All posts by thomas

Last vote ever?

It felt really important and weird to cast my vote today, because I realised that it could be the last time in my life that I’m able to do so.

It takes a bit of a perfect storm, because it requires all of the following to happen:

  1. Brexit really happens and never gets reversed.
  2. Either (a) we never get another independence referendum, or (b) we get one, but the UK government changes the franchise to exclude EU citizens, and Scotland votes No again.
  3. EU citizens get removed from the electoral roll when Brexit happens. I don’t think the Scottish Government would be happy with this, but Westminster could force it through.
  4. I don’t apply for naturalisation.
  5. I don’t move to another EU country.

But what about Danish elections? Well, Denmark disenfranchises emigrants after just two years abroad (and I believe it was just six months when I left), so I haven’t voted in a Danish election since 2001, three months before I moved to Scotland. Since then, I’ve been restricted to voting in elections for the council, Holyrood and the European Parliament, as well as the first independence referendum. I can’t vote in Westminster elections, and of course I couldn’t take part in the Brexit referendum, either.

(The bit about voting in UK elections is of course different for Irish and Commonwealth citizens in the UK, who have full voting rights for historical reasons.)

I guess it doesn’t really matter, but it does feel a bit weird not to know whether I’ll ever vote again. I hope I will.

The lack of smoke-filled rooms

smoking photo
Photo by paulbence
The famous FAZ article made a really good point, namely that Theresa May seems to think the Brexit negotiations will be similar to the justice and home affairs opt-out:

[May] defended her vision by making references to a previous experience with European negotiations – she argued that protocol 36 had been dealt with in the same way. While the protocol had meant a lot on paper, it changed little in reality. Now Juncker’s people’s alarm bells were ringing. They had feared something like this, and now it had happened.

Protocol 36 is an addition to the Lisbon Treaty, the last of the great reforms of the European treaties. It summarises various special provisions, one of which concerns the Brits. They had reserved the right to opt out of all policies in the ares of justice and home affairs. Back then, this agreement was sold as a defence of British sovereignty. However, London had immediately opted back in to two thirds of the fifty affected acts of law — out of pure self-interest. This had been kept fairly quiet. May imagined future relationships with the EU in a similar way. While she wanted Britain to make an official hard cut she wanted the country to still be included in matters of its own interest.

However, I believe she learnt two lessons from the Protocol 36 negotiations, not just one. The first lesson was the idea that you can just leave and then opt in to whatever suits you – basically Europe à la carte. The other lesson was that you can talk very loudly and publicly about leaving, and then quietly rejoin a lot of it in a smoke-filled room afterwards, without the British public ever noticing.

In fact, this seems to have been the UK’s favourite way of doing things in the EU over the years. In public British politicians will blame the EU for everything the voters dislike, and they will completely forget to say that they agreed to it themselves during late-night negotiations in Brussels.

It seems most of the UK’s politicians and journalists therefore believe Brexit will be done exactly like this. For instance, London-based newspapers have been repeating ad nauseam that Brexit negotiations won’t start in earnest until after the German elections, because in the end Brexit will come down to a deal between May and Merkel (or Schulz, if he becomes chancellor instead). No matter how often the EU negotiators say that they’re ready to start, and that they will be conducting the negotiations, not the leaders of the 27 other EU countries, it seems nobody believes them. In fact, I guess May thought it would be quite harmless to hold a general election at the moment because nothing important would be happening anyway.

This is an error, however. While it’s true that really big internal discussions normally get thrashed out by the heads of state in smoke-filled rooms late at night in Brussels, this is basically the equivalent of a family gathering. It’s not how the EU operates externally. For instance, trade negotiations are conducted by the European Commission, not by a huge group of prime ministers.

Because Brexit is turning the UK into a third country from the EU’s point of view, the UK will not be in the room when the other 27 countries (and the representatives from the European Parliament) get together to approve the deal that the European Commission has negotiated with the UK.

Of course Germany might have some specific concerns, but they have to a large extent already fed that into the EU’s negotiating guidelines. Furthermore, many of the other countries will have equally strong priorities, and they’re likely to veto any deal if it doesn’t suit them. It’s not simply a case of making a deal that suits London and Berlin.

The sooner Theresa May gets through her thick skull that Brexit isn’t an internal EU negotiation in a smoke-filled room that has to result in a compromise that everybody can live with, the better. The other countries want to get the best possible deal for them, and a deal that demonstrates clearly that leaving the EU is a bad idea. They also realise that the UK is more likely to succeed if they are allowed to play the other countries out against each other, so they have quite deliberately agreed to let the Commission handle all the negotiations.

