Category Archives: Greens

The Blue Tribe of Scotland

I thought I'd have a closer look at the four tribes of Scotland as described in my two earlier blog posts.

I defined the Blue Tribe as "the 33% of voters who want Scotland to be an independent country inside the EU [mnemonic: blue as the Saltire and the EU flag]".

The Blue Tribe of Scotland encompasses a spectrum of people, ranging from people who're closer to the Yellow Tribe and are relatively happy to put up with an independent Scotland being outside the EU so long as we get independence, to people who're closer to the Green Tribe and only want to see Scottish independence within Europe, not without.

The Blue Tribe is the only one of the four tribes that has lost two referendums in short order, first the Indyref and then the Brexit vote. As a result, many of its members are getting a bit paranoid and are wanting to play it safe, calling Indyref2 only when victory is practically ensured. Although I'm a Blue myself, I do wonder whether this ultra-cautious approach is going to cause us to miss the boat by delaying the next independence referendum for too long.

Both the SNP and the Green Party are dominated by the Blue Tribe. However, the SNP also contains most of the Yellow Tribe, and the Green Party also contains a good number of Green Tribe members, so it would perhaps be more accurate to think of the SNP as a Yellow-Blue Party and the Green Party as belonging to the Green-Blues. As a result, the SNP is now perhaps finding it harder to rally all its members behind a new referendum than the Green Party.

It would probably be fair to describe the Blue Tribe as internationalist civic nationalists, and most of its members are probably as far removed from ethnic nationalism as you can get, which of course made them rather angry during the last Indyref when they were accused of being blood-and-soil nationalists.

So although this tribe is the one which has dominated Scottish politics for the past decade, its members are feeling rather paranoid and under attack. This will probably not change till we win Indyref2.

What should the SNP have done to win a majority?

I’ve already argued in another blog post that it really wasn’t the Greens’ fault that the SNP didn’t get a majority — they won exactly as many seats as the SNP would have if they had got all their votes on top of their own, so a vote for them got weren’t wasted (but at the same time there wasn’t any tactical voting benefit to voting Green, either).

I’ve also pointed out that just like in the indyref, Glasgow performed better than expected, and Edinburgh and the North East underperformed.

I therefore thought it would be useful to look at all the regions again to see what the SNP could have done better. (I’m commenting in places also on the Greens’ performance, but the focus here is on the SNP.)

  • Glasgow added two SNP seats (going from 7 to 9 out of 16), so it really wasn’t Glasgow’s fault that the SNP didn’t win a majority in Holyrood. Yes, it would have been nice to win an additional list seat here, but even if the SNP had managed to convince all the Green list voters to vote SNP instead, the seat gained would have cost Patrick Harvie his seat, so it wouldn’t have benefited the Yes movement as a whole. It's hard to see how the SNP can do better than this in the future here, but the Greens should be able to pick up at least one more seat.
  • Central Scotland did OK. The SNP again won all the constituency seats — 9 out of 16 seats (the same as five years ago). Neither the SNP nor the Greens won any list seats here. Again, it’s hard to see how the SNP can improve a lot on this result in the future, but again, perhaps the Greens are in a better position to win a list seat here.
  • The West Scotland region achieved a decent result (flat on 8 out of 17). (It was decent in numerical terms, but the brilliant Stewart Maxwell failed to gain a seat — he’ll be sorely missed in the new parliament). However, this really wasn’t good enough. Winning a list seat here was always going to be tough, but winning only 8 out of 10 constituencies was careless, and the SNP should perhaps have bussed in supporters from other constituencies to the vulnerable ones (Dumbarton and Eastwood).
  • Mid Scotland and Fife saw the loss of one SNP seat (from 9 to 8 out of 16), which fortunately was picked up by the Greens. (If all the Green voters had voted SNP on the list, this seat would have gone to Labour, not to the SNP.) The SNP should have bussed in supporters to prevent Willie Rennie from winning North East Fife.
  • In the South Scotland region, the SNP went from 8 to 7 seats (out of 17), and differently from other regions, the list vote was very important here: The SNP won only 4 constituencies and got a top-up of 3 list seats. Targeting constituencies here would have been a waste of time, but the SNP should have run a stronger operation to pursue the list vote here.
  • The Highlands and Islands saw the loss of two SNP seats (from 9 to 7 out of 15). One of these was picked up by the Greens, but the SNP only needed about 10,000 more list votes to win it. The huge majority achieved by the Liberal Democrats in Orkney and Shetland means it probably would have been a waste of energy to try and win the constituency seats, and the SNP should instead have pursued a list vote strategy in this region.
  • In the North East region, the SNP had a bad election, going from 11 to 9 seats (out of 17). To be fair, 9/17 is still more than half, but this region is clearly no longer a bastion of SNP support. Perhaps it’s simply not realistic any longer to hope to win a list seat on top of all the constituencies, but how was Aberdeenshire West allowed to fall to the Tories?
  • In Lothian, the SNP lost two seats, going from 8 to 6 out of 16. They almost added a list seat, which would have lessened the damage, but a safer strategy would perhaps have been to defend the constituency seats more strongly. It was great that the SNP managed to win Edinburgh Northern & Leith, but why did the Tories win Edinburgh Central, Labour Edinburgh Southern, and the Lib Dems Edinburgh Western?

