The UK election was not just important because it was the latest in a long series, that goes back to the 19th century, of elections based on mass suffrage and the secret ballot, but also because it showed one of the main problems with the first-past-the-post system it has followed, and which it has exported to those parts of its once-extensive empire that have still retained elections as the means of either re-legitimising the incumbent, or of transferring power.

However, while the exposure of the first-past-the-post system is basically a question of looking at the numbers, another more obvious result, in the collapse of the Labour Party in Scotland, not to the benefit of the Conservative Party, but of the Scots Nationalist Party (SNP), re-opens the question of Scottish independence, showing that last year’s referendum by no means settled the issue. One of the planks on which Prime Minister David Cameron campaigned was that of a referendum on the European Union. The SNP success not only re-opens the Scottish independence issue, but also makes it possible that the EU referendum might not provide a final solution.

However, one thing the election has done is saved Cameron’s jobs, not just as Prime Minister, but as Leader of the Conservative Party. That is the only party not to have experienced a change in leadership recently. SNP chief Nicola Sturgeon also retained the leadership, but her party had recently seen a change of leader when her predecessor Alex Salmond resigned last year after the referendum defeat. Otherwise, the Labour Party saw its Leader Ed Milliband resign, as did the Liberal Democrats (Nicholas Clegg) and the Independence Party (Nigel Farage).

Farage’s party is the best example of a party hard-done-by in a first-past-the-post system. The Independence party won 12.6 percent of the vote, but only one seat of 650 (0.1538 percent). On the other hand, Cameron won a thin majority, 331 seats (50.9 percent), on the basis of 36.9 percent of the vote. Labour, on the other hand, won 232 (35.7 percent) seats and 30.4 percent of the vote. That brings to mind the results of the first 1974 election, which saw the Liberal Party win only 14 seats, or 7.5 percent, even though it won 19.3 percent of the popular vote. In the next election that year, which was precipitated by the first election not yielding a majority for anyone, the Liberals won 13 seats, on 18.3 percent of the vote.

The problem with the first-past-the-post system is that it is a winner-take-all system. It does not matter if a candidate gets one vote more or 10,000 (and in India, majorities of over a million votes have been recorded), if he wins he not only becomes a legislator, he may become a minister and thus part of the executive. The argument usually adduced in its favour is that it leads to stable government. Theoretically, it could lead to a party getting fewer votes but more seats, and thus forming the government. This is what happened to the Labour government in the 1951 election, which got about a quarter of a million votes more than the Conservatives and their National Liberal allies combined, but still had to go into opposition, having won only 291 seats against the Conservative’s 321. Labour candidates piled up huge leads in Scotland, somewhere where SNP candidates had been winning.

The Westminster model was not well advertised by the current election, for it demands two parties. In fact, it is a myth dating back to the 19th century Whig-Tory rivalry, and does not apply to the current British scenario of a revival of Liberal Democrats (which was an amalgamation of the old Liberal Party with the rightist rebels from the Labour Party) splitting the vote.

The election has given the Conservatives a majority, which escaped it in the previous election, when they won 307 seats, and entered into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats to form the government. It was expected that this time Labour would form the government with SNP support, but as it is, the Tories have won handily enough to jettison the Liberal Democrats, that is why Clegg had to go. Not to mention that the party went from 57 seats to eight.

However, the votes obtained by the UKIP are votes the Conservatives missed more, even though they won. The UKIP would have done better, had not the Tories taken a more anti-immigrant, anti- Muslim, stance. The Conservatives’ issue with the EU is over immigration policy. In other words, over the relative willingness of other (mostly Southern) members to provide a refuge to mostly Arab or North African (that is, Muslim) refugees. In short, far from acknowledging that the UK is now a multicultural society, the Conservatives are trying to disguise their racism with making Baroness Warsi (briefly) Chairman, and finding this works electorally.

It is precisely such a time of upheaval that led to Irish Home Rule. At that time, the Liberals depended on Ireland for its majorities in the UK. Labour depends on Scotland to provide it majorities, and it is significant that it has provided (in Ramsay MacDonald and Gordon Brown respectively) Labour with its first and latest Prime Ministers. However, just as in the 1890s onwards, the Irish members demanded Home Rule, now the SNP has emerged, not just as the dominant force in the Scottish Parliament, but in Westminster itself. Just as the Irish Home Rule supporters could not support the Conservatives, the SNP is bound to support Labour. Irish Home Rule came when the Tories were in office, meaning that the SNP might do well to put the referendum defeat behind them.

The defeat of Anas Sarwar for a Glasgow seat, from which his father Punjab ex-Governor Muhammad Sarwar was first elected, should serve as a reminder that if Scotland gained independence, it would also have a sizeable Pakistani diaspora. This would mean a Pakistani interest in Scotland that would go beyond the historical ties created by Scotsmen who were part of the Raj.

Not only does Pakistan follow the first-past-the-post model, but it is also in the throes of an electoral reform debate. Interestingly, the PTI, the party which is debating hardest, does not question the Westminster model. Indeed, it holds it up as an ideal to be followed. It provides no solution to the racism the Westminster model allows (which is paralleled in Pakistan by the Muhajir-Sindhi divide), nor to the possibility of secession (Pakistan’s Baluch secessionism is by no means over), except greater patriotism. Most worrisome of all, it provides no solution to the intrinsic unfairness of the first-past-the-post model.