Accusing the EU of trying to influence the election, as Theresa May did today, isn’t going to help at all. It’s just going to infuriate the very people she’ll be negotiating with, so it simply increases the risk that the UK will leave without a deal. It most definitely won’t make Merkel take over from the Commission’s negotiators. That’s not how the EU deals with third countries.

The prodigal son

may pole photo
Photo by Calamity Meg
I expect the UK (or perhaps I should say South Britain, as I expect Scotland and Northern Ireland will have left by then) will in a few years’ time realise that Brexit was a colossal mistake. The size and location of England, as well as the population density and the age profile, combine to make it a very bad candidate for becoming a European Singapore or Hong Kong, and so long as the European Union exists, there probably isn’t any realistic alternative to membership if the country wants to be prosperous and moderately powerful.

However, it’s also very clear that the UK hasn’t had a good time in the EU. Instead of being a leader, it has normally been found on the sidelines, asking for exemptions or demanding to get its money back. As we all know, it’s impossible to play a leading role in a club while never taking part in anything.

Because of this, if England in a few years’ time realises that Brexit has been a terrible mistake and that they should reapply for EU membership, I hope they will also understand that staying out of Schengen (the passport-free area), the Eurozone and many other parts of the modern EU was a colossal mistake, because it prevented the UK from being a leader, and the English don’t want to be part of something where other people are setting the rules.

As we all know, there are currently many problems with both Schengen and the Euro – the former didn’t cope well with the refugee crisis, and the latter needs a deficit transfer mechanism – so if in five or ten years’ time the EU receives a membership application from South Britain that says they’ll join absolutely everything so long as certain problems are fixed, together with good and constructive suggestions for how to fix them, I believe everybody in the EU will be delighted.

Perhaps this seems rather far-fetched given the Brexit dystopia that Theresa May and her strong and stable government are dragging us into at the moment, but who knows? Once Scotland and Northern Ireland have left the United Kingdom, and once it has become abundantly clear to everybody and their hamster that Brexit has been a calamity, hopefully the Conservatives and UKIP will become unelectable, and new, pro-European parties can rise from the ashes. It certainly is already the case that Brexit is causing more people to read up on the EU than ever before, and that’ll be the first step in rebuilding the relationship.

I don’t see why the English shouldn’t be able to learn to love the EU. The half-hearted way subsequent governments have dealt with Brussels, staying out of this and refusing to pay for that, has been a disaster, and Brexit is simply the natural conclusion to a disastrous relationship. If instead the Westminster government starts talking up the EU and being pro-active, trying to lead Europe by example, I think everybody – the English, other people on these isles, as well as other Europeans – will be delighted. England may yet turn out to be Europe’s prodigal son.

The Brexit dinner

A translated version of FAZ’s Brexit dinner article – click on it for a larger version.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s devastating description of the Brexit dinner is really worth reading (click on the photo for a larger version).

It really worries me that Theresa May seems to be saying the same to EU officials that she’s saying in public. I had been hoping she’d be a bit more clued up behind closed doors, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. She seems genuinely to believe that the EU will allow the UK to have its cake and eat it.

What will happen when she realises that the EU won’t give in? Will she walk out and slam the door? The fact that the EU’s negotiators are starting to think that this is more likely than not is not good. Especially because Juncker was very clear that the EU will not want to agree to a free trade deal if the UK has just walked out without paying a single penny.

Scotland needs to have a really good plan for what we do if that happens. If there is a deal between the EU and the UK, there probably will be a transitional period lasting three years (so until 2022), and that would be a convenient time frame for Scotland to transition to independence within the EU after a referendum in late 2018 or early 2019. However, if the UK crashes out without a deal, there won’t be any transitional deals, and it will become much more urgent to escape the UK and get back into the EU before the Scottish economy gets completely ruined.

A different problem mentioned in the article is what will happen to EU citizens in the UK (assuming that there will be a deal after all). It mentions that May doesn’t think it’ll be complex – the UK will simply treat EU citizens as other foreigners (presumably with Indefinite Leave to Remain).

