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Proposals to reform UK voting system are complex



Date Published: {J}

Did you hear they’re making a movie of Monopoly? It’s just a loop of film that keeps playing until the last person leaves the cinema.

In other unlikely news, it seems the British are finally going to get PR. Except . . . no. Even if the referendum is passed, what they’ll actually have is something called ‘Alternative Vote’, which makes it sound like you get a second choice if the party you want is out of stock. What does it really mean?

Actually, it’s easier to say what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean Proportional Representation – or anything like it. To understand why, it’s necessary to see how some systems are more proportional than others. The worst one of all is what they have of course – First Past The Post. As I’ve said before, simply picking the candidate who gets most votes is the best known way to elect a representative most people actually despise.

So what then is the most proportional? Some think it’s the one we use – Single Transferrable Vote – but actually the ideal system is to have a single national constituency. That way it is automatically proportional. If ten percent of the population vote for the Purple Party, ten per cent of the seats naturally go to the Purple Party. Simple.

Why don’t we all do that? Well the drawback is that it lacks the element of local representation. This is an ancient and seemingly natural concept in politics. People all around the country send their representatives to the capital where they make the laws. Does it still make sense in the modern world? I would argue no, it is complete and utter nonsense in the modern world, but that can wait until another day. Assuming we do still want it, about the fairest compromise is the system we use – Single Transferable Vote in Multi-seat Constituencies. Do you see the trick? It breaks the country up into areas small enough to still feel reasonably local, but big enough to share out seats in proportion to votes.

Being a compromise, the system has to be fine-tuned. This is done by setting the constituency size; the more seats it has, the more proportionally – but less local – the representation. This can be easily seen by imaging one big constituency with all the seats in it. That would be just the same as the ideal system; perfectly proportional but perfectly non-local.

So what happens if you go to the opposite extreme, and have very many constituencies with only one seat each? That way you get a version that might be highly local, but it would be so badly proportional as to be unworthy of the name of PR.

So I guess that’s why they call it Alternative Vote. It’s really just FPTP with the corners knocked off, its only difference being that voters order their candidates like we do rather than put it all on one. This will help a little, but it is still a very long way from actually being, you know, accurate. Yet that’s all the LibDems won. (Or will win, if they can defeat both Labour and their own government partners in a referendum campaign.) I can only imagine that they look on it as freedom to win freedom.

We’ll see how that works out for them.

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Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Galway have lot to ponder in poor show



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013




GALWAY’S first serious examination of the 2013 season rather disturbingly ended with a rating well below the 40% pass mark at the idyllic, if rather Siberian, seaside setting of Enniscrone on Sunday last.

The defeat cost Galway a place in the FBD League Final against Leitrim and also put a fair dent on their confidence shield for the bigger tests that lie ahead in February.

There was no fluke element in this success by an understrength Sligo side and by the time Leitrim referee, Frank Flynn, sounded the final whistle, there wasn’t a perished soul in the crowd of about 500 who could question the justice of the outcome.

It is only pre-season and last Sunday’s blast of dry polar winds did remind everyone that this is far from summer football, but make no mistake about it, the match did lay down some very worrying markers for Galway following a couple of victories over below par third level college teams.

Galway did start the game quite positively, leading by four points at the end of a first quarter when they missed as much more, but when Sligo stepped up the tempo of the game in the 10 minutes before half-time, the maroon resistance crumbled with frightening rapidity.

Some of the statistics of the match make for grim perusal. Over the course of the hour, Galway only scored two points from play and they went through a 52 minute period of the match, without raising a white flag – admittedly a late rally did bring them close to a draw but that would have been very rough justice on Sligo.

Sligo were backable at 9/4 coming into this match, the odds being stretched with the ‘missing list’ on Kevin Walsh’s team sheet – Adrian Marren, Stephen Coen, Tony Taylor, Ross Donovan, David Kelly, David Maye, Johnny Davey and Eamon O’Hara, were all marked absent for a variety of reasons.

Walsh has his Sligo side well schooled in the high intensity, close quarters type of football, and the harder Galway tried to go through the short game channels, the more the home side bottled them up.

Galway badly needed to find some variety in their attacking strategy and maybe there is a lot to be said for the traditional Meath style of giving long, quick ball to a full forward line with a big target man on the edge of the square – given Paul Conroy’s prowess close to goal last season, maybe it is time to ‘settle’ on a few basics.

Defensively, Galway were reasonably solid with Gary Sice at centre back probably their best player – he was one of the few men in maroon to deliver decent long ball deep into the attacking zone – while Finian Hanley, Conor Costello and Gary O’Donnell also kept things tight.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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