With the referendum we are being offered an improvement over the current system on 5 levels, by moving to AV from FPTP. 5 key areas where AV is fairer than FPTP if you will...
In 2010 25% of people voted in such a way that their votes meant less to the over-all result. They are everyone that voted for a 3rd or worse placed candidate in their constituency. By voting that way they made a choice that made so little difference that they might as well have stayed home. It wouldn't have changed the winner, it wouldn't have changed the majority the winner had. Yet if they *had* voted tacitically (essentially making an AV result, without the rounds of AV) their vote would have made a difference, either increasing or decreasing the winner's majority to a more accurate show of like/dislike on policy areas, or could have changed the winner completely.
AV stops this unequal practice of people's votes being worth less than others (unless the voter chooses to make it so), by removing the last placed candidate and simulating another FPTP election as if that candidate hadn't stood, etc, etc until a winner is found.
Along with the above comes transparency. We're ultimately diverse beings with diverse opinions. I personally appreciate Labour's approach to funding of public services, but I dislike their authoritarian streak. A Labour government tempered with a liberal edge would be my perfect party or coalition of government. But I can currently only vote for Labour or vote for Lib Dem. If I make the wrong choice, along with many other people in the constituency splitting their "left wing liberal" vote, then a Tory could win despite the opinions of people not fitting that bill.
AV enables us to say what we really feel, it's not tactical it's just honest. And furthermore it gives us and the parties much more information about the type of policies the constituency really wants, and better informs governance as a result.
And this transparency can only be achieved because AV enables a much greater level of honesty. Sure, there are situations where tactical voting can exist, though it is much less rational or possible under AV than it is under FPTP. The vast majority of seats will see people simply being able to state their true preferences, to say who they really want.
Currently people might be forced (or feel forced) to vote negatively under FPTP, not through an honest wish for that candidate to win, but to stop someone else. AV ensures that your first vote need NEVER be a tactical one, and always an honest choice on who you want to represent you.
And as such AV is clearly more representative. By running elections in such a way that we ask the question "What if the election under FPTP had been run only with the most popular candidates?" As such we whittle the list down, keeping the most popular candidates in, and eventually selecting the most popular of them.
Now representativeness can be measured in other ways, you can also claim there may be a more representative result available than under AV, but the fact remains that the result under AV will be a more knowingly representative one than under FPTP...even if the same candidate wins that would have under FPTP, we know exactly how much more they're supported by people than first appeared, or how much less.
All of the above are available as improvements because the choice for voters is moved to being an active and free participant to whatever level they wish. If they want to still put a single "X" down under AV, they can. If they want to preference everyone, they can. FPTP drains this up front choice from voters, making them decide between honesty and tactics, only informing them of how "equal" their participation is after the result, not guaranteeing it from the beginning to whatever level they wish it to be the case.
There are, of course, weaknesses of AV too...but they're not disadvantages compared to FPTP. It isn't proportional (neither is FPTP), it could lead to coalitions (so could FPTP, as in 2010), it could lead to unfair majorities (as could FPTP). It also doesn't necessarily mean MPs get over 50% of the vote as some claim, though the amount of the vote the MP does get is almost certain to be more than they would get under FPTP.
Other supposed weaknesses such as the time AV takes to count have been debunked, the cost implication is minimal (and such small prices should never come in the way of voter's having a fairer voice), and there is no reasonable way to claim that AV counts some people's opinion more than others. It's also not going to return Lib Dems to power forever more, not unless FPTP was going to do it anyway, in which case it would be the democratic will of the people.
If you're honestly stating that FPTP is better than I'm afraid I don't believe you. I think that either you have some underlying vested interest you think that FPTP will protect, such as an MP without a mandate, or you have failed to understand the realities of AV as a system and the inherent weaknesses in FPTP that can lead to the same results that you fear from AV. I cannot accept the plethora of excuses such as "AV encourages negative voting" when we exist under a system that already perpetrates all of these problems only more so.
If you are holding out for PR, however, then I think you're being irrational by voting No...the reasons above show why AV is demonstrably a fairer system on the voter than FPTP but you would choose to stick with the less fair system with NO guarantee we'll ever get PR. You are also unlikely to be viewing the bigger picture of wider constitutional reform.
PR for the House of Commons would be great...but it's not the only positive end game. If the House of Lords reform that should take place in the next few years (or get started) was to do so with PR in mind, then we would have two chambers to discuss the laws of this land...one that is based on local representation, and one that is based on national political opinion...balancing each other's weaknesses out. It's somewhat short sighted to believe that if we are not getting PR for the House of Commons now, that a representative way of having our views on law won't be possible in the very near future.
I wish that there could be more honesty in this debate, on a referendum where it is clear that people's partisan fears about which party it might help most, and ideology to pursue only the "best" system in their eyes, is overcoming rational and reasoned thought. I only hope that come May 5th we will have more people turning out that are able to see through such selfish and illogical views and towards a more objective one.