To conclude, the SNP should have run two different campaigns. In the Central Belt and in the North East, they should have ignored the list vote and instead thrown their heart and soul into the swing seats, such as Dumbarton, Eastwood, North East Fife and the Edinburgh seats, bussing in supporters from other areas.

In South Scotland and Highlands & Islands, on the other hand, the SNP should have focused wholeheartedly on the list vote and left the constituency campaigns to their own devices.

In an ideal world, the SNP would perhaps even have made a gentleman’s agreement with the Greens that they wouldn’t campaign in South Scotland and Highland & Islands in return for getting a free run elsewhere.

#BothVotesSNP wasn’t really a strategy, because it made it unclear what the supporters needed to focus on (and focusing on everything at once isn’t focusing).

I’d prefer Holyrood to change the voting system before 2016, but if they keep the Additional Member System, I think the SNP would do well to come up with a more focused regional strategy.

A regional view

The colour of each council area shows the difference between the actual indyref result and an old prediction of mine, based on an earlier election. Red means it did less well, and blue means it did better.
The colour of each council area shows the difference between the actual indyref result and an old prediction of mine, based on an earlier election. Red means it did less well, and blue means it did better.
It's quite interesting to look at yesterday's election from a regional point of view.

In Glasgow, the SNP added two seats (and the Greens kept their single seat), and in West Scotland, the SNP were flat while the Greens added a seat. On the other hand, Central Scotland was static, and in Mid Scotland and Fife one seat moved from the SNP to the Greens. Everywhere else the Yes parties lost ground: In both Lothian and the Highland & Islands, the SNP lost two seats while the Greens gained one; in South Scotland the SNP lost a seat, and in North East Scotland the SNP lost two seats.

I've added the change in seats for the two Yes parties together and have superimposed them on an old map of mine, which illustrates how the indyref results compared with my predictions. We all know now that Glasgow and some neighbouring areas voted Yes in much greater numbers than anybody had predicted two years earlier, while Edinburgh and most areas outwith the Central Belt voted No in greater numbers than expected.

It's looking like this pattern is repeating itself. Two SNP seats moved from Aberdeenshire to Glasgow yesterday, for instance.

Another way to look at it is that party politics is still adjusting itself to the indyref result.

What will this mean for the next independence referendum? Will it make it even harder to obtain a Yes vote outwith Glasgow? Or will it be easier because we won't focus on preaching to the converted? We'll need to think very carefully about these questions over the next couple of years.