The reason the EU negotiators weren’t happy with this is because they want to preserve the principle of equal treatment. Here’s what the European Commission’s negotiating paper said on this topic:

The Agreement should safeguard the status and rights derived from Union law at the withdrawal date, including those the enjoyment of which will intervene at a later date (e.g. rights related to old age pensions) both for EU27 citizens residing (or having resided) and/or working (or having worked) in the United Kingdom and for United Kingdom citizens residing (or having resided) and/or working (or having worked) in one of the Member States of the EU27. Guarantees to that effect in the Agreement should be reciprocal, and should be based on the principle of equal treatment amongst EU27 citizens and equal treatment of EU27 citizens as compared to United Kingdom citizens, as set out in the relevant Union acquis. Those rights should be protected as directly enforceable vested rights for the life time of those concerned.

In other words, the EU wants the UK to treat EU citizens who have at some point been resident here the same as British citizens. As an EU citizen myself, I obviously hope the EU will win this fight.

I fear, however, that this will be just another issue that the negotiators will find it hard to reach an agreement on, which again increases the risk that the UK will leave the EU without any deal at all on 29 March 2019.

Why do people believe the Brexplanations?

eu flag photo
Photo by Sebastian Fuss
It’s becoming clear that the EU is coming together again, after suffering from a spell of rightwingitis. As Joris Luyendijk wrote:

But then Europeans started to vote. First Austria chose a Green president over a nationalist one. Then the populist PVV party of Geert Wilders received a paltry 15% of the vote in the Dutch general elections. And now the unapologetically Europhile Emmanuel Macron has come out on top in the first round of the French elections, setting him on course for victory against Marine Le Pen next month. The next European elections are in Germany, where all traditional parties are solidly pro-EU. The new Eurosceptic party Alternative für Deutschland is mired in divisions, infighting and confusion.

Even Donald Trump seems to be realising that the EU isn’t going away and that a trade deal with the block is much more important than a quick deal with the UK. (It took him a while, though. Apparently Angela Merkel had to tell him 11 times that he couldn’t do a trade deal with Germany.)

However, the London-based media seem to have painted themselves into a world where Brexit is the new black, so having talked up Le Pen for ages, they’re now struggling with finding a way to explain Macron’s victory in the first round. It seems to be some sort of ‘Brexplaining’ that somehow tries to find ways to confirm that Brexit was the right move, even to the extent where they’d argue that black is white. As part of this, they need to argue that the EU is falling apart, which it isn’t.

The countries of the world seem increasingly to be heading in two different directions: Some are aiming for a centrist, open, liberal vision, and others are choosing illiberal authoritarianism. The former group includes most EU countries and Canada, while the latter includes Russia, Turkey and Theresa May’s UK. (I’m not entirely sure what’s happening in the US – Trump seems slowly to be shifting away from Bannon’s vision, and it’s not very clear what’s replacing it.) The SNP and the other pro-independence parties are clearly in the former camp, too, which is why EU membership is such an obvious move for an independent Scotland.

What really frustrates me at the moment is that too many members of the public are buying these Brexplanations. If people realised what Brexit really means, the Tories would be lucky to get 10% of the votes in June’s general election.

I must reluctantly accept that they think Theresa May is the best person for the job at hand. As the Guardian wrote:

Most voters conclude that strong leadership is needed more than ever. [In] focus groups conducted this week, after Theresa May’s shock announcement, […] one voter commented: “If it’s 27 against one, we need our strongest people at the table.” Another said: “I’ll be voting for strength, direction and whoever will represent the UK in the best light possible.” To those swing voters, May looks a lot like that leader.

The thing is that to people on the continent she doesn’t look strong, just xenophobic and mad, whereas they love Nicola Sturgeon (and to some extent Tim Farron, if they know him).

It reminds me of an interesting tweet about Donald Trump I saw a while ago:

In the same way, the Brexplainers are telling us that Theresa May is strong, organised and leading the country to a bright future, when she’s really weak, disorganised and leading us back to the 1950s (just with more unemployment).

It’s really important at the moment to supplement your diet of UK media with a selection of other sources. Google Translate is not perfect, but it’s good enough to allow you to understand most of a newspaper article, so do spend a bit of time glancing at for instance German, French, Spanish, Dutch, Polish and Finnish newspapers from time to time, in addition to Irish newspapers and other clued-up media in English, like EUobserver. They’ll tell you what’s really happening instead of feeding you bizarre Brexplanations.

What is happening at the moment is that the EU’s economy is starting to grow steadily again, and all EU countries agree that Brexit has to be seen to be a bad move, so that no other country gets tempted. There are two options for the UK – either it becomes a tax haven with low taxes and no welfare state, or Brexit gets reversed (or at least ends up with a soft, Norwegian-style solution). So long as the British public are buying the media’s Brexplanations, we’ll remain headed for a disaster, and Scotland needs to get out before it’s too late.

