Page last updated at 16:11 GMT, Thursday, 29 April 2010 17:11 UK

Holyrood backs PR for Westminster

From Democracy Live: Robin Harper calls for PR for UK elections

The Scottish Parliament has voted to back calls for the introduction of proportional representation in Westminster elections.

A motion on the issue brought by the Scottish Greens was supported by the SNP and Lib Dems.

That was enough to see it adopted as an official resolution of the Holyrood parliament - even though it was opposed by Labour and the Tories.

Green MSP Robin Harper said the current electoral system was "discredited".

The move came as opinion polls suggested the forthcoming UK general election could result in a hung parliament - where no one party wins an overall majority.

The current first past the post system used for UK general elections resulted in Labour winning 55% of the seats in 2005 despite receiving only 35.2% of the votes cast.

We want to tell the people throughout the UK that PR is already working and working well here in Scotland
Robin Harper MSP
Scottish Green Party

During a debate on the issue earlier on Thursday, Mr Harper told Holyrood that the current UK election campaign was being fought under a system that was "past its sell-by date" and "does not, cannot and will not reflect the true colours of Scottish opinion".

"We will be left yet again with a parliament in Westminster that does not truly reflect the way we cast our votes, because we cannot yet vote under a system of proportional representation," he said.

"We want to give the Scottish Parliament a chance to make a clear stand against the long, discredited system of first past the post in favour of a fairer system of voting for the Scottish people in the Westminster elections.

"But more than this we want to tell the people throughout the UK that PR is already working and working well here in Scotland."

Mr Harper said he believed the Scottish Parliament had matured into a "successful, modern, European parliamentary democracy" in the 11 years since it had been established.

"PR has served us well, and particularly at this time we should say so clearly - the mood of public opinion has turned firmly against first past the post."

Mr Harper's motion called for a Single Transferable Vote (STV) system to be introduced for Westminster elections.

Electoral reform

It was backed by 54 votes to 41, with one abstention.

Local authority elections in Scotland already use STV to elect councillors, while the Scottish Parliament uses the additional member method of proportional representation.

Both the SNP and Lib Dems back the introduction of proportional representation for the UK Parliament in their manifestos.

SNP MSP Bruce Crawford told the debate his party had supported proportional representation for many years, and said first past the post was implicated in many of the things that turned potential voters away from politics.

He added: "There are no seats under STV, candidates cannot be complacent and parties must campaign everywhere, not just in the marginals".

Robert Brown of the Liberal Democrats said his party's apparent surge in support had put the cause of PR "smack in the centre" of the political debate.

"I do understand the naked self-interest that causes Labour and the Conservatives to favour the first past the post system that so favours their parties, but I do think it is extremely difficult to regard as a principled stance a position that one person's vote is worth three or four times the value of another person's vote."

Labour and the Conservatives currently oppose the introduction of a full STV proportional representation system and voted against Mr Harper's motion.

Murdo Fraser MSP
Scottish Conservatives

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Murdo Fraser, of the Tories, said the worst aspect of PR was that it had allowed parties like the BNP to "gain a foothold" in the European Parliament.

"At a time of economic recession the worst in our recorded history, and the crisis in our public finances, now is not the time to change the voting system to prevent any party to achieve an overall majority," he said.

And Labour's Paul Martin MSP claimed there was "no evidence" PR would make MPs more accountable to their constituents rather than to their party leaders, or that it would increase voter turnout.

He said: "The first past the post system has many challenges, but something we cannot move away from is that it successfully provides an opportunity to elect and deselect representatives".

Labour has proposed a different system known as the Alternative Vote for Westminster, and the party is committed to holding a referendum on electoral reform by October 2011 if it wins the general election.

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