Category Archives: Greens

Friend or foe?

Cain interficit Abelem
Cain interficit Abelem.
Some of the infighting amongst the Yes parties sometimes reminds of the Danish proverb “Frænde er frænde værst”. Literally it translates as “friend is friend worst”, and the meaning is that friends often fight each other more than their enemies.

It seems to encapsulate the current state of the Yes parties perfectly. Instead of concentrating on fighting the Unionists, most of the Yes energy currently goes into infighting amongst the SNP, the Greens, RISE and Solidarity.

It makes sense on a certain level. Very few voters are undecided with regard to the independence question, so most voter movements are going to happen within the two main blocks. For instance, the SNP won’t gain many votes by attacking Labour, but taking list votes from the Greens could potentially make a huge difference. It’s true on the No side, too. The Tories aren’t going to overtake Labour at Holyrood by converting SNP voters but rather by convincing Labour and Lib Dem voters that they’re best placed to represent Unionism.

However, it’s a real shame. All of us Yes campaigners should be spending our energy on turning soft No voters into Yes voters, rather than arguing about the merits of splitting the vote or not.

I’m annoyed the electoral system used for Holyrood elections doesn’t allow for formal electoral alliances. In Denmark, two or more parties can declare a formal alliance, which means that they’re treated as one party for the purpose of working out how many seats they get; once that has been determined, the votes cast for each party determines how many seats it gets (using d’Hondt, the system used for European elections in Scotland). If we had such alliances here, all the Yes parties could form one such alliance, and it would then be in everybody’s interest to maximise the Yes vote. (Of course, all the No parties could also form an alliance, but I’m not sure a Labour/Tory alliance would go down well with many traditional Labour voters.)

However, the electoral system won’t change soon, so we all need to take a deep breath and make sure that we never do or say anything that will it harder to win the next independence referendum.

Of course, there’s is also another perspective on this, namely whether both the governing party and the main opposition party could eventually be Yes parties.

It’s my firm belief that in a democracy, voters at some point get fed up with any ruling party, no matter how great they thought it was originally.

However, if a ruling party is opposed by more than one party, it has a certain amount of influence with regard to choosing its own successor. It can ignore and ridicule one party while working constructively with another, and of course this makes a difference with regard to how voters perceive these parties.

At the moment, the SNP seems to focus very strongly on retaining all the voters who came from Labour after the referendum while ensuring that the Greens don’t split the Yes vote too much, and as a result the Tories seem to be growing, and I’m not sure I really like the sound of that at all.

I can’t see Labour recovering in Scotland for a generation, and the Lib Dems are in an even worse state. Logically the only alternative to a Tory opposition would therefore be a Green opposition.

Is this possible? Can the SNP and the Greens eventually sook up enough No voters to allow them to dominate Holyrood together? Or will the independence question continue to dominate so strongly that it will unavoidably produce one big Unionist party to oppose the SNP?

How the SNP should deal with the Greens ultimately depends on the answers to these questions.

Green list voting

People have been busy on social media discussing the pros and cons of splitting the vote next year, i.e., using the constituency vote to support the SNP and voting Green on the list (see for instance this for the positive case, and this for why it might backfire).

I find it interesting that people can disagree so strongly while supporting the same goals, so I decided to have a look at the data myself. I took the 2015 General Election results and fed them into the list vote, and assumed the constituencies would not change hands since the 2011 election (which is not very realistic, but I’ll return to that below). Because hardly anybody voted Green this year, this obviously led to another SNP landslide victory. I then treated the combined SNP and Green vote as one block of Yes votes, and then looked at what happened if a specific percentage of these Yes votes voted Green instead of SNP on the list — on the left-hand side, every Yes voter is voting SNP on the list, and on the right, half of them are voting Green:

Scenario 1

The interesting thing here is that the number of Yes MSPs (SNP + Green) at first falls as the percentage of Green voters goes up, but it then starts rising again, and eventually it overtakes the previous maximum.

In other words, the best solution is that nobody votes Green, or that more than 25% of Yes voters do so. The worst possible scenario is that about 8% of Yes voters vote Green on the list.

What if we assume the SNP will win all constituencies apart from three, just like the General Election result? The graph then looks as follows:

Scenario 2

The effect is exactly the same (and the minimum is still at 8% of Yes voters), but the SNP loses fewer seats (because they get fewer list seats), and so the positive effects of splitting the vote arises earlier, when 10% of Yes voters vote Green.