Electoral systems compared

ballot paper photo
Photo by david-gilmour
We use four different electoral systems in Scotland (FPTP, AMS, STV and d’Hondt), and a few years ago there was a referendum on using the AV system for Westminster elections. Another possible system is the one used in Denmark. Most people discussing these tend to focus on one or two at a time, so to make it all a bit clearer, I decided to compare all these systems in one post.

What I’ll do in the following is that I’ll test the various systems on a hypothetical council area contain five wee towns: Auchterclyde, Balclyde, Carclyde, Dunclyde and Ellanclyde. Only four parties are standing: The SNP, the Conservatives, Labour and the Greens. Here are the candidates and the number of local supporters they have:

Constituency CON GRN LAB SNP Voters
Auchterclyde North Caitlin (790) Gabriel (190) Lachlan (456) Samantha (1009) 2445
Auchterclyde South Caleb (732) Gabriella (275) Lana (333) Samuel (1465) 2805
Auchterclyde West Callum (718) Gary (290) Lara (592) Saoirse (1339) 2939
Balclyde North Calvin (538) Gavin (254) Layla (349) Sarah (1083) 2224
Balclyde South Cameron (551) Gemma (317) Leigha (568) Scarlett (1112) 2548
Balclyde West Caoimhe (717) George (238) Lennox (422) Scott (1543) 2920
Carclyde North Casey (558) Georgia (306) Leo (452) Sean (1327) 2643
Carclyde South Catherine (675) Georgina (387) Lewis (311) Sienna (905) 2278
Carclyde West Charles (640) Gertrude (300) Liam (485) Simon (1435) 2860
Dunclyde East Charlotte (647) Giovanni (316) Lily (456) Skye (871) 2290
Dunclyde North Chloe (416) Gloria (237) Logan (308) Skylar (1424) 2385
Dunclyde South Christian (781) Gordon (399) Lola (549) Sophie (953) 2682
Dunclyde West Christopher (713) Grace (253) Louis (395) Stanley (1343) 2704
Ellanclyde East Clayton (407) Grayson (341) Lucy (331) Stephen (1522) 2601
Ellanclyde North Cole (678) Gregor (255) Lukas (514) Struan (1097) 2544
Ellanclyde South Conor (786) Greta (305) Luke (535) Stuart (1596) 3222
Ellanclyde West Curtis (559) Gus (261) Lyle (392) Szymon (1081) 2293
All 10906 4924 7448 21105 44383

FPTP (the Westminster system)

Under FPTP (First Past The Post) each of the 17 areas elect one candidate, and that’s simply the person who gets the most votes. You cannot transfer votes, rank the candidates, or vote for a candidate standing elsewhere.

Here is an example of a completed ballot paper:

Ballot Paper for the Auchterclyde North Constituency

Caitlin (CON) ☐
Gabriel (GRN) ☐
Lachlan (LAB) ☐
Samantha (SNP) ☒

Here are the results of the election:

Constituency CON GRN LAB SNP Result
Auchterclyde North 790 190 456 1009 Samantha (SNP)
Auchterclyde South 732 275 333 1465 Samuel (SNP)
Auchterclyde West 718 290 592 1339 Saoirse (SNP)
Balclyde North 538 254 349 1083 Sarah (SNP)
Balclyde South 551 317 568 1112 Scarlett (SNP)
Balclyde West 717 238 422 1543 Scott (SNP)
Carclyde North 558 306 452 1327 Sean (SNP)
Carclyde South 675 387 311 905 Sienna (SNP)
Carclyde West 640 300 485 1435 Simon (SNP)
Dunclyde East 647 316 456 871 Skye (SNP)
Dunclyde North 416 237 308 1424 Skylar (SNP)
Dunclyde South 781 399 549 953 Sophie (SNP)
Dunclyde West 713 253 395 1343 Stanley (SNP)
Ellanclyde East 407 341 331 1522 Stephen (SNP)
Ellanclyde North 678 255 514 1097 Struan (SNP)
Ellanclyde South 786 305 535 1596 Stuart (SNP)
Ellanclyde West 559 261 392 1081 Szymon (SNP)

The result is thus that the SNP wins all 17 constituencies, although they didn’t have a majority in most of them. Many of the SNP candidates would therefore have been vulnerable to tactical voting.

First Past The Post works great when there are only two candidates. As soon as the number increases, the number of wasted votes goes up, and it becomes more important to vote tactically for a candidate that can win instead of the one you actually prefer – one might argue that the best thing to do is to vote for your biggest enemy’s most popular enemy.