Various thoughts

Here are a few assorted thoughts about yesterday's election. Please refer also to my d'Hondt tables.


In spite of the media trying to talk up UKIP, they were nowhere to be seen. They didn't get close to winning a list seat in any of the regions. They clearly shouldn't be included in any TV debates in Scotland in the future.

The Lib Dems have become Tory substitutes

The Lib Dems didn't do well at all in general (their list support was flat), but they still managed to win three seats with big majorities, and in these seats there was no swing to the Conservatives. It looks like they've become substitutes for the Tories in specific places.


If the SNP had won a majority yesterday, it's quite clear that they would have been entitled to call a new indyref if the UK votes in favour of Brexit next month. However, the Green position is different, so it makes it much harder to act quickly if this happens. It's not ideal if Scotland has to leave the EU together with the rUK in 2018, only to rejoin in 2022 -- it would have been much better to take over the UK's membership. How can a quick indyref2 now be arranged if events happen? The SNP must sit down with the Greens and discuss this.

What if the SNP had ignored the constituencies?

If the SNP hadn't put up constituency candidates and instead had relied solely on the list vote, they would have lost one seat to Labour -- otherwise the result would have been the same. The difference is due to Mid Scotland and Fife, where the SNP won one seat more than they were due based on the list vote, and this cost Thomas Docherty the list seat that he would otherwise have won.

What if the SNP had ignored the lists?

The SNP got three list seats in South Scotland, and one in the Highlands and Islands. In all other seats the list vote was completely wasted.

What if all Greens had voted SNP?

If the Green party had disbanded before the election and all their voters had cast their list vote for the SNP instead, the SNP would have gained the six seats that the Greens won in reality. Neither more nor less. In other words, the Yes parties would still have won 69 seats in total. Strangely, however, it would have moved one seat from the Tories in South Scotland to Labour in Mid Scotland and Fife.

What if all SNP voters had voted Green on the list?

If the SNP had formed some sort of Yes alliance with the Greens and told all their supporters to vote Green on the list, it would have cost them the four seats mentioned above. However, it would have had huge consequences for the other parties: Greens 37 (+31), Tories 16 (–15), Labour 13 (–11), Lib Dems 4 (–1).

Was it an error to pursue both votes?

If the SNP would have obtained almost the same result by ignoring either the first or the second vote, I can help wondering whether the #bothvotesSNP strategy was an error.

Would it have produced better results to have focused wholehearted on one of the two votes? For instance: "If you're in favour of independence, please give your constituency vote to the SNP. Feel free to vote Green or RISE on the list, but we need your first vote!" Or: "Please vote SNP on the list. Use your constituency vote to elect the best local candidate, but if you want Nicola to be lead the Scottish Government, you must vote SNP on the list!"

The only problem I can see with this is that the optimal strategy varies from region to region. Ideally, the SNP should have pursued list votes in South Scotland and in the Highlands and Islands, and constituency votes elsewhere.

The voting system must be replaced

I've said it before, but I really don't like the Additional Member System used in Holyrood elections. It's very clear that many people get confused by the system, and this leads to a lot of unnecessary infighting. Holyrood will be in charge of its own voting system soon, and I believe it must be changed as a matter of priority!

Digesting the results

I'm still trying to digest the results from yesterday's Holyrood election. In order to try and understand what happened, I've created tables showing how the seats were distributed in each region.

The way to read them is as follows: First the constituency seats are ticked off (marked as "(Const)"), and then the list seats are distributed, starting with the one marked with "(1)", continuing to "(2)", and so on. The number before the brackets shows the number of list votes divided by the number of the row (that's the way d'Hondt works). I've also shown who would hypothetically have received three additional list seats, marked with numbers in italics in square brackets.

Finally I've calculated how many more votes the SNP and the Greens would have needed in order to take the last list seat in each region.

I might blog some of my thoughts later, but I reckoned these figures might be useful to other people, even without any further analysis, so here they are.

