The 2016 Holyrood election according to the Danish Electoral System

Christiansborg No.02
Christiansborg No.02.
When people in Scotland discuss an alternative to the Additional Member System currently used for Holyrood elections, they often assume the only real alternatives are FPTP (the system used for Westminster elections), STV (used for Scottish council elections) or d’Hondt with party lists (known from elections to the European Parliament.

However, a different system is used in Denmark (and similar ones are used in Norway and Sweden), and it is taken for granted there — and nobody ever suggests changing the system, so it’s definitely not a bad way to conduct elections.

It is basically Sainte-Laguë with top-up seats and personal votes instead of party lists (Sainte-Laguë is a variant of d’Hondt).

It has several attractive properties:

  1. All politicians need personal votes to get elected. There isn’t a party list where the person at the top of it can lean back in the knowledge that they’ll get elected no matter what.
  2. There is even competition amongst candidates from the same party, so that voters can elect the ones they like the best.
  3. It is reasonably fast to count (different from STV, which in practice has to be done computationally). In Denmark, they normally count the party votes on the night so that you know exactly how many seats each party has won, and then they count the personal votes the next day.
  4. Practically every vote counts: Because of the national top-up seats almost every vote counts — the only truly wasted votes are the ones cast for tiny parties that didn’t gain any representation (like UKIP or RISE).

To make the system more tangible, I have here tried to show what the 2016 Holyrood election would have looked like if this system had been used instead of AMS.

NB: I have simplified the system slightly in various ways. For instance, Denmark operates with a fourth layer between the regions and the national results, and the parties have several options to choose from with regard to how party votes should be distributed to the candidates. I don’t believe these differences are critical for the present purpose, but of course civil servants should look into the details if Holyrood ever decides to switch to this system.


The current constituencies would be kept, but they would change status to being nomination constituencies (“opstillingskredse” in Danish), which means that the local parties would be able to put up candidates for election, just like they do now. (Actually, Denmark has more nomination constituencies, so if Scotland adopts this system it might make sense to increase the number from 73. This would have the advantage of making politics more local.)

However, electing members of parliament would happen in larger units, electoral regions (“valgkredse” in Danish) — I’ve used the current Holyrood regions for this purpose, except that I’ve put Orkney & Shetland and Na h-Eileanan an Iar into separate regions. In Denmark, each electoral regional will elect as many members of parliament as the number of nomination constituencies within it, but I’ve kept the number of seats within each region unchanged.

Each electoral region consists of regional seats (Danish “kredsmandater”) and a few national top-up seats (Danish “tillægsmandater”). The regional seats are allocated locally, without any reference to events outside the electoral region, whereas the top-up ones are allocated nationally based on votes cast across the country. For instance, in this simulation the West of Scotland region containts 17 seats: 14 regional ones and 3 top-op ones.

Step 1: The election

Each voter will be given a ballot paper listing all candidates in the entire election region, but with the ones from their own nomination constituency listed before the other candidates.

As an example, here is the ballot paper for Eastwood in the West Scotland region. The local candidates here are Jackson Carlaw, John Duncan, Ken MacIntosh, Stewart Maxwell, [GRN candidate, Eastwood] and [UKIP candidate, Eastwood] (because the Greens and UKIP didn’t put up any candidates in most constituencies in the real election I’ve used this notation where necessary):

Ballot Paper for the Eastwood Constituency

Electoral Region: West Scotland

Mark exactly one box (☐) like this: ☒

You can choose to vote for either a party or a candidate.

Conservative Party ☐

Jackson Carlaw ☐
Ann Le Blond ☐
Graeme Brooks ☐
Maurice Corry ☐
Maurice Golden ☐
Jamie Greene ☐
Paul Masterton ☐
Billy McClure ☐
Andrew Polson ☐
David Wilson ☐

Green Party ☐

[GRN candidate, Eastwood] ☐
[GRN candidate, Dumbarton] ☐
Ross Greer ☐
[GRN candidate, Greenock and Inverclyde] ☐
[GRN candidate, Clydebank and Milngavie] ☐
[GRN candidate, Cunninghame North] ☐
[GRN candidate, Paisley] ☐
[GRN candidate, Cunninghame South] ☐
[GRN candidate, Renfrewshire South] ☐
[GRN candidate, Renfrewshire North and West] ☐

