Leader comment: Time for a renewed debate on the UK electoral system

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There is a simplicity about the first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system for Westminster.

Whoever gains the most votes in a constituency becomes the MP. Whichever party has the most MPs forms the government.

But FPTP has been under pressure for some time.

The Holyrood parliament is elected through a version of proportional representation as are our local authorities. It is also used in Wales, Northern Ireland, the London Assembly and the European elections.

And many voters and analysts believe that FPTP is no longer right for the UK’s green benches.

The respected Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has warned that the results of the next General Election will be a “total lottery” and likely to be the most disproportionate in history, as a result of the polarisation of debate over Brexit.

ERS analysis found that the combined Labour and Conservative vote share is among the lowest on record (YouGov: 38 per cent).

Since Labour became the second largest party in terms of MPs at the 1922 general election, the lowest combined Conservative and Labour vote share seen in Great Britain in a general election is 67 per cent in 2010.

Three consecutive polls over the weekend have shown three different parties in first place (Lib Dem, Brexit and Labour) – the first time this has happened since 1986.

We could find the Conservatives imploring voters not to vote for the Brexit party as it will let in Jeremy Corbyn. And Labour saying that a vote for the Greens will let in the Tories.

This all shifts the debate away from vital policy areas and towards manipulating the system.

The difference between votes and seats could be bigger than ever in the next election. So it is inevitable – and right – that a renewed debate takes place over the electoral system.

But don’t expect this to be a short one. Reform could take years.