Central Scotland

SNP Cons Labour Green LD UKIP
(Const) 43602 (2) 67103 (1) 12722 [10] 5015 6088
(Const) 21801 (5) 33551 (3) 6361
(Const) 14534 (7) 22367 (4)
(Const) 10900 16775 (6)
(Const) 13420 [8]
(Const) 11183
12908 [9]

To win the last list seat, you needed a figure of 14535. This means that the SNP needed 145350 instead of 129082 list votes, and that the Greens needed 14535 instead of 12722 list votes.


SNP Cons Labour Green LD UKIP
(Const) 29533 (3) 59151 (1) 23398 (4) 5850 4889
(Const) 14766 (7) 29575 (2) 11699 [9]
(Const) 9844 19717 (5) 7799
(Const) 14787 (6)
(Const) 11830 [8]
(Const) 9858
11110 [10]

To win the last list seat, you needed a figure of 14767. This means that the SNP needed 147670 instead of 111101 list votes, and that the Greens needed 29534 instead of 23398 list votes.

Highlands and Islands

SNP Cons Labour Green LD UKIP
(Const) 44693 (1) 22894 (2) 14781 (5) (Const) 5344
(Const) 22346 (3) 11447 (7) 7390 (Const)
(Const) 14897 (4) 7631 9074 [10]
(Const) 11173 [8] 6805
(Const) 8938
11657 (6)
10200 [9]

To win the last list seat, you needed a figure of 11448. This means that the SNP needed 91584 instead of 81600 list votes, and that the Greens needed 22896 instead of 14781 list votes.


SNP Cons Labour Green LD UKIP
(Const) (Const) (Const) 34551 (2) (Const) 5802
(Const) 37486 (1) 33995 (3) 17275 (7) 9239
(Const) 24990 (4) 22663 (5) 11517
(Const) 18743 (6) 16997 [8]
(Const) 14994 [10] 13598
(Const) 12495
16935 [9]

To win the last list seat, you needed a figure of 17276. This means that the SNP needed 120932 instead of 118546 list votes.

Mid Scotland and Fife

SNP Cons Labour Green LD UKIP
(Const) 73293 (1) 51373 (2) 17860 (7) (Const) 5345
(Const) 36646 (3) 25686 (4) 8930 10200
(Const) 24431 (5) 17124 [8]
(Const) 18323 (6) 12843
(Const) 14658 [9]
(Const) 12215
13347 [10]

To win the last list seat, you needed a figure of 17861. This means that the SNP needed 160749 instead of 120128 list votes, and that the Greens needed 35722 instead of 17860 list votes.

North East Scotland

SNP Cons Labour Green LD UKIP
(Const) (Const) 38791 (2) 15123 [8] 18444 (6) 6376
(Const) 42924 (1) 19395 (5) 7561 9222
(Const) 28616 (3) 12930
(Const) 21462 (4)
(Const) 17169 (7)
(Const) 14308 [9]
(Const) 12264
13708 [10]

To win the last list seat, you needed a figure of 17170. This means that the SNP needed 171700 instead of 137086 list votes, and that the Greens needed 17170 instead of 15123 list votes.

South Scotland

SNP Cons Labour Green LD UKIP
(Const) (Const) (Const) 14773 [9] 11775 6726
(Const) (Const) 28036 (1) 7386
(Const) (Const) 18690 (5)
(Const) (Const) 14018
24043 (2) 20150 (3)
20036 (4) 16792 (7)
17173 (6) 14393 [10]
15027 [8] 12594

To win the last list seat, you needed a figure of 16793. This means that the SNP needed 134344 instead of 120217 list votes, and that the Greens needed 16793 instead of 14773 list votes.

