Articles

The Buteshire Question

In Isle of Wight, redistricting, Scotland, South East on October 2, 2011 by dadge

Buteshire was a Scottish county, made up of two large islands, Bute and Arran, and the smaller Cumbrae islands. These three parts have populations of about 7,500, 5,000 and 1,500 respectively. These islands’ only connection with the mainland is by ferry. The Bute ferry takes about half an hour and the Arran ferry takes about an hour.

From 1832 to 1918 Buteshire had its own MP (previously having alternated with Caithness-shire in electing an MP – a peculiar arrangement!) but then it was merged with North Ayrshire. In 1983 the island of Bute was switched into the Argyll seat.

So for almost a century these 14,000 island voters haven’t had an MP of their own but have been represented by someone from the mainland. And there’s never any question of that changing.

Let’s shift 400 miles south from the Firth of Clyde to the English Channel and we arrive, after an 18-minute buzz across the water, on the Isle of Wight. The island has had its own single MP since 1832, even though for several decades the MP has had to represent many more voters than the average. The current electorate is 110,000, compared with a national average of about 75,000.

In contrast to Buteshire, what to do about the Isle of Wight has been a perennial topic. But there’s never been any question of a joint seat with the mainland. Why not? How was it fair for the island to be underrepresented? And how is it fair now for it to be overrepresented? I never gave permission for part of my vote to be given to the Isle of Wight. It’s not as if it’s remote or hard to get to. And the people of the island aren’t a different race from the people of Hampshire. In fact, Wight was part of Hampshire till 1974.

How difficult could it be to have a seat that includes central Portsmouth and the Ryde area, or Lymington and West Wight? Not hard at all, and where would the inconvenience lie? Compared, say, with Arran or Bute? But thanks to some idiot in the House of Lords the Isle of Wight has now got two MPs instead of one and a half.

***

A postscript about the two other seats that don’t have to have 75,000 electors: the Northern and Western Isles. The Buteshire Question doesn’t really apply here since no-one can deny that they are extremely remote and hard to get to. Combining either group of islands with part of the mainland would go against common sense. But there is another solution. It’s quite crafty, and somewhat reminiscent of the pre-1832 situation in Buteshire and Caithness I mentioned above. Each MP should be half an MP: they should get half a vote each in the House of Commons. This would be fair and, if you think about it, it wouldn’t actually make much difference, since 280.5 votes to 280 is just as good as 281 votes to 280.

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One Response to “The Buteshire Question”

  1. I can just imagine how the other MPs would respond to a member with only half a vote in the House. I am sure that whenever he rose to speak they would be loudly insisting that he should only make half his speech, or that he should stand on only one leg…

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