Labour ☐

Ken MacIntosh ☐
Jackie Baillie ☐
Johanna Baxter ☐
Neil Bibby ☐
Gail Casey ☐
Joe Cullinane ☐
Mary Fee ☐
Margaret McCarthy ☐
Siobhan McCready ☐
Paul O’Kane ☐

Liberal Democrats ☐

John Duncan ☐
Rod Ackland ☐
Frank Bowles ☐
Katy Gordon ☐
Tristan Gray ☐
Ruby Kirkwood ☐
Eileen McCartin ☐
Aileen Morton ☐
Charity Pierce ☐
John Watson ☐

Scottish National Party ☐

Stewart Maxwell ☐
George Adam ☐
Tom Arthur ☐
Kenneth Gibson ☐
Rona MacKay ☐
Derek MacKay ☐
Ruth Maguire ☐
Stuart McMillan ☐
Gil Paterson ☐
Gail Robertson ☐


[UKIP candidate, Eastwood] ☐
[UKIP candidate, Strathkelvin and Bearsden] ☐
[UKIP candidate, Dumbarton] ☐
[UKIP candidate, Greenock and Inverclyde] ☐
[UKIP candidate, Clydebank and Milngavie] ☐
[UKIP candidate, Cunninghame North] ☐
[UKIP candidate, Paisley] ☐
[UKIP candidate, Renfrewshire South] ☐
[UKIP candidate, Cunninghame South] ☐
[UKIP candidate, Renfrewshire North and West] ☐

Each voter has to tick exactly one box. If they vote for a candidate, it is a vote both for the party that this candidate represents and for the actual candidate. If they vote for a party, it is a vote for the party only.

Sådan kan en stemmeseddel se ud. #FV15 #magentalove #aarhus
Sådan kan en stemmeseddel se ud. #FV15 #magentalove #aarhus.
And yes, ballot papers can be really long in Denmark. I think I’ve once seen one that was more than a metre long. In Sweden, where they have a similar system, they have separate ballot papers for each party, and the voter picks one and puts it inside an envelope. I’m not sure that’s a better solution, though.

(For the purpose of this simulation, I have used the constituency votes for the large parties and the list votes for the small parties. For simplicity I’ve also ignored all parties smaller than UKIP. Furthermore I’ve assumed that everybody will vote for their local candidate. In reality, given the greater choice of candidates, and given the option of voting for just the party, of course the results from an actual election under this system would have been very different.)

All the ballot papers can be found here.

Step 2: Allocation of regional seats

Once counting starts, the first thing to do is to allocate the regional seats.

Please see the local results (there are links in the ballot papers) for this, but here are the results for the West Scotland region as an example:

Nomination constituencies

Allocation of regional seats

538203 voters: 17 seats, of which 14 regional seats. Turnout was 63%.

1 64732 (3) 17219 (10) 90468 (2) 12106 148659 (1) 5854
3 21577 (7) 5739 30156 (5) 4035 49553 (4) 1951
5 12946 (13) 3443 18093 (9) 2421 29731 (6) 1170
7 9247 2459 12924 (14) 1729 21237 (8) 836
9 7192 1913 10052 1345 16517 (11) 650
11 5884 1565 8224 1100 13514 (12) 532
13 4979 1324 6959 931 11435 450

What this shows is first of all that there are 14 regional seats and three top-up seats.

The table lists all parties that put up candidates in this electoral region. The first line (marked with 1) shows the actual number of votes received for each party, i.e., the SNP got 148,659 votes, Labour 90,468, etc.

The next line shows the number of votes divided by 3, and the last one the number of votes divided by 13. For larger regions, one would produce more rows, dividing the number of votes by 15, 17, 19 and so forth.

Once the table has been produced, one looks for the largest number in it. In this case, it’s the 148,659 votes cast for the SNP. This means that the first regional seats goes to this party, and this is marked in the table by highlighting the number in blue and putting “(1)” after the number.

Now one has to find the second-largest figure, which is 90,468, and the second seat therefore goes to Labour. Similarly, the third seat is allocated to the Conservatives.

When we get to allocating the fourth seat, the SNP’s number of votes divided by 3 (49,553) is larger than any other remaining figure, and the fourth seat thus goes to the SNP.

We proceed in this way until all the 14 regional seats have been allocated.

Step 3: Allocation of the top-up seats to the parties

After allocating regional seats in all electoral constituencies in the country, the next step is to allocate the top-up seats.

To do this, all the votes cast for all parties in the entire country are added up.

