Category Archives: Holyrood

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.

Death through hexangulation

donald dewar
donald dewar by Tom Donald, on Flickr.
I moved to Scotland in 2002, so I don’t have any memories of the creation of the Scottish Parliament — when I moved here, it was already a fact of life. However, based on what I’ve read, I believe Labour’s thinking in the ’90s could be paraphrased as follows:

When we’re in power at Westminster, the Scottish Office works great, but when the Tories are in power, they control the Scottish Office, too, which is a problem because they’re not us. So if we create a Scottish Parliament with a Scottish Executive to replace the Scottish Office, it’ll work exactly the same as before when we’re in power in both places, but when the Tories are in power, we can at least rule Scotland and use it as a showcase for our superior policies.

Unfortunately for Labour, there were a few problems with this analysis. For instance, voters tend to get fed up with all parties at some point with the inevitable consequence that the SNP would eventually get into power in Scotland. Also, Scottish voters would naturally expect the Scottish parties to respond to their concerns and desires, so it would become impossible to have the same policies on both sides of the border, which would be a bigger problem for Scottish Labour than for the other parties.

However, I believe the biggest problem is that New Labour is based on triangulation (“the tactic of shifting party policy in to a broadly perceived “centre-ground” in order to increase electability and outmanoeuvre the opposition, who subsequently become associated with extremism and anachronism”), but you can’t triangulate against two different parties at the same time without exploding like a chameleon on a piece of tartan.

The reason for this becomes clear when you consider than triangulation really means moving towards your opponent. However, when you have one opponent on the right and another on the left, doing triangulation towards both — let’s call it hexangulation — will tear you apart.

The alternative is to triangulate only in one direction and completely ignore the other opponent. This seems to have been Labour’s solution, focusing on triangulation against the Tories while allowing the SNP to monopolise all the popular policies in Scotland. The result is that they have deserted the centre-left in the process, making it easy for the SNP to supplant Labour as the dominant party north of the border.

Of course it hasn’t helped Labour that their best talent has always been sent to Westminster rather than to Holyrood, and their disastrous idea to keep the constituency candidates off the regional lists got rid of a lot of their best people at the last election.

However, at the end of the day the decision to sacrifice ideology on the altar of triangulation while introducing devolution must be the main reason for Labour’s collapse in Scotland.

The LibDems suffered because of incompetence in Scotland, too

tavish speech 07
Originally uploaded by Liberal Democrats

The English media have to a large extent described the LibDem collapse in Scotland in terms of dissatisfaction with the CoLD coalition.

However, although this is bound to be part of the explanation, I don’t think one should underestimate the part played by their own sheer incompetence in the Scottish Parliament.

As I blogged exactly four years ago, the LibDems behaved very strangely in refusing to even sit down with the SNP.

Back then, the obvious interpretation was that they only wanted to form a coalition with Labour, but now that they’re in a coalition with the Tories in Westminster, insisting on a Labour coalition up here seems a bit odd.

I think many voters asked themselves who would govern efficiently and stand up to Westminster in a constructive manner, and almost nobody thought that the LibDems were the answer to that question.

They need to redefine themselves. Perhaps, as suggested by Liberal Vision, there is a gap “on the pro-independence centre-right” that they could fill. I’m sure that would work better than whatever it was they tried over the past four years.

Let’s see what the new leader decides to do!