A few weeks after the botched attempt by the NO2AV campaign* to rig a debate in Belfast on the subject of the Referendum on the voting system on May 5, it might have been better for the NO campaign if Brian Wilson had stayed at home tonight as well.
Tonight was the Belfast Skeptics in the Pub – The AV Showdown. The invited speakers were Brian Wilson for the NO2AV campaign and Stephen Glenn for the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign. The evening was ably chaired by Conor Prendergastin the Club Room of the Parlour Bar, Elmwood Avenue in Belfast.
Opening arguments from both speakers were to be about 10 minutes long. With a call of ‘heads’ from Brian and a toss of coin which showed ‘tails’, it was Stephen’s turn to speak first, followed by Brian, and then to questions from the meeting.
The two speakers could not have been more different in style. The former MLA and current North Down councillor read a speech from his notes, and then proceeded to get his notes all in a muddle. Stephen, Party conference veteran and speaker against the SNP, Labour and Tories in hustings in several elections spoke without notes, presenting some key facts, together with real arguments.
Stephen explained that last May in the Westminster election only three of our 18 MPs iwere elected with more than 50% of the vote; that 3 Northern Irish MPs only got 1out of 3 votes last May as well. Therefore 15 out of our 18 MPs were elected with a majority of voters not wanting them.
Brian Wilson agreed with this. In fact, Brian Wilson agreed with most of what Stephen said. It was hard to see exactly why Brian Wilson was speaking for the NO campaign – other than his suggestion that in Northern Ireland, AV will result in a sectarian head count. I should point out that we heard no arguments tonight propounding the benefits of the current system known as First Past the Post**.
Further facts from Stephen:
– In 1951 94% of MPs in Westminster were elected with more than 50% of the vote in their constituencies.
– Last year, in 2010, only 33.44% of MPs were elected in the same manner.
He explained that the Institute for Public Policy Research had stated that
FPTP is a system designed for an age of political tribalism which no longer exists. AV suits the electoral conditions prevalent in Britain today – particularly the shift to multi-party politics. Voters are much more promiscuous in the way they vote than in the past and AV is more adept at probing and reflecting the electorate’s political pluralism. There is clear support for AV among non-tribal voters.
Brian Wilson presented no facts that I could discern from his rambling speech other than the fact that he was a member of the Electoral Reform Society and thought that we should vote NO at this point as AV was not really a reform that was worth campaigning for.
When asked questions about what was more important: how our politicians were elected or how they carry out the business of parliament when elected, Brian concentrated on the voting problems of those who designate as neither ‘Unionist’ nor ‘Nationalist’ in the Northern Ireland Assembly. As Stephen Glenn pointed out, the AV Referendum will not affect how MLAs are elected. It is solely on how MPs who sit in the House of Commons are elected. It seemed as though the Green Party had been taking lessons from Sinn Féin on how not to answer a question. It wasn’t quite Martin McGuinness‘s once stock answer of:
That’s not the question, the question is…
but it was coming quite close.
All in all, if the NO campaign can only muster a bumbling retired MLA as their spokesman with no clear, positive arguments for staying with the current system, I think it was clear tonight that there were more people being convinced by the well argued, well reasoned, factual points from the Yes campaign.
As I remarked on the way home, if I had debated in the style of Brian Wilson when in the Ballymena Academy Debating Society, I’d have been laughed out of the society. It really does go to show that the Assembly on the hill at Stormont has a debating style worse than school debates.
* When Brian Wilson MLA (as he then was) of the Green Party failed to turn up to the NO2AV’s debate in Belfast, whilst Stephen Glenn, of the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign did turn up.
** But what post? At least in AV there is a post of 50% of the vote.
- The AV Showdown – Belfast Skeptics Alternative Vote Debate (sluggerotoole.com)