Here To Stay: Two Decades of Proportional Representation in Britain

Here To Stay: Two Decades of Proportional Representation in Britain
Ian Simpson, Electoral Reform Society

On 6 May 2021, the sixth set of elections took place for each of the devolved elected institutions that exist within the three nations of Great Britain – the Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru (Welsh Parliament) and the London Assembly. The first elections to these bodies took place in 1999 (Scottish Parliament and, as it was then known, Welsh Assembly) and 2000 (London Assembly). This means that systems of proportional representation (PR) have now been in use in Britain for over two decades.

During this time, PR has become a fact of life for millions of voters. Indeed, the Scottish and Welsh governments have passed legislation allowing for proportional representation to be introduced for local government elections within those nations. The Single Transferable Vote (STV) system replaced First Past the Post (FPTP) for local government elections in Scotland, following legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament in the form of the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004. In Wales, local authorities will have the option of switching from FPTP to STV, after their next set of elections in 2022, following the passage of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021.

This report explores the 2021 election results for each of these devolved institutions, as well as looking at how these compare with the results of the previous five sets of elections. The report reviews how the Additional Member System (AMS), a version of proportional representation that is used across the three institutions, produces much fairer outcomes for voters than the FPTP system that is still used for UK general elections.

The data in this report reveals how PR produces much fairer outcomes for devolved elections in Scotland, Wales and London than FPTP in the equivalent nations and regions at Westminster level. The testimony of PR supporters in each of these areas emphasises how voters can feel much more engaged in the democratic system when they feel their vote actually counts.