Then one excludes small parties. These are the ones that didn’t either win at least one regional seat or get at least 2% of the votes. For this reason, UKIP gets excluded (getting 1.9% is not enough).

To allocate the top-up seats, one calculates the share of the vote and then tops up with top-up seats to make the share of seats the same.

That is, if a party got 10% of the votes, it should get 10% of the seats in parliament, i.e., 65 seats, so if it only got 50 regional seats, it will get a top-up of 15 seats.

(The actual calculations are slightly more complex than this, but this is the principle. The figures below have been done according to the actual rules.)

Here are the country-wide results:

Party Votes Percent Total seats Regional seats Top-Up seats
SNP 1059897 44.2% 58 49 9
LAB 514261 21.4% 28 22 6
CON 501844 20.9% 28 22 6
GRN 150429 6.3% 8 8 0
LD 126414 5.3% 7 5 2
UKIP 46426 1.9% 0 0 0
2399271 129 106 23

Step 4: Allocating top-up seats to specific regions

Now that the top-up seats have been allocated to the parties, they need to be placed in specific electoral regions.

The calculations are similar to the ones for allocating seats in the electoral constituencies, except that the whole country is being looked at, and we use the divisors 1, 4, 7, etc., instead of 1, 3, 5, etc.

In the following table, the regional seats already allocated above are marked with an X.

To allocate the first top-up seat, the largest number in the entire table is found (computers are much better at this than humans), in this case it’s the 12,106 votes the Lib Dems got in West Scotland; because the Lib Dems are indeed due a top-up seat, the first top-up seat gets allocated to them there.

The second-largest number is the 11,784 votes the Lib Dems got in South Scotland, so the next top-up seat is allocated here.

The procedure is repeated many times. Once a party has got all the top-up seats it is entitled to, it can get no more, even if the largest number left in the table belongs to this party. For instance, the third-largest number in the table is the 8,637 belonging to the Greens in the Lothians, but the Greens aren’t due any top-up seats, so instead the third seats goes to the SNP in the Lothians.

The same applies to regions. For instance, let’s look at the 16th top-up seat. It can’t go to the SNP in South Scotland (6792) because this region isn’t due any more seats; it can’t go to the Tories in Lothian (6783) for the same reason; and neither can the SNP in West Scotland get it (6757). It therefore goes to the SNP in North East Scotland (6746).

The last seat goes to Labour in the Highlands and Islands (4978). All the seats have now been allocated.

1 4 7 10 13 16 19 22 25
Central Scotland CON X X 19: 6065 4245 3265 2653 2234 1929 1698
GRN X 3181 1817 1272 978 795 669 578 508
LAB X X X 10: 7609 5853 4756 4005 3458 3043
LD 5024 1256 717 502 386 314 264 228 200
SNP X X X X X X X 18: 6481 5703
Glasgow CON X 12: 7226 4129 2890 2223 1806 1521 1313 1156
GRN X 5849 3342 2339 1799 1462 1231 1063 935
LAB X X X X 21: 5413 4398 3704 3199 2815
LD 5860 1465 837 586 450 366 308 266 234
SNP X X X X X X X 20: 5838 5137
Highlands and Islands CON X X 22: 5307 3715 2858 2322 1955 1688 1486
GRN X 3096 1769 1238 952 774 651 563 495
LAB X 23: 4978 2844 1991 1531 1244 1048 905 796
LD X 5086 2906 2034 1565 1271 1070 924 813
SNP X X X X X 4944 4163 3595 3164
Lothian CON X X X 6783 5218 4239 3570 3083 2713
GRN X 8637 4935 3455 2657 2159 1818 1570 1382
LAB X X X 4: 8497 6536 5310 4472 3862 3399
LD X 4736 2706 1894 1457 1184 997 861 757
SNP X X X X X 3: 8624 11: 7262 6272 5519
Mid Scotland and Fife CON X X X 15: 6827 5251 4267 3593 3103 2730
GRN X 4465 2551 1786 1373 1116 940 811 714
LAB X X 5: 8420 5894 4534 3684 3102 2679 2357
LD X 5102 2915 2040 1569 1275 1074 927 816
SNP X X X X X X 13: 7033 6074 5345
Na h-Eileanan an Iar CON 1499 374 214 149 115 93 78 68 59
GRN 919 229 131 91 70 57 48 41 36
LAB 3378 844 482 337 259 211 177 153 135
LD 965 241 137 96 74 60 50 43 38
SNP X 1718 982 687 528 429 361 312 274
North East Scotland CON X X X X 17: 6564 5333 4491 3878 3413
GRN X 3781 2160 1512 1163 945 796 687 604
LAB X X 6359 4451 3424 2782 2342 2023 1780
LD X 4613 2636 1845 1419 1153 971 838 738
SNP X X X X X X 9: 7811 16: 6746 5936
Orkney and Shetland CON 840 210 120 84 64 52 44 38 33
GRN 1474 368 210 147 113 92 77 67 58
LAB 955 238 136 95 73 59 50 43 38
LD X 3129 1788 1251 963 782 658 569 500
SNP X 1276 729 510 392 319 268 232 204
South Scotland CON X X X X 7: 8062 6551 5516 4764 4192
GRN X 3693 2110 1477 1136 923 777 671 590
LAB X X X 6463 4972 4039 3402 2938 2585
LD 2: 11784 2946 1683 1178 906 736 620 535 471
SNP X X X X X 6: 8066 6792 5866 5162
West Scotland CON X X X 6473 4979 4045 3406 2942 2589
GRN X 4304 2459 1721 1324 1076 906 782 688
LAB X X X X 14: 6959 5654 4761 4112 3618
LD 1: 12106 3026 1729 1210 931 756 637 550 484
SNP X X X X X X 8: 7824 6757 5946

