Category Archives: SNP

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.

#bothvotesSNP in Eastwood

Maxwell for EastwoodTomorrow I’ll go down to Crookfur Primary to cast two votes for the SNP: One constituency vote for Stewart Maxwell, and one list vote for the party. Here’s why I’d recommend that you do the same if you also live in Eastwood:

To take the constituency first, five years ago the results were as follows:

Labour Ken Macintosh 12,662
Conservative Jackson Carlaw 10,650
SNP Stewart Maxwell 7,777

The same three candidates are standing again, but given the usual swings since then, it’s almost inconceivable that Ken Macintosh should win the seat this time — not least because he probably only won because many supporters of other parties voted for him to keep the Tory out.

If the only thing that happens is that Yes-voting Labour votes swing to the SNP, Stewart Maxwell should win easily. However, the Tories have been pushing the message hard that only they can beat the SNP, and if they manage to convince enough former Labour voters, it’s quite possible Jackson Carlaw will win the seat. It’s therefore extremely important that Stewart gets as many votes as possible. This is also true for any remaining Tory-hating Labour voters — the only person who can keep the Tories out is Stewart Maxwell.

Because the Tories have a real chance to beat the SNP in the constituency, it’s much more important to vote SNP on the list than in many other regions. In most regions it’s looking like the SNP will take all the constituency seats, which makes it difficult (albeit not impossible) to gain any additional list seats; however, in the three regions West Scotland, South Scotland and Highland & Islands there’s a real risk the other parties will win some constituency seats, and the SNP might thus need list seats here in order to achieve a majority in the next Scottish Parliament. I have some sympathy for tactical voters in the other regions, but in these three regions it’s really important to give both votes to the SNP to ensure that we get another pro-independence majority.

The Unionists would love to unseat Stewart Maxwell tomorrow. If Jackson Carlaw wins the constituency and if enough SNP voters vote Green or RISE on the list because they think it doesn’t matter, then that could really happen, which would be a real shame. Not only would the Unionist press have a field day if Stewart didn’t get reelected, but the Scottish Parliament would also have lost one of its best MSPs.

Please vote for Stewart Maxwell if you list in Eastwood, and please give your list vote to the SNP if you live in the West Scotland region!

I don’t like the Scottish electoral system

Germany and New Zealand use electoral systems that are very similar to the one used for Holyrood elections in Scotland, but with one crucial difference: They add extra seats (so-called overhang seats) to the parliament until the seat distribution mirrors the second vote (i.e., if one party has won “too many” constituency seats, extra list seats will be added to make the result properly proportional). The consequence of this is that only the second vote really matters from a party-political point of view — the first vote is important from the perspective of electing specific politicians rather than others, but it doesn’t affect the number of seats won by each party. This system is quite easy to understand.

In Scotland, however, things are different. When one party dominates heavily in one or more regions (like the SNP do at the moment in most of Scotland, and like Labour used to do in the Central Belt), the other parties end up with too few MSPs because there simply aren’t enough list seats. This makes it really hard to understand the system, and it leads to a lot of frustration when people attempt to bend the system to their own advantage.

At the moment, winning constituency seats only really matters to the SNP. Of course the other parties would love to win a few because it feels good, but it won’t affect the Holyrood result in a predictable way. For instance, imagine the list result in the West Scotland region points to SNP 9, Cons 4 and Lab 4 (and for simplicity’s sake, 0 for the other parties). If the SNP win 9 (out of 10) constituency seats and the Tories win 1, it’s easy to see what happens: Labour get 4 list seats and the Tories get 3, so that the regional result ends up like it should. What if Labour take one further constituency from the SNP? The SNP then gets one of Labour’s list seats, leaving the over-all result unchanged. But what if the SNP manage to win all 10 constituency seats? Because the number of list seats can’t grow, the list will now either say Labour 4, Cons 3 or Labour 3, Cons 4 — in other words, the SNP taking one constituency seat from the Tories could actually end up losing Labour a seat. This is counter-intuitive and bad for democracy.