Advice for pro-independence voters: Vote for the SNP candidate – voting for any other party is a wasted vote.

  • Simplicity: ✔✔✔✔✔ (it doesn’t get any simpler than this)
  • Proportionality: ✔ (it doesn’t get any less proportional)
  • Voter engagement: ✔✔ (if you live in a swing seat, you’ll get a lot of attention, and your vote really matters, but otherwise you’ll get ignored, and you might as well stay home on the couch)

AMS (the Holyrood system)

Under AMS (the Additional Member System), the number of FPTP constituencies is reduced from 17 to 10, and the remaining 7 seats get distributed using d’Hondt (see below for details on this system).

To make this work, every vote has to fill out two ballot papers, one for the constituency and one for the region:

Ballot Paper for the Auchterclyde North and South Constituency

Caleb (CON) ☐
Gabriella (GRN) ☐
Lana (LAB) ☐
Samuel (SNP) ☒

Ballot Paper for the Auchterclyde–Balclyde–Carclyde–Dunclyde–Ellanclyde Region


The regional vote doesn’t allow the voter to prioritise candidates. Instead, the parties create party lists ranking them. For instance, in this example the Green party lists is as follows:

  1. Gabriella
  2. Gemma
  3. Georgina
  4. Gloria
  5. Grace
  6. Gregor
  7. Gus

This means that Gabriella gets the first Green seat, Gemma the second one, and so on. Poor Gus doesn’t have realistic chance of getting in.

Here are the results of the constituency vote:

Constituency CON GRN LAB SNP Result
Auchterclyde North and South 1522 465 789 2474 Samuel (SNP)
Auchterclyde West 718 290 592 1339 Saoirse (SNP)
Balclyde North and South 1089 571 917 2195 Sarah (SNP)
Balclyde West 717 238 422 1543 Scott (SNP)
Carclyde North and South 1233 693 763 2232 Sienna (SNP)
Carclyde and Ellanclyde West 1199 561 877 2516 Szymon (SNP)
Dunclyde East and North 1063 553 764 2295 Skylar (SNP)
Dunclyde South and West 1494 652 944 2296 Stanley (SNP)
Ellanclyde East and North 1085 596 845 2619 Stephen (SNP)
Ellanclyde South 786 305 535 1596 Stuart (SNP)

The regional election results are as follows:

Party Share of vote Seats gained Candidates elected
LAB 17% 2 Lana, Leigha
GRN 11% 1 Gabriella
CON 25% 4 Caleb, Cameron, Catherine, Chloe
SNP 48% 0

Note that no SNP candidate gets elected because the party already got more than their fair share on the constituency ballot – the d’Hondt result would have been 8 SNP members instead of 10, and Labour and the Greens would both have benefitted from this.

In some other countries using AMS (Germany and New Zealand), they elect more members to prevent this from happening – in this case extending the number of elected representatives from 17 to 20 would have allowed a “correct” d’Hondt result, namely SNP 10, CON 5, LAB 3, GRN 2.

The fact that this doesn’t currently happen in Scotland means that it’s both very tempting and very dangerous to vote tactically, as many pro-independence voters found out last year.

Advice for pro-independence voters: Cast your constituency vote for the SNP, and use the list vote to support your favourite party. Tactical voting is dangerous.

  • Simplicity: ✔ (having two ballot papers is bad enough, but explaining the system to all voters is practically impossible)
  • Proportionality: ✔✔✔✔ (the result is quite proportional, but it gets skewed when one party is much larger than the rest)
  • Voter engagement: ✔✔✔ (voters have a fair amount of influence, but it suffers from the same defects and FPTP and d’Hondt)

STV (the council election system)

Under STV (the Single Transferable Vote) there are a number of multi-member constituencies, and the voters rank the candidates. In this case we have created one constituency per town.

Here is an example of a completed ballot paper:

Ballot Paper for the Auchterclyde Constituency

Caitlin (CON) ⑩
Caleb (CON) ⑪
Callum (CON) ⑫
Gabriel (GRN) ④
Gabriella (GRN) ⑤
Gary (GRN) ⑥
Lachlan (LAB) ⑦
Lana (LAB) ⑧
Lara (LAB) ⑨
Samantha (SNP) ①
Samuel (SNP) ②
Saoirse (SNP) ③

An STV election starts with every voter’s first choice, and then goes through the following steps:

  1. A candidate who has reached or exceeded the quota (the minimum number of votes) is declared elected.
  2. If any such elected candidate has more votes than the quota, the excess votes are transferred to other candidates. Votes that would have gone to the winner go to the next preference.
  3. If no-one new meets the quota, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and those votes are transferred to each voter’s next preferred candidate.
  4. This process repeats until either a winner is found for every seat or there are as many seats as remaining candidates.