Step 6: Determining MPs

Now that we have established exactly how many seats each party gets in each electoral regional, we need to determine which of the candidates standing that have been elected.

Danish election posters.
Danish election posters.
To do this, we simply count the number of votes cast for each candidate, and the candidate with the most votes gets the first seat, the one with thesecond-most votes gets the next seat, and so on. (Political parties in Denmark can choose between different systems, but this needn’t concern us here.)

As an example, let us look at the SNP in West Scotland.

Scottish National Party (7)

Rona MacKay 17060
Stuart McMillan 17032
Kenneth Gibson 16587
Gil Paterson 16158
Derek MacKay 14718
George Adam 14682
Tom Arthur 14272
Ruth Maguire 13416
Gail Robertson 13413
Stewart Maxwell 11321

This party got seven seats here (six regional seats and one national top-up seat). The first one goes to Rona MacKay with 17,060 votes, the second one to Stuart McMillan with 17,032 votes, the third one to Kenneth Gibson with 16,587 votes, and so on.

The last three candidates on the list are not elected. However, Ruth Maguire becomes the first reserve in case any of the seven elected members has to step down, with Gail Robertson being the second reserve. In this way, by-elections are not needed.

(Please note that the results are quite misleading because I’ve taken the figures from an AMS election. At the moment only people in Eastwood were able to vote for Stewart Maxwell, and his personal vote got squeezed last week because it was a three-way race, but if people all over the West Scotland region had been able to vote for him, I’m certain he would have been much higher up the list, given his high media profile.)

This completes the election.

Final result

Scottish National Party (58 MPs)

George Adam, Clare Adamson, Alasdair Allan, Tom Arthur, Colin Beattie, Keith Brown, Aileen Campbell, Willie Coffey, Angela Constance, Bruce Crawford, Roseanna Cunningham, Ash Denham, Graeme Dey, Bob Doris, James Dornan, Jennifer Dunn, Mairi Evans, Fergus Ewing, Linda Fabiani, Joe Fitzpatrick, Kate Forbes, Jeane Freeman, Kenneth Gibson, Jenny Gilruth, Toni Giugliano, Christine Grahame, Clare Haughey, Donna Heddle, Jamie Hepburn, Fiona Hyslop, DJ Johnston-Smith, Bill Kidd, Richard Lochhead, Richard Lyle, Gordon MacDonald, Angus MacDonald, Derek MacKay, Rona MacKay, Ben Macpherson, Gillian Martin, John Mason, Michael Matheson, Mark McDonald, Ivan McKee, Christina McKelvie, Stuart McMillan, Alex Neil, Gil Paterson, Shona Robison, Gail Ross, Michael Russell, Shirley-Anne Somerville, Stewart Stevenson, Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney, David Torrance, Maureen Watt, Humza Yousaf.

Conservative Party (28 MPs)

Michelle Ballantyne, Miles Briggs, Alexander Burnett, Jackson Carlaw, Finlay Carson, Colin Clark, Ruth Davidson, Murdo Fraser, Jamie Greene, Kirstene Hair, Alison Harris, Alex Johnstone, Callum Laidlaw, John Lamont, Gordon Lindhurst, Dean Lockhart, Edward Mountain, Oliver Mundell, Robbie Munro, Andrew Polson, Douglas Ross, John Scott, Graham Simpson, Liz Smith, Alexander Stewart, Ross Thomson, Kyle Thornton, Adam Tomkins.

