I’ve already argued in another blog post that it really wasn’t the Greens’ fault that the SNP didn’t get a