All of this taken together makes it really hard to give advice to voters. If the SNP looks like doing phenomenally well in the constituencies and the Green party is expected to get at least 5% of the list votes, then all Yes voters should split their votes; if on the other hand the SNP is doing less well in the constituencies than on the list and the Green party is hovering around 2% in the opinion polls, then nobody should consider splitting their votes. And if the opinion polls are wrong (like they were this year), then any such advice could spectacularly backfire — the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley. (As an example of this, look no further than the advice I produced before the 2011 election, which was based on Labour doing extremely well in the constituencies, and so my conclusions were all wrong.)

PS: I’ve completely ignored the SSP here for simplicity’s sake. Obviously all the conclusions above would be the same if the vote splitting was benefitting the SSP instead of the Greens; however, if both parties are competing for Yes list votes, it increases the risk of wasted votes.

Today’s European Parliament election from an indyref perspective

Backside of the European Parliament
Backside of the European Parliament by Protesilaos Stavrou, on Flickr.

We aren’t voting for or against independence in the European Parliament elections today. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t relevant from an indyref perspective.

First of all, and most obviously, the media will look at the strength of the Yes parties and try to conclude that this says something about the strength of the Yes campaign. In other words, if the SNP and the Green party together win three (or more) of the six seats available, everything is fine. On the other hand, if they only get two, it will be seen as a blow to the Yes campaign.

Secondly, UKIP must not win a seat here. They have been trying extremely hard to present themselves as a UK-wide party, but they have never saved a deposit in Scotland, and it’s important for the distinctiveness of Scottish politics that the status quo in this area is maintained, apart from the obvious fact that UKIP is an abhorrent party.

Thirdly, the Scottish MEPs will sit in the European political party groups in the European Parliament. For instance, the SNP and the Green Party will both form part of Greens/EFA, Labour will sit in S&D, the Tories in ECR (not in the EPP!), and the LibDems (if they get in) in ALDE. The MEPs normally vote the same within each group, so it’s really important to look into this rather than simply assuming the MEPs will be toeing the national party line. The European political parties are not equally keen on Scottish independence, as became clear when the Spitzenkandidats were questioned about this on TV:

It’s clear that the Greens/EFA group is the only one that strongly supports Scottish independence.

Fourthly, it’s likely that when the Scottish number of MEPs is increased from 6 to 13 after independence, the additional parliamentarians will be found using the results from this election, rather than holding a by-election. This makes it even more important to elect candidates who will do their utmost to represent an independent Scotland well on the European stage.

To summarise, the best way to support a Yes vote and to further Scottish independence in the European Parliament is to vote for either the SNP or the Green Party. These two parties sit in the same political group in Brussels and Strasbourg, so in practice the difference between the two is minor in this context. It’s probably more important to weigh up whether it’s more likely that the SNP will win three seats or that the Greens will win one. This has been explored with great clarity by Lallands Peat Worrier.

A reply to Patrick Harvie

Patrick Harvie (Green Party)
Originally uploaded by alf.melin

According to The Scotsman, Patrick Harvie (Green MSP) has a problem with the SNP’s attempts to woo centrist voters:

However, Mr Harvie fears the efforts to woo centre-ground voters could alienate many on the Left.

“The task of those who see the opportunity of independence is to inspire hope that a Yes vote will lead to the radical change we consider necessary and desirable,” he said in his submission to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the 2014 vote.

“The current ‘universalist’ approach risks turning what should be a transformational opportunity into a promise of middle-of-the-road blandness, only under a different flag. “I can’t ask people to vote for that. This debate needs to offer more.”

I can totally relate to this, but I also think it’s misplaced.

The real reason to support independence is to allow us to make our own decisions in Scotland. However, we can’t make those decisions in advance — that would be counting our chickens before they hatch.

Once independence has been achieved, I will be delighted to join Patrick Harvie and many others in the fight for ending the monarchy in Scotland, and I think there’s a good chance we’ll win that fight. However, without independence Westminster will just veto it.

Once independence has been achieved, there will be a huge argument whether Scotland should be part of NATO (like England, Norway and Denmark), or more strictly neutral (like Ireland, Sweden and Finland), and I haven’t decided yet which side I’m on. However, without independence Westminster will just keep Scotland inside NATO (and keep the atomic bombs up here for good measure).

Once independence has been achieved, we’ll have to discuss a whole range of issues that it would be futile to discuss at the moment because Westminster has the final word.

So Patrick Harvie shouldn’t ask his voters to vote for middle-of-the-road blandness à l’Écossaise; he should ask his voters to vote for an independent Scotland so that the questions that are most important to us can be decided in Scotland by the people living here, and the day after Scotland has voted Yes, he should then start changing Scotland into a better nation.