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.