Labour (28 MPs)

Jackie Baillie, Claire Baker, Neil Bibby, Bill Butler, Kezia Dugdale, Patricia Ferguson, Neil Findlay, Iain Gray, Cara Hilton, Lesley Hinds, Daniel Johnson, James Kelly, Johann Lamont, Lewis MacDonald, Ken MacIntosh, Jenny Marra, Paul Martin, Siobhan McCready, Margaret McCulloch, Michael McMahon, Carol Mochan, Elaine Murray, Paul O’Kane, John Pentland, Alex Rowley, Elaine Smith, Linda Stewart, David Stewart.

Green Party (8 MPs)

Maggie Chapman, John Finnie, Ross Greer, Patrick Harvie, Alison Johnstone, Kirsten Robb, Mark Ruskell, John Wilson.

Liberal Democrats (7 MPs)

Kris Chapman, Alex Cole-Hamilton, Katy Gordon, Willie Rennie, Mike Rumbles, Tavish Scott, Jamie Stone.

Lots of voters don’t understand AMS

I just had a look at the number of constituency and list votes in each region, and I have to conclude that lots of voters (and in particular Lib Dem supporters) don’t understand how the Additional Member System (AMS) works.

Basically the constituency vote is used to elect a local candidate, but the result is normally subtracted from the list result. This means that there’s really no point in giving your constituency vote to a small party (unless you’re a party activist or are related to the candidate).

If everybody understood the system, you would therefore expect the large parties (in particular the SNP, but in some places also the Conservatives and Labour) to be getting more constituency votes than list votes, and the opposite should hold for the smaller parties.

However, if you look at the figures below, this simply isn’t the case. Pro-independence voters seem to be clued up, because the SNP consistently got more constituency votes than list votes, and the opposite holds for the Greens (but then, they didn’t stand in most seats), but look at the three main Unionist parties: The Lib Dems and Labour consistently got more first votes than second votes, even in regions where they didn’t have any hope of winning a seat directly. The Tories, on the other hand, got more list votes than constituency votes (except for in the South Scotland region), although they probably had a better hope of winning a few seats.

This was very lucky for the SNP and the Greens, but it does surprise me that Labour and the Lib Dems fail to understand a system they put in place themselves.

Party Const. List Diff.
Central Scotland
CON 42456 43602 -1146
GRN 1612 12722 -11110
LAB 76096 67103 8993
LD 7241 5015 2226
SNP 142585 129082 13503
UKIP 0 6088 -6088
CON 28906 29533 -627
GRN 6916 23398 -16482
LAB 70378 59151 11227
LD 9568 5850 3718
SNP 128443 111101 17342
UKIP 0 4889 -4889
Highlands and Islands
CON 39493 44693 -5200
LAB 24246 22894 1352
LD 47465 27223 20242
SNP 91088 81600 9488
GRN 0 14781 -14781
UKIP 0 5344 -5344
CON 67837 74972 -7135
GRN 4644 34551 -29907
LAB 84975 67991 16984
LD 29095 18479 10616
SNP 137996 118546 19450
UKIP 0 5802 -5802
Mid Scotland and Fife
CON 68272 73293 -5021
LAB 58945 51373 7572
LD 29070 20401 8669
SNP 133639 120128 13511
GRN 0 17860 -17860
UKIP 0 5345 -5345
North East Scotland
CON 85332 85848 -516
LAB 44515 38791 5724
LD 26843 18444 8399
SNP 148423 137086 11337
GRN 0 15123 -15123
UKIP 0 6376 -6376
South Scotland
CON 104816 100753 4063
LAB 64638 56072 8566
LD 12852 11775 1077
SNP 129064 120217 8847
GRN 0 14773 -14773
UKIP 0 6726 -6726
West Scotland
CON 64732 71528 -6796
LAB 90468 72544 17924
LD 16104 12097 4007
SNP 148659 135827 12832
GRN 0 17218 -17218
UKIP 0 5856 -5856


The SNP is now either the winner or the runner-up in all Holyrood constituencies. (Is that not the first time any party has achieved that, by the way?)