West Scotland

SNP Cons Labour Green LD UKIP
(Const) (Const) (Const) 17218 (7) 12097 5856
(Const) 35764 (2) 36272 (1) 8609
(Const) 23842 (4) 24181 (3)
(Const) 17882 (6) 18136 (5)
(Const) 14305 [10] 14508 [9]
(Const) 11921 12090
15091 [8]

To win the last list seat, you needed a figure of 17219. This means that the SNP needed 154971 instead of 135827 list votes.

I don’t like the Scottish electoral system

Germany and New Zealand use electoral systems that are very similar to the one used for Holyrood elections in Scotland, but with one crucial difference: They add extra seats (so-called overhang seats) to the parliament until the seat distribution mirrors the second vote (i.e., if one party has won "too many" constituency seats, extra list seats will be added to make the result properly proportional). The consequence of this is that only the second vote really matters from a party-political point of view -- the first vote is important from the perspective of electing specific politicians rather than others, but it doesn't affect the number of seats won by each party. This system is quite easy to understand.

In Scotland, however, things are different. When one party dominates heavily in one or more regions (like the SNP do at the moment in most of Scotland, and like Labour used to do in the Central Belt), the other parties end up with too few MSPs because there simply aren't enough list seats. This makes it really hard to understand the system, and it leads to a lot of frustration when people attempt to bend the system to their own advantage.

At the moment, winning constituency seats only really matters to the SNP. Of course the other parties would love to win a few because it feels good, but it won't affect the Holyrood result in a predictable way. For instance, imagine the list result in the West Scotland region points to SNP 9, Cons 4 and Lab 4 (and for simplicity's sake, 0 for the other parties). If the SNP win 9 (out of 10) constituency seats and the Tories win 1, it's easy to see what happens: Labour get 4 list seats and the Tories get 3, so that the regional result ends up like it should. What if Labour take one further constituency from the SNP? The SNP then gets one of Labour's list seats, leaving the over-all result unchanged. But what if the SNP manage to win all 10 constituency seats? Because the number of list seats can't grow, the list will now either say Labour 4, Cons 3 or Labour 3, Cons 4 -- in other words, the SNP taking one constituency seat from the Tories could actually end up losing Labour a seat. This is counter-intuitive and bad for democracy.

The real reason for the SNP's #bothvotesSNP campaign is safety: If the SNP manage to win all constituencies on Thursday, the number of list votes is unlikely to be significant, but if they only win 60 constituencies (i.e., five seats short of a majority), they will probably get at least a handful of list seats, so long as their voters haven't given their second vote to somebody else. However, the Greens' relatively successful #secondvoteGreen campaign are probably causing some natural SNP voters to split their votes, and suddenly a majority isn't certain, so I can completely understand why some SNP strategists are a bit worried. The silly thing is just that what the SNP need more than anything is that all independence supporters -- SNP, Green and RISE -- vote SNP with their first vote, but that's hard to campaign for while convincing their own supporters not to split their votes.

I wish Scotland would introduce additional list seats like in Germany and New Zealand -- or replace the system with a completely different one, such as the one used in Denmark. The current one is just making everybody frustrated.

The second vote

Polling Place
Polling Place.
The current infighting amongst independence supporters is frankly driving me doolally. I completely understand that very few Unionist voters can be dragged away from voting for Labour, the Tories, the Lib Dems or UKIP at this stage, so the easiest way to win votes is from within the pro-independence block, but if people don't calm down soon, we're going to endanger the prospects of winning the next indyref.

So let's take a deep breath and look at things rationally.

