Malcolm Parkin: Time to have a rethink on our voting systems amid complicated plebiscites

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The multiple vote, a concept raised by Nevil Shute in his 1953 novel In the Wet, could be adopted for UK elections and referendums, of which the latter are becoming increasingly complicated to understand, while becoming increasingly important to get right, as they have long-term implications.

In particular, it is now vital to ignore the emotional aspects of a referendum vote in favour of considered and rational judgement.

In Shute’s story, set in Australia, an individual can have up to seven votes. Everyone gets a basic vote, but extra votes per individual can be earned for achievements such as educational qualifications; a commission in the armed forces; working abroad for a period; raising two children to the age of 16; starting a business, or having a high earned income. The seventh vote is given at the Monarch’s discretion, for matters such as acts of heroism.

It is not difficult to take this idea, and choose qualifications to suit our own circumstances in the UK.

The September 2014 referendum on Scottish Independence, for example, showed that on a vital issue that had permanent national and international repercussions, the current “one man one vote” process was probably inadequate.

The implications of that vote were arguably too complicated to be decided by someone who had not troubled to analyse them, or perhaps by a 16-year-old voting for the first time. There was also a lot of emotion involved, which was understandable. This was about the future of Scotland on its own, then later as a possible EU member to be governed by Brussels rather than Westminster.

Implications were the choice of a currency, then the adoption of the Euro, and the loss of devolved powers. In spite of the obvious enormity of this decision, anecdotal evidence showed that many people considered only local matters. Many did not even understand the irrevocable effect of their vote. Some thought that they could “try” Scottish Independence, and simply revert to the status quo if it did not work out well.

The fact that the United Kingdom was preserved, which of course was the entire intent of the referendum, was perhaps no more than accidental. Then, the referendum on something as serious as Britain’s continued membership of the EU, also arguably required a better system. These implications were complicated and enormous. This was not an opinion poll, it was a life-changer. Yet I heard of someone who voted to leave the EU because he thought it would improve his local bus service.

So the multiple vote would balance the effect of the unconsidered or emotional vote, by increasing the influence of those who have considered more, and contributed more, and whose judgement and understanding would therefore be likely to produce a more constructive outcome to any election and - in particular - to a complicated referendum with permanent consequences.

Malcolm Parkin is a retired business adviser. He lives in Kinnesswood, Kinross-shire

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