I thought it would be useful to list the size of all the majorities here for future reference, ordered by the size of the majority. A negative number means the SNP didn’t win the seat. The party in the last column is the SNP’s main opponent in this seat.

Majority Constituency Opponent
11630 Aberdeen Donside (North East Scotland) CON
11280 Falkirk West (Central Scotland) LAB
11194 Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley (South Scotland) LAB
10979 East Kilbride (Central Scotland) LAB
10898 Dundee City East (North East Scotland) LAB
10857 Inverness and Nairn (Highlands and Islands) CON
9593 Glasgow Southside (Glasgow) LAB
9478 Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Central Scotland) LAB
9390 Glasgow Cathcart (Glasgow) LAB
9335 Linlithgow (Lothian) LAB
9043 Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch (Highlands and Islands) LD
8828 Dundee City West (North East Scotland) LAB
8724 Cunninghame North (West Scotland) CON
8432 Clydebank and Milngavie (West Scotland) LAB
8393 Almond Valley (Lothian) LAB
8312 Falkirk East (Central Scotland) LAB
8276 Mid Fife and Glenrothes (Mid Scotland and Fife) LAB
8230 Greenock and Inverclyde (West Scotland) LAB
8100 Strathkelvin and Bearsden (West Scotland) CON
7395 Kirkcaldy (Mid Scotland and Fife) LAB
7373 Renfrewshire North and West (West Scotland) CON
7323 Glasgow Shettleston (Glasgow) LAB
7035 Midlothian North and Musselburgh (Lothian) LAB
6746 Edinburgh Northern and Leith (Lothian) LAB
6721 Clackmannanshire and Dunblane (Mid Scotland and Fife) LAB
6718 Stirling (Mid Scotland and Fife) CON
6583 Banffshire and Buchan Coast (North East Scotland) CON
6482 Glasgow Pollok (Glasgow) LAB
6223 Motherwell and Wishaw (Central Scotland) LAB
6192 Airdrie and Shotts (Central Scotland) LAB
6153 Glasgow Anniesland (Glasgow) LAB
6006 Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (South Scotland) LAB
5979 Clydesdale (South Scotland) CON
5978 Argyll and Bute (Highlands and Islands) LD
5868 Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale (South Scotland) CON
5837 Aberdeenshire East (North East Scotland) CON
5693 Cunninghame South (West Scotland) LAB
5602 Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn (Glasgow) LAB
5437 Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse (Central Scotland) LAB
5199 Paisley (West Scotland) LAB
5087 Edinburgh Eastern (Lothian) LAB
4809 Uddingston and Bellshill (Central Scotland) LAB
4783 Glasgow Provan (Glasgow) LAB
4558 Dunfermline (Mid Scotland and Fife) LAB
4408 Renfrewshire South (West Scotland) LAB
4349 Aberdeen Central (North East Scotland) LAB
4304 Angus South (North East Scotland) CON
4048 Glasgow Kelvin (Glasgow) GRN
3913 Caithness, Sutherland and Ross (Highlands and Islands) LD
3779 Coatbridge and Chryston (Central Scotland) LAB
3743 Rutherglen (Glasgow) LAB
3496 Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Highlands and Islands) LAB
3336 Perthshire North (Mid Scotland and Fife) CON
3041 Cowdenbeath (Mid Scotland and Fife) LAB
2875 Moray (Highlands and Islands) CON
2755 Aberdeen South and North Kincardine (North East Scotland) CON
2472 Angus North and Mearns (North East Scotland) CON
2456 Edinburgh Pentlands (Lothian) CON
1422 Perthshire South and Kinross-shire (Mid Scotland and Fife) CON
-109 Dumbarton (West Scotland) LAB
-610 Edinburgh Central (Lothian) CON
-750 Ayr (South Scotland) CON
-900 Aberdeenshire West (North East Scotland) CON
-1123 Edinburgh Southern (Lothian) LAB
-1127 East Lothian (South Scotland) LAB
-1230 Dumfriesshire (South Scotland) CON
-1514 Galloway and West Dumfries (South Scotland) CON
-1611 Eastwood (West Scotland) CON
-2960 Edinburgh Western (Lothian) LD
-3465 North East Fife (Mid Scotland and Fife) LD
-4534 Orkney Islands (Highlands and Islands) LD
-4895 Shetland Islands (Highlands and Islands) LD
-7736 Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire (South Scotland) CON

PS: In order to do this I had to create a CSV file containing all the constituency results. You can download it here if you’re interested.

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.