This is a refresh of the Leader column of Issue 1047 of the Scots Independent. The original online copy can be purchased at http://scotsindependent.scot/ocart2/index.php?route=product/product&path=79_81&product_id=154
The battle for the Scottish Parliament is over but the volume of claim and counter claim for regional voting strategy, especially for SNP voters, is enough to burst a few blood vessels.
How times have changed for Scotland’s independence parties. The SNP has now become the dominant party of Scotland and is portrayed in some people’s eyes as the Establishment. We were promised by the likes of the Sunday Herald that a majority was in the bag and how SNP voters should now split their ticket for another Independence-supporting party. This was based on the premise, handily crafted by the Curtice study, that a regional list vote for SNP is a wasted vote unless you live in the South of Scotland or the Highlands & Islands.
Greens contended that because they lend their support to SNP constituency candidates (unless you are Sandra White or Alison Dickie), therefore, it would be honourable for SNP voters in no-chance regions to repay them with a second vote. That assumed all Green voters are independence supporters. Surprise, surprise, SNP activists are finding on the doors that a large segment of Green supporters have no truck with independence. Many YES activists knew that already from the lack of enthusiasm from Green activists in places like Edinburgh in the Referendum.
The Green vote is first and foremost an environmentalist first preference, not a primary support for independence. Alison Johnstone’s intervention in Edinburgh Central clearly let Ruth Davidson win on the lowest threshold ever to win a constituency (I wonder if any animal can disprove that). #BothvotesGreen certainly spectacularly back-fired.
RISE may have a collective of well-meaning individuals, indeed some very talented people, but the reality is that they were nowhere close to the threshold for a regional seat. So how was an SNP voter to understand whether to support the Greens or RISE and be guaranteed that it delivered a difference without impacting on the SNP. The answer is they don’t and no one can guarantee it. So, as Derek Bateman has written lately in his fine blog, it wasn’t worth taking the risk.
The real lesson of the 2016 Scottish elections is that left/right ideology is out and voters are looking to choose between Independence and Unionism. So whilst we all respect the Indyref result of 18/9/14, no voter is letting it rest on either side. The Tories (successfully) are convincing No voters that really, this is not about the toxic Tories, this is about protecting the Union (again). There has always been a highway between Tory and Lib Dem votes. There may even have been a shift for some middle class New Labourites to the Tories but not as many as some might think.
It is more likely that the anti-Labour but Unionist minded voters who supported the SNP to get McConnell and gang out in 2007 (and to keep them out in 2011), have deserted the SNP over the Referendum. Meanwhile the Labour vote has more or less en masse shifted to the SNP. So SNP vote goes up (with say a 15% increase from Labour but 12% of 2011 vote has gone back to Tory or Lib Dems), even when not gaining an overall majority.
What this tactical battle is showing is that the Additional Member System is flawed.
There are three future options which are up for debate now. Firstly, the regional list vote could be abolished and the constituency vote is used to top additional members. After all, the AMS system is meant to compensate voters of competing parties so that there is a more proportionate representation in Holyrood. However, if voters split their vote across parties, then in effect, that is a distortion of the voter’s primary intention to support one party to represent them. Voters who don’t split their vote are in essence restricting their options and potential outcomes compared with those who do.
Secondly, if there is no broad inclination to amend the AMS voting system but stick with what we have, there is another option for SNP supporters: create a sister party with an electoral agreement to support the SNP. This would be valid and perfectly feasible for the simple reason, a certain Ian Davidson (former Labour & Co-op MP for Glasgow South West), suggested it many years ago for the Labour Party to only fight constituencies and the Co-operative Party to fight on the list. The SNP could easily establish a similar option and win handsomely.
Thirdly, the SNP could put forward the case for a shift to an electoral system which we have long valued, argued for on principle and creates a true PR democracy: the Single Transferable Vote in multi-member constituencies. It’s good enough for local government after all.
Now, some of you out there will be quick to do the math and work out whether you think the SNP would benefit or not from any of these proposals. I hope you do but I haven’t the time or inclination because this is precisely why arguing on principle is better made without calculation about what’s in our interest or not.
This is the kind of debate which it would have been expected of the Electoral Reform Society to hold. Instead we have this impartial respected body commissioning reports to challenge, in their eyes, a single party domination because they say they have always believed in plurality. Well first any of us have heard of that. It strongly smells of an anti-SNP strategy. It’s time ERS and others supported a campaign for more reform instead of putting up with what we have got.