This is obviously a rather laborious process, and it’s best done by computer.

Here is a graphical illustration showing how Samantha, Caitlin and Samuel got elected in the Auchterclyde constituency, assuming transfers from Green to SNP and from Labour to Conservative, and within a party to the person who comes first alphabetically:

Here are the full results:

Constituency Seats Elected candidates
Auchterclyde 3 Samantha (SNP), Caitlin (CON), Samuel (SNP)
Balclyde 3 Sarah (SNP), Cameron (CON), Scott (SNP)
Carclyde 3 Sean (SNP), Catherine (CON), Simon (SNP)
Dunclyde 4 Charlotte (CON), Skylar (SNP), Stanley (SNP), Lily (LAB)
Ellanclyde 4 Stephen (SNP), Stuart (SNP), Lukas (LAB), Cole (CON)

Note that the Greens didn’t manage to get a single seat, and Labour only managed to win one in the four-member constituencies. This is because STV at heart isn’t a proportional system, and especially if the number of seats per constituency is small, the larger parties will dominate.

Advice for pro-independence voters: Vote until you boak – i.e., rank all the candidates, starting with the pro-independence ones and ending with the Tories.

  • Simplicity: ✔✔✔ (both voting and counting the votes are a hassle, but the concept is easy enough to understand)
  • Proportionality: ✔✔✔ (the results aren’t proportional, but it’s much better than FPTP)
  • Voter engagement: ✔✔✔✔✔ (all candidates need to fight for every vote, and voters have a lot of influence)

D’Hondt (the European Parliament system)

Under d’Hondt, the voters simply vote for parties in big constituencies, and the parties create prioritised lists of their candidates. In this illustration, we’ve created two constituencies, Auchterclyde–Balclyde–Carclyde and Dunclyde–Ellanclyde.

Here is an example of a completed ballot paper:

Ballot Paper for the Auchterclyde–Balclyde–Carclyde Constituency


Here are the full results for the two constiuencies:

Constituency CON GRN LAB SNP
Auchterclyde-Balclyde-Carclyde 5919 2557 3968 11218
Dunclyde–Ellanclyde 4987 2367 3480 9887

To turn this into seats, we divide the votes by 1, 2, 3 and so on. The first seat then goes to the largest number (In the first constituency, that’s the SNP’s 11218 votes), the second seat to the second-largest one (the Tories’ 5919 votes), the third seat to the third-largest number (the SNP’s 11218 divided by 2), the fourth seat to the fourth-largest one (Labour’s 3968 votes), the fifth seat to the fifth-largest one (the SNP’s 11218 divided by 3), and so on. We continue until all the seats have been allocated.

We now look at the the parties’ lists of candidates to determine who has been elected.

Here is the full distribution of seats:

Constituency CON GRN LAB SNP
Auchterclyde-Balclyde-Carclyde (9) 2 (Caitlin, Caleb) 1 (Gabriel) 1 (Lachlan) 5 (Samantha, Samuel, Saoirse, Sarah, Scarlett)
Dunclyde–Ellanclyde (8) 2 (Charlotte, Chloe) 1 (Giovanni) 1 (Lily) 4 (Skye, Skylar, Sophie, Stanley)

The result is very proportional, and it’s easy to understand. The downside is that the existence of party lists makes it impossible to prioritise any specific candidate. For instance, if it seems likely that the Greens only will get one candidate elected where you stay, you have a problem if you cannot stand the person who is top of their list.

Advice for pro-independence voters: Vote for any party that seems likely to win a seat – SNP and Greens are probably fine, but the smaller parties might not be.

  • Simplicity: ✔✔✔✔✔ (it’s really simple)
  • Proportionality: ✔✔✔✔(✔) (it’s very proportional)
  • Voter engagement: ✔✔ (every vote counts, but individual candidates don’t have a direct incentive to talk to voters)

AV (the proposed new Westminster system that got rejected)

AV (the Alternative Vote system) is basically just STV in single-member constituencies. It’s a vast improvement on FPTP, but it’s really not a proportional system.

Here is an example of a completed ballot paper:

Ballot Paper for the Auchterclyde Constituency

Caitlin (CON) ④
Gabriel (GRN) ②
Lachlan (LAB) ③
Samantha (SNP) ①

The counting is done in the same way as under STV.

