Scottish Election 2016: the Regional List vote question

The SNP campaign for the Scottish Election on 5th May 2016 is calling for both votes for the SNP  – both votes being:

  • every individual’s vote for the representative of their constituency at the Scottish Parliament- a first past the post contest;
  • and their vote for a particular party in their Region – a form of allocation by proportional representation of, generally, seven seats in each of eight regions.

The Scottish Conservatives are calling for people who support other parties in the constituency vote to give them their Regional List vote – because, they stress, they are the only party whose support for the union is unequivocal; the only party calling for Scots to pay no more tax than their equivalents in England and for Scotland to work to become a low tax economy; and the only party resolutely to oppose the seriously  ill conceived state guardianship provision of Named Persons.

Scottish Labour has started also to call for Regional List votes as it sees its electoral standing decline further in its currently incoherent and shapeless performance.

The Greens and the Liberal Democrats are scrabbling over the crumbs.

The Curtice Pronouncement

This past weekend, psephologist Professor John Curtice, in a study commissioned by the Sunday Herald, recommended SNP supporters not to give both votes to the SNP but to give their Regional List vote to another party – in order to create a healthy broad-based opposition to what will certainly be a dominant SNP.

Professor Curtice is predicting that the SNP will win all but three of the seventy three constituency seats – and appears to point to two or even three of these being in the Highlands and Islands. [For the record, we disagree. Looking at performance figures, in our view it is highly likely that the SNP will win all but one constituency seat in the Highlands and Islands region – and quite likely that it will take all eight.]

Curtice says that the SNP will win their majority in constituency seats alone, will therefore struggle to win seats in the balancing act that is the Regional List allocation – and that therefore SNP voters who respond to their party’s call for both votes, will be wasting their second vote. His advice is therefore to cast it for a different party and give Scotland a varied opposition.

He also predicts that Labour will still be the second largest party in Holyrood, although much diminished; and supports this by pointing to the Conservatives holding fast but showing little signs of upward movement in the polls.

However, if one looks at rather firmer evidence than the polls – at relatively recent by-elections at any level, it could not be more clear that the Scottish Conservatives are gaining electoral support where it counts: in the privacy of the polling booth; and Scottish Labour are markedly leaching support.

Which of opinion polls or hard votes is the most reliable indicator?

The eminent psephologist would seem to be dismissing too easily the movement towards supporting a clear Conservative opposition to the SNP.

In also predicting gains for the Greens and the Liberal Democrats, Professor Curtice mentions eight seats for the Greens and one additional seat for the Liberal Democrats.

Eight seems overly optimistic in the case of the Greens and, coincidentally, is the figure the party itself is aiming to get.

In the case of the Liberal Democrats, our view is that Curtice is mistaken. The party was left with no public or organisational critical mass after the 2011 election – and the SNP’s sweep of seats in the 2015 UK General Election has made that situation worse.

The party lost the Shetland vote in the joint Orkney and Shetland constituency in that 2015 election; and who knows what impact on its Orkney vote in the May 2o16 Scottish Election may result from the Electoral Court case against Alastair Carmichael for his smearing leak against Nicola Sturgeon in the 2015 UK election campaign? Where are new votes – or returning old votes – for the Liberal Democrats to come from?

The flaws in the Curtice direction

There are several flaws in the Curtice direction to SNP and indy supporting voters – all of them based on soundly practical issues and therefore perhaps beyond the reach of electoral theory.

The first is the level of political sophistication Professor Curtice is expecting from the grassroots mass of the SNP vote. Voters with single minded devotion akin to that of football fans have no interest whatsoever in the balancing impact of an able opposition. They simply want their side to hammer the enemy as hard as possible – and to keep on doing it. And as in the third scenario below – they’re not necessarily wrong.

The intelligentsia sector of these specific voters may well generously toss their Regional List votes to the Greens but – as in both other scenarios below – they may harm democracy by weakening, not strengthening, an opposition; and they may send a dangerous message to their core party of choice by putting one vote elsewhere.

The second flaw is that if all non-SNP voters did as Curtice directs and spread their Regional List votes around other parties, they would return exactly the same itsy-bitsy incoherent opposition that has failed Scotland and Scottish politics since the SNP came to power in 2007.

With a single uber-dominant party of government, such a scenario is singularly impotent.

Democracy absolutely requires that any government with a very strong majority needs a powerful and lucid focus in the voice of a major well-led opposition.

The third flaw in the Curtice direction lies in his failure to engage in his thinking the impact of the tension in nationalist politics in this moment.

SNP party leader and First Minister of Scotland today and after 5th May, Nicola Sturgeon, has, in a personality-driven campaign, asked for both votes for the SNP.

She has done so in the context of releasing later this week, her party’s election manifesto which, she has made it known, will be clear that she will move for no second independence referendum until ‘most Scots’ are in favour of an independent Scotland.

