New Scottish MEP's appointment shows flaw in party-list voting system

The BBC has reported that Tory peer Nosheena Mobarik has become Scotland’s newest MEP.

In the 2014 European elections, six MEPs were elected for the super-constituency of Scotland. The SNP’s Ian Hudghton and Alyn Smith made the cut, as did Labour’s David Martin and Catherine Sithler. UKIP’s David Coburn also won a seat, in what was described as a shock victory, as did the Conservatives’ Ian Duncan.

After June’s snap election, the Telegraph reported that Ian Duncan was made a peer and the UK’s Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. The move was surprising, considering the Tories had gained twelve new MPs north of the border who were all overlooked for the job.

As a result, Duncan stepped down as an MEP, with the BBC reporting on Wednesday that Noosheena Mobarik has taken his place.

Mobarik was third on the Tory’s party list, with her appointment skipping over second-placed Belinda Don, who had reportedly said she was considering legal action over the decision not to give her the seat.

Now this gets to the main point of the issue. The party-list system used to elect MEPs ensures that members of the public vote for parties and not candidates. With the EU already seen as an inaccessible, foreign-body to many in the country – hello, Brexit! – the party list system hardly helps with creating a link between voters and their representatives.

Most voters can probably name their MP, but a YouGov poll for the Independent found that 95% of voters could not name any one of their Euro representatives.

Again, this will be partly down to the less visible European parliament, as well as the lesser engagement with Brussels from UK voters, but the party-list system certainly does not help the situation.

Party-list gives too much power to the parties as MEP candidates are ordered by the party and not by the voter. An alternative exists, where lists are open and voters can pick the party they wish to support and also choose their preferred candidates, but this is not used by the UK to elect MEPs to Brussels and Strasbourg.

Don’t get me wrong, Britain’s first-past-the-post system used for electing MPs is archaic, unrepresentative, reeking of democratic deficit, and substantially limits the power of the voter; electoral reform is a must, but the system used to elect MEPs, while better at producing more proportional results, is not the fairest option available.

The Mixed Member Proportional system used to elect MPs in Germany, and MSPs and AMs in Scotland and Wales respectively, keeps the main benefit of first-past-the-post, which is the constituency link, while also adding a top-up list to account for proportionality. But the system also forces voters to vote for a party on the top-up list, and subsequently creates two types of representatives.

As for the Single Transferable Vote, where voters rank candidates in order of preference in multi-member constituencies, it is the voters who are given the most power. Constituents can pick and choose from across the parties. Voter A may be a strong Labour-supporter, but s/he also may wish to elect a local Liberal Democrat due to their stance on a particular issue. STV allows the voter to account for this.

The system also retains the constituency link with the added bonus of providing multiple links between representatives and voters. Under FPTP, a constituent may want to see their MP, but said MP may have views in opposition to what the constituent wishes to discusses, thus reducing the MP’s accessibility. Under multi-member STV constituencies, constituents have much more of a choice, and ergo, much more of a voice.

On top of that, STV also produces more proportional results, ensuring that smaller parties get heard, and that majority governments are not formed without the backing of more than half the electorate.

The party-list system is flawed, but so too is Britain’s FPTP. It’s time for reform.

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