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How proportional are the ‘British AMS’ systems?

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The battle to introduce proportional representation into the UK has reached an uneasy draw, with PR systems apparently well-established in the two devolved nations, Scotland and Wales, as well as in the Greater London Assembly (GLA). These three systems are the most important mainland ones and share some common institutional features. In addition Northern Ireland has a well-established tradition of using the Single Transferable Vote (STV) for its distinctive party system. New institutional forms also remain possible locales for an extension of PR systems. The GLA pattern will be replicated in any English regional assemblies established in the next two years. Scottish local government may shift over to STV elections. And if direct elections for the House of Lords are ever brought in, some form of PR seems inevitable (see Dunleavy and Margetts, 1999b). So the UK has decisively entered on a possibly protracted phase of co-existence between PR and plurality rule elections, of which the core are the three British AMS systems. Here we examine how they have fared in terms of delivering proportional results, representing the votes cast by electors without artificial distortion, and reflecting or distorting the pattern of alignments. We sketch the devolved systems key features and examine how deviations from proportionality might be applied to them. The experience of British AMS systems so far has some key implications for the future reform of Westminster voting system.

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