. They promised a referendum following a renegotiation of better terms, and they were duly returned to power and formed the government. In the subsequent referendum in 1975 a majority of voters (67.2% on a 64.5% turnout) wanted the UK to remain in the European Economic Community. There would probably have been a higher turnout if people had been told the truth; that plans were already in being for a political union – a founding pillar for European Unity.

No voting system is perfect and they all share the same problems, especially if voters do not turn out. Even proportional representation can produce distorted results. Every vote should count, but in practice only certain votes are going to bring about a change of government. In 2010 the Conservatives were focusing on twenty-six key constituencies for the general election. Win them and they would be in power. Labour was aware of this and knew they needed to persuade 7,000 key voters to stay with them if they were to retain power. It left thirty million voters feeling they were not going to make a difference, with any point in voting?

Ask any voter entering the polling station who he/she is going to vote for and the reply will be the name of a political party. The law says that they are voting for an individual to be their constituency representative in Parliament. This dichotomy is resolved by the practices that have grown up over the years, but they are not enshrined in legislation. It is part of the black constitution that does not allow for public participation. The Christian Democratic Party is proposing to rectify that and ensure that the people have the power and are able to exercise control in a meaningful way. This will be done by constitutional and electoral reform, which ensures that every vote counts. It will also be a uniquely British system of government with historical roots.

What we are proposing goes beyond radical, it is revolutionary.  So we come to the crucial issue; how do we separate the Executive and the Legislature?  We are proposing a separate election for our Representatives in the Commons and a separate election for the Government.  We would make it simple by having the elections on an alternating basis with fixed terms of four years.  This would result in national elections every two years.  These would coincide with existing local elections to minimise cost.  Election to the Commons would retain the existing single member constituencies with MPs being independent and free from party whips.

Election of the Government would be proportional to the total national vote.  The whole country would be a single constituency with people voting for candidate lists headed by the party leader.  Only party candidates (subject to party whip) on the list would be eligible  for ministerial appointment and the list would cut off proportionate to the national vote.  The Government and the Opposition (likewise a proportion of the national vote) would be in a debating Chamber.  If we elect the Government on the basis of their share of the national vote instead of the number MPs they have in the House of Commons it is likely that we will always have a minority government, but this reflects the absolute reality of our situation.  The effect of our existing elections system (or it used to be until 2010) is that it results in strong single party government (albeit with a minority of the vote).  This is neither what people want, nor do they want a continental type coalition with a smaller party holding the balance of power and able to have their manifesto implemented in return for supporting one or other of the more popular parties.  The smallest party would never be the tail wagging the dog.


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