Of course all Independentistas should vote SNP with their first/constituency vote. A vote for the Greens or RISE would clearly be a wasted vote that at worst would allow Labour or the Tories to win a seat. The second/list vote is much more "interesting", but here's my take on it:

  • It's important to realise that Scotland consists of eight regions that don't share votes in any way. National polls are therefore of limited interest when you try to work out how to vote in your region. For instance, a vote for the Greens could very well be wasted in West Scotland and South Scotland but not in Glasgow and Lothian. You might want to have a look at the detailed predictions on the SP16 Rolling Polling blog for more information about your constituency and region.
  • Unfortunately opinion polls aren't very precise with regard to small parties, so the support for the Greens and RISE tend to jump up and down a bit. To make it even worse, nobody seems to have done a full-sized poll in any region -- all we have is regional breakdowns in national polls, and the numbers are so small that the statistical uncertainty goes through the roof. In other words, we just don't know what will happen. We can be confident that the SNP will win most constituencies, but we don't know whether they'll fail to win zero, three or ten of them. We don't know whether the Greens will scrape through in Glasgow and Edinburgh but not elsewhere, or whether they'll win at least one seat in every region. We don't know whether RISE will get in anywhere. This uncertainty means that tactical voting is risky and can backfire.
  • I blame the electoral system. The combination of first-past-the-post constituencies with d'Hondt lists, with the complication that there aren't enough list seats to make the result fully proportional makes it hard to figure out what will happen. Mathematically speaking I guess it boils down to the question whether the number of list votes cast for the SNP divided by the number of constituencies they're expected to win plus one is likely to be smaller or greater than the number of list votes cast for the Greens in a region; however, the current polls are simply not precise enough to answer this question.
  • Another way of looking at this is to look at who the list votes are most likely to benefit. For the Greens and RISE, it's as simple as looking at who's ranked number one (and perhaps two) in each region, whereas for the SNP, you need to ignore the candidates who are likely to win a constituency. For instance, in the Glasgow region number one and two on the list are Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf, and I'll be very surprised indeed if they don't win their own seats. A list vote for the SNP is therefore most likely to benefit fifth-placed Rhiannon Spear (Young Scots for Independence's national convenor); voting Green is effectively a vote for Patrick Harvie and perhaps Zara Kitson; and a vote for RISE will benefit Cat Boyd (if they get enough votes to get in at all).

In effect, we all need to figure out on our own how to vote. As an example, here's what I've been thinking: I stay in Eastwood in West Scotland. This is one of the few constituencies that the Unionists have a chance of winning (and Jackson Carlaw probably has a much better chance than the incumbent, Ken Macintosh); if they succeed in this, there is a good chance that the SNP will be able to win a list seat if they get enough second votes (because the number of constituency seats gets subtracted before list seats are allocated). At the same time, the Greens haven't done very well in this region in the past, so it's quite possible a vote for them will be wasted. In West Scotland I would therefore argue that a list vote for the SNP is less likely to be a wasted vote than one for the Greens.

Then there's the personal aspect. A list vote the SNP is most likely to help elect Stewart Maxwell, while voting for the Greens would benefit Ross Greer, and that's a total non-brainer: Stewart Maxwell is a wonderful MSP -- he is an extremely hard-working parliamentarian, has a great media profile, lives in the constituency, is always approachable, and is just a great guy -- whereas Ross Greer seems to have made quite a few enemies already during his much shorter political career (see for instance this and this).

I will therefore give both my votes to the SNP on 5th May, and I will recommend that you do the same if you live in the West Scotland region. However, I appreciate that the calculations might look different elsewhere. For instance, I would love to see Andy Wightman elected to the Scottish Parliament, so I can understand why people living in the Lothian region might choose to vote SNP + Green.

The thing to bear in mind is that this election basically consists of eight separate regional elections, and what's rational in one of them might seem crazy elsewhere. We also haven't seen any really detailed regional opinion polls, so there is a lot of guesswork involved in this. You won't know until the day after the election whether giving your list vote for the SNP, the Greens or RISE would have been most useful, so unless you have a time machine, you can't make a purely rational, logical choice, but have to rely on your gut feeling to a certain extent.

Let's all do what we feel is best, based on where we stay, and let's not fall out with our fellow independence supporters if they reach a different conclusion. The next indyref campaign could be just a year away, and then we'll need to stand shoulder to shoulder again.