The real reason for the SNP’s #bothvotesSNP campaign is safety: If the SNP manage to win all constituencies on Thursday, the number of list votes is unlikely to be significant, but if they only win 60 constituencies (i.e., five seats short of a majority), they will probably get at least a handful of list seats, so long as their voters haven’t given their second vote to somebody else. However, the Greens’ relatively successful #secondvoteGreen campaign are probably causing some natural SNP voters to split their votes, and suddenly a majority isn’t certain, so I can completely understand why some SNP strategists are a bit worried. The silly thing is just that what the SNP need more than anything is that all independence supporters — SNP, Green and RISE — vote SNP with their first vote, but that’s hard to campaign for while convincing their own supporters not to split their votes.

I wish Scotland would introduce additional list seats like in Germany and New Zealand — or replace the system with a completely different one, such as the one used in Denmark. The current one is just making everybody frustrated.

The second vote

Polling Place
Polling Place.
The current infighting amongst independence supporters is frankly driving me doolally. I completely understand that very few Unionist voters can be dragged away from voting for Labour, the Tories, the Lib Dems or UKIP at this stage, so the easiest way to win votes is from within the pro-independence block, but if people don’t calm down soon, we’re going to endanger the prospects of winning the next indyref.

So let’s take a deep breath and look at things rationally.

Of course all Independentistas should vote SNP with their first/constituency vote. A vote for the Greens or RISE would clearly be a wasted vote that at worst would allow Labour or the Tories to win a seat. The second/list vote is much more “interesting”, but here’s my take on it:

  • It’s important to realise that Scotland consists of eight regions that don’t share votes in any way. National polls are therefore of limited interest when you try to work out how to vote in your region. For instance, a vote for the Greens could very well be wasted in West Scotland and South Scotland but not in Glasgow and Lothian. You might want to have a look at the detailed predictions on the SP16 Rolling Polling blog for more information about your constituency and region.
  • Unfortunately opinion polls aren’t very precise with regard to small parties, so the support for the Greens and RISE tend to jump up and down a bit. To make it even worse, nobody seems to have done a full-sized poll in any region — all we have is regional breakdowns in national polls, and the numbers are so small that the statistical uncertainty goes through the roof. In other words, we just don’t know what will happen. We can be confident that the SNP will win most constituencies, but we don’t know whether they’ll fail to win zero, three or ten of them. We don’t know whether the Greens will scrape through in Glasgow and Edinburgh but not elsewhere, or whether they’ll win at least one seat in every region. We don’t know whether RISE will get in anywhere. This uncertainty means that tactical voting is risky and can backfire.
  • I blame the electoral system. The combination of first-past-the-post constituencies with d’Hondt lists, with the complication that there aren’t enough list seats to make the result fully proportional makes it hard to figure out what will happen. Mathematically speaking I guess it boils down to the question whether the number of list votes cast for the SNP divided by the number of constituencies they’re expected to win plus one is likely to be smaller or greater than the number of list votes cast for the Greens in a region; however, the current polls are simply not precise enough to answer this question.
  • Another way of looking at this is to look at who the list votes are most likely to benefit. For the Greens and RISE, it’s as simple as looking at who’s ranked number one (and perhaps two) in each region, whereas for the SNP, you need to ignore the candidates who are likely to win a constituency. For instance, in the Glasgow region number one and two on the list are Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf, and I’ll be very surprised indeed if they don’t win their own seats. A list vote for the SNP is therefore most likely to benefit fifth-placed Rhiannon Spear (Young Scots for Independence’s national convenor); voting Green is effectively a vote for Patrick Harvie and perhaps Zara Kitson; and a vote for RISE will benefit Cat Boyd (if they get enough votes to get in at all).