Here are the full results:

Constituency Seats Elected candidates
Auchterclyde North 1 Caitlin (CON)
Auchterclyde South 1 Samuel (SNP)
Auchterclyde West 1 Saoirse (SNP)
Balclyde North 1 Sarah (SNP)
Balclyde South 1 Scarlett (SNP)
Balclyde West 1 Scott (SNP)
Carclyde North 1 Sean (SNP)
Carclyde South 1 Sienna (SNP)
Carclyde West 1 Simon (SNP)
Dunclyde East 1 Skye (SNP)
Dunclyde North 1 Skylar (SNP)
Dunclyde South 1 Sophie (SNP)
Dunclyde West 1 Stanley (SNP)
Ellanclyde East 1 Stephen (SNP)
Ellanclyde North 1 Struan (SNP)
Ellanclyde South 1 Stuart (SNP)
Ellanclyde West 1 Szymon (SNP)

16 out of 17 seats go to the SNP, but in one seat the transfers from Labour managed to get the Tory elected.

It’s better than FPTP because tactical voting isn’t necessary – if you prefer the Greens, you can rank them first and the SNP second, instad of having to vote tactically for the SNP. However, it really isn’t a proportional system.

Advice for pro-independence voters: Same as for STV (vote until you boak).

  • Simplicity: ✔✔✔ (same as for STV)
  • Proportionality: ✔✔ (it’s not very proportional)
  • Voter engagement: ✔✔✔ (there are fewer safe seats than under FPTP, and more candidates have a chance)

The Danish system

The Danish electoral system (PDF) is really complex, and what follows is a simplification. For a more detailed illustration of how it could be applied to Holyrood elections, please see this blog post.

Under this system, you vote for one candidate and implicitly for the party they represent, inside a multi-member constituency. (This means that ballot papers can get quite long if there are many parties and many seats.)

Here is an example of a completed ballot paper:

Ballot Paper for the Auchterclyde Constituency

  Caitlin ☐
  Caleb ☐
  Callum ☐
  Gabriel ☐
  Gabriella ☒
  Gary ☐
  Lachlan ☐
  Lana ☐
  Lara ☐
  Samantha ☐
  Samuel ☐
  Saoirse ☐

In real life you now go through a phase of d’Hondt counting, but it doesn’t really matter very much because of the next step, so I’ll ignore this here. This is because we now calculate each party’s share of the total votes and allocate seats accordingly:


Party Share of vote Total seats
CON 25% 4
GRN 11% 2
LAB 17% 3
SNP 48% 8

We now distribute these seats amongst the towns. The way we do that is that we take each party’s votes in each town and divide the figure by 1, 3, 5, etc. For instance, the SNP in Ellanclyde got 5296 votes, so the figures are 5296, 1765, 1059, etc. We now put all these numbers for all parties and towns into own list and sort it. The largest number is the 5296 that Ellanclyde SNP got, and that means the first seat goes to the SNP there. The second-largest number is 4591, and that gives the second seat to the SNP in Dunclyde. We continue like this so long as the party and the town both need more seats. The first time it fails is when we reach 1806, which is the number of votes won by the Tories in Balclyde – Balclyde needs more seats, but the Conservatives don’t, so this doesn’t result in a seat. We continue like this until all 17 seats have been allocated. The last one goes to the Greens in Balclyde (809).

At this point, we know how many seats each party will get in each town. For instance, the SNP will get two seats in Ellanclyde. To pick the successful candidates, we don’t have a party list, but instead we look at the personal votes. In this town, Stephen got 1522 votes, Struan 1097, Stuart 1596 and Szymon 1081. The first seat therefore goes to Stuart and the second one to Stephen.

Here are the complete results:

Constituency CON GRN LAB SNP Total
Auchterclyde 1 (Caitlin) 0 1 (Lara) 1 (Samuel) 3
Balclyde 0 1 (Gemma) 0 2 (Scott, Scarlett) 3
Carclyde 1 (Catherine) 1 (Georgina) 0 1 (Simon) 3
Dunclyde 1 (Christian) 0 1 (Lola) 2 (Skylar, Stanley) 4
Ellanclyde 1 (Conor) 0 1 (Luke) 2 (Stuart, Stephen) 4
Total 4 2 3 8 17

The result is extremely proportional, and the most popular candidates within each party win. One potential downside is that it can lead to a very large number of parties; because of this, in Denmark you need to win at least 2% of the popular vote to be allocated any seats.

