A political party which exists solely to campaign for the inclusion of a "none of the above" option on ballot papers is standing in the general election.
The Above and Beyond party, which will stand in up to 10 constituencies, aims to win a seat in parliament and introduce a new law which would give people the option of voting for "none of the above" and rejecting every candidate put forward for election.
"We need to find a way of collecting support for the idea that the political system is broken," party leader Mark Flanagan told BuzzFeed News. "That's precisely why we need a 'none of the above' option on the ballot paper.
"Right now there's a systematic denial of the huge elephant in the room, and the only way we'll ever get a real debate about the system is if it's changed completely.
"But you can't do that without a mandate from the people, which is why we're standing for election."
Flanagan, who has worked as a journalist for two decades, started the party two years ago. It was originally called None of the Above, or NOTA, but the Electoral Commission decided that was too confusing for voters, so the party settled for Above and Beyond.
Flanagan believes the political and economic system is "entirely broken", and that the only way to save the country is to allow voters the opportunity to completely abandon traditional party politics and start again from scratch.
In the long term, if the party succeeds in introducing "none of the above" on to ballot papers, Above and Beyond's ultimate aim is for the "none of the above" option to win an overall majority in a future general election – which would then trigger an unusual referendum.
"If we won the election outright, there would be a referendum on the political system itself," said Flanagan. "We'd put a load of alternative systems forward, and then we'd all get a window of between three and six months to go through them all to narrow down the options – then we'd let the voters choose the new system in a referendum.
"The current system would probably win the referendum, to be honest, but it would move us in the right direction."
Flanagan accepted that his proposed referendum is unlikely to happen "in a million years", but sees May's general election as a platform from which he can raise the profile of the "none of the above" cause and start putting pressure on the government to take his proposals seriously.
He's identified eight seats, mainly in student areas, where he believes his party will be able to influence the result of the election and, through increased exposure, introduce the wider public to the "none of the above" cause.
"As it stands, we have three definite candidates and I'm talking to four others who are probable at the moment," said Flanagan. "We're standing in London, Sheffield Central, Cheadle, and we think we'll have a guy, a former News of the World journalist, to stand for us against Diane Abbott in Hackney.
"But we don't want any more than 10 candidates. Unless someone comes in and writes us a big cheque."
Flanagan might hope that big cheque comes from Russell Brand, who the Above and Beyond leader admires. Brand is aware of the "none of the above" cause, said Flanagan, and would be welcomed into the party should he show an interest in standing as a candidate.
"I'd love for Russell to get involved in the party, I think he understands these things as well as anybody," said Flanagan. "But one problem is that the powers that be in the media give him airtime because he can be held up as a figure of fun.
"It's like: 'Ha ha, look at this guy, he's the mouthpiece for these…' Well, I don't know what they'd call us."
Flanagan said it's unlikely that his party will retain any of the £500 deposits put down for May's general election, and is pessimistic about fulfilling his party's aim of getting parliament to pass a law which would add "none of the above" to the ballot paper. "It would be like turkeys voting for Christmas," he admitted.
However, he is looking forward to hitting the streets on the general election campaign to spread the cause and win enough votes to force the government to take notice of the Above and Beyond party.
"The best result we can hope for is that we make an impression nationally, and millions of people take notice of us," said Flanagan.
"Nothing will happen overnight but, with everything that's going on, I think the door really is open for us."
Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.
Contact Jamie Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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