In effect, we all need to figure out on our own how to vote. As an example, here’s what I’ve been thinking: I stay in Eastwood in West Scotland. This is one of the few constituencies that the Unionists have a chance of winning (and Jackson Carlaw probably has a much better chance than the incumbent, Ken Macintosh); if they succeed in this, there is a good chance that the SNP will be able to win a list seat if they get enough second votes (because the number of constituency seats gets subtracted before list seats are allocated). At the same time, the Greens haven’t done very well in this region in the past, so it’s quite possible a vote for them will be wasted. In West Scotland I would therefore argue that a list vote for the SNP is less likely to be a wasted vote than one for the Greens.

Then there’s the personal aspect. A list vote the SNP is most likely to help elect Stewart Maxwell, while voting for the Greens would benefit Ross Greer, and that’s a total non-brainer: Stewart Maxwell is a wonderful MSP — he is an extremely hard-working parliamentarian, has a great media profile, lives in the constituency, is always approachable, and is just a great guy — whereas Ross Greer seems to have made quite a few enemies already during his much shorter political career (see for instance this and this).

I will therefore give both my votes to the SNP on 5th May, and I will recommend that you do the same if you live in the West Scotland region. However, I appreciate that the calculations might look different elsewhere. For instance, I would love to see Andy Wightman elected to the Scottish Parliament, so I can understand why people living in the Lothian region might choose to vote SNP + Green.

The thing to bear in mind is that this election basically consists of eight separate regional elections, and what’s rational in one of them might seem crazy elsewhere. We also haven’t seen any really detailed regional opinion polls, so there is a lot of guesswork involved in this. You won’t know until the day after the election whether giving your list vote for the SNP, the Greens or RISE would have been most useful, so unless you have a time machine, you can’t make a purely rational, logical choice, but have to rely on your gut feeling to a certain extent.

Let’s all do what we feel is best, based on where we stay, and let’s not fall out with our fellow independence supporters if they reach a different conclusion. The next indyref campaign could be just a year away, and then we’ll need to stand shoulder to shoulder again.

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.

Back to the Future: Scottish Independence

"You and Jennifer turn out fine. It's Scottish independence, Marty! Something's gotta be done about independence!"
“You and Jennifer turn out fine. It’s Scottish independence, Marty! Something’s gotta be done about independence!”
Because today is Back to the Future Day, I’ve been having some fun with fellow tweeters discussing how we’d achieve a Yes in the 2014 referendum if we could go back in time to 2012 or so.

It’s actually quite an interesting question. To formalise it a bit, imagine you could go back to any point in 2012, and you could speak to one person for an hour. You could show them evidence such as photos, newspapers or videos, but they wouldn’t be able to keep it. Who would you choose to talk to, and what would you tell them?

Would you try to convince Alex Salmond that his currency stance wasn’t credible and that he needed to publicise a Plan B?

Or would you try to convince him that Blair Jenkins shouldn’t be made the head of Yes Scotland? (I presume he was chosen because of his links to the BBC and STV in order to achieve favourable media coverage for the Yes campaign, but of course this didn’t work out.)

Or would you convince him to step down and hand over to Nicola Sturgeon much earlier? That could have backfired badly, however, if it was seen as a sign of weakness.

Perhaps you would instead talk to Angus Robertson and show him his own advice, namely to “harness the powers of younger voters to persuade grandparents and grandmothers that it was not just about an older generation but about future generations and voting for the future of the country”.

However, I think I’d go back to early 2012 and talk to Douglas Alexander. I’d show him a video of his concession speech from May 2015. I’d explain to him in no uncertain terms that practically all Labour MPs were going to be kicked out if they campaigned against independence together with the Tories. Although Douglas Alexander wasn’t the leader of either UK or Scottish Labour, I believe he was influential enough in both that he would have been able to change things. Perhaps he would even have been able to save Scottish Labour, but I believe a Yes vote would have been a consequence of this.

Would would you do?