Many activists in the SNP grassroots are, to say the least,  concerned at the party’s direction of travel on independence, losing momentum and putting the project on an ever longer finger.

Were SNP voters – and SNP-voting supporters of independence – to do as Curtice proposes and give their Regional List votes to other parties of their choice, Ms Sturgeon would have less than the fullest possible measurement of SNP and indy support than she needs to have – and than they need her to have.

The reality of the 2016 election

This election is, as For Argyll has said from the outset, still necessarily focused on the constitutional situation which has not been resolved by the September 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum.

This election offers only two intelligent votes – for independence or for the union.

Both of these positions require to be buttressed by their adherents just now, as each comes under attack.

  • The indy cause has been weakened by Scotland’s economic performance – its deficit, its borrowing and its weak growth rate – and by its economic prospects in the short to medium term at least. The hard headed and rational who might have supported indy will not now do so; so it could not be more important for the cause and for the SNP that the bravehearts register their number and commitment in the May vote as strongly as possible.
  • The union cause remains under threat from the nationalist determination not to accept the verdict of September 2014 – and from the imminence of the First Minister’s declared intent to launch a new indy recruitment campaign this coming summer. This underlines the need for every pro-union vote to count as an opposition to indy. Both Scottish Labour and the Liberal Democrats have watered down their stance on indy in the hope of some electoral advantage to shore up their vote in May; and only the Conservatives have held firm, regardless, in support for the union.

With the mood of the country at the moment, the SNP is certain to sweep to an unequivocal win, increasing its parliamentary majority and reinvigorating the momentum for indy.

Anyone supporting the SNP or supporting independence from a different political affiliation would fail to make the necessary point if they did anything but give both their votes to the SNP. For indy-supporters, this election is not a matter of not wasting a vote – but of the need to maintain the demonstrated strength of the indy cause.

Anyone supporting the union should vote for the candidate of their choice in the constituency vote – and then set any other party affiliation aside, casting their Regional List vote for the Scottish Conservatives – who will present a clear and coherent opposition to the SNP.

The night of 5th/6th May 2016 is going to be revelatory in many ways.

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Related Articles & Comments

  • Don’t all parties ask people to give them both votes? I can’t imagine any party asking for people to vote for another party in one of the vites.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

    Lundavra April 19, 2016 12:04 am Reply
  • I thought the whole idea was to vote for your preferred choices. If you do not win in the constituency, you are likely to win representation in the regional vote.
    There seems to be a lot of people at work trying to take votes off the SNP with this wasted vote message, even the ERS are at it.
    It all sounds a bit too organised to me. Steering the Scottish vote is becoming a regular feature of elections and referenda.
    Wake up people!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

    Murdoch MacKenzie April 19, 2016 8:32 am Reply
    • ‘A bit too organised’ rings a bell. Not applicable, of course, to SNP tactics in ‘shouting down’ criticism in media like this, or dubious party political tactics within local authorities like Argyll & Bute Council?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

      Robert Wakeham April 19, 2016 1:33 pm Reply
  • Prof Curtis didn’t say how anyone SHOULD vote. Please read his whole report. http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/sites/default/files/files/publication/The-2016-Scottish-Election-Briefing.pdf

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    belinda April 19, 2016 10:20 am Reply
    • He might not say it in this report but,
      “According to the Sunday Herald’s editor Neil Mackay, the ERS were “totally fine with” the paper’s presentation of the report, which went out under the blunt headline “Study claims independence supporters should not cast second vote for the SNP”.
      Neil MacKay also tweeted that “both Prof Curtice and ERS all totally fine with the story when speaking to my journalist.”

      http://wingsoverscotland.com/reforming-your-principles/#more-84236

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      Murdoch MacKenzie April 19, 2016 2:58 pm Reply
  • Absutely right Murdoch. There is a coordinated campaign to take votes away from the SNP. And in whose interest would it be to have a weakened SNP. Fortunately, folks know that voting SNP one and two makes sense.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 6

    Willie April 19, 2016 10:55 am Reply
    • Willie and MM

      You just don’t get it.

      Professor John Curtice’s proposition is that Yes voters should give their 2nd vote to another pro-independence party – such as the Greens or the leftwing party Rise – in case unionist MSPs are let in by the back door.

      It is down to the applied maths of the 2nd vote and electoral system.

      Yet another example of the SNP persecution complex?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      Scotnat April 21, 2016 11:19 am Reply
      • According to Curtice logic and following his route of thinking ………..
        we firstly must know the final outcome…….
        so we can then vote to change that outcome…….
        Is he really a professor?

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

        Keitho April 21, 2016 2:49 pm Reply
  • After going through the election bumph from the major participants – a depressing exercise – I came to my own conclusions, which are my constituency vote for the least worst candidate, and my list vote for the somewhat better party.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    Arthur Blue April 21, 2016 10:04 am Reply

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