Apart from that, it’s a system that works well in practice. Everybody seems to be happy with it in Denmark, and nobody ever suggests changing to another one.

Advice for pro-independence voters: Vote for your favourite candidate from your preferred party.

  • Simplicity: ✔✔✔ (the ballot papers are long, and it is somewhat laborious to count; however, the basic principles are easy to understand)
  • Proportionality: ✔✔✔✔✔ (it doesn’t get any more proportional – it’s even better than d’Hondt)
  • Voter engagement: ✔✔✔✔ (every vote counts, and every candidate needs to campaign for votes)


As we have seen, the six systems are very different. It’s not possible to say which one is best – they all have they pros and cons. Some are very simple, some are very proportional, and some are great for voter engagement. I personally prefer the Danish system, but then I believe proportionality and voter engagement are more important than simplicity.

The results are different in all cases, even if we just look at the number of seats each party gets, as illustrated in the following figure:

From the perspective of individual politicians, they’re even more different. Some candidates get elected in all cases (Samuel, Skylar and Stanley), and others never do (e.g., Callum, Lennox and Greta), but even within one party there are huge differences. Struan only gets elected under FPTP and AV in spite of the SNP’s great performance, whereas Catherine gets in under AMS, STV and the Danish system, even though the Tories in general does much worse than the SNP.

Some people would perhaps look at the performance of their party and choose a system that would favour it. I would caution against that. Labour chose the AMS system for Holyrood for this sort of reason, and it backfired less than ten years later. It’s better to think hard about how to rate simplicity, proportionality and voter engagement.

Will you stop fighting, children! I want unity!

cane school photo
Photo by theirhistory
Theresa May seems to hate dissent. She wanted to push through Brexit without parliamentary approval, and she was happy to go to the Supreme Court to get her way. When she failed, she insisted on getting the shortest possible Brexit bill passed without any changes, and she now wants to call a general election because too many people are asking awkward questions in the House of Commons.

There are of course other reasons for holding a snap election. Firstly, there are rumours the police are close to launching court cases against a number of Tory MPs because of election fraud. I’m not sure whether the cases will still go ahead, but even if they do, they’ll carry much less importance when the parliament they were related to has been dissolved. It also gives the Tories the chance to deselect those MPs before the election.

Secondly, there is a Brexit-induced recession on its way, so the current polling figures are probably as good for the Conservatives as they’ll ever get.

Thirdly, the opposition in England is in all likelihood at a low ebb. Surely they’ll start unifying again in the near future, whether under an existing banner (Labour or Lib Dem) or under a new one (Whigs).

However, I still think it was Theresa May’s authoritarian tendencies that made her go for it. A very large part of her speech today was about the division she’s facing in Parliament:

At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division. The country is coming together, but Westminster is not. In recent weeks Labour has threatened to vote against the deal we reach with the European Union. The Liberal Democrats have said they want to grind the business of government to a standstill. The Scottish National Party say they will vote against the legislation that formally repeals Britain’s membership of the European Union. And unelected members of the House of Lords have vowed to fight us every step of the way.

Because what they are doing jeopardises the work we must do to prepare for Brexit at home and it weakens the Government’s negotiating position in Europe. If we do not hold a general election now their political game-playing will continue, and the negotiations with the European Union will reach their most difficult stage in the run-up to the next scheduled election.

Every vote for the Conservatives will make it harder for opposition politicians who want to stop me from getting the job done. Every vote for the Conservatives will make me stronger when I negotiate for Britain with the prime ministers, presidents and chancellors of the European Union.

(And no, I don’t know either how she can say with a straight face that the country is coming together, when it’s clearly not the case. I presume she’s spending most of her time amongst older people in the Tory shires, where you probably can get that impression.)

If Theresa May wins this election, my prediction is she’ll become even more authoritarian than before. George Saravelos from Deutsche Bank seems to think that May will use an election victory to (1) allow a three-year transitional period before Brexit kicks in, (2) sideline her pro-Brexit backbenchers, and (3) start compromising in the negotiations with the EU. I don’t believe it. The Tory rebels are pro-EU today, so it’s clearly not the backbenchers that are forcing her to be tough, and she has ruled out transitional periods and sensible compromises that even the toughest Brexiteers would have agreed to.

This Brexit belongs to Theresa May, and she’ll use an election victory to make it harder than ever. My best guess is that she wants Brexit to be such a shock to the system that it’ll allow the Tories to completely dismantle the welfare state before 2022 (which is when the next general election will now take place).

Scotland needs to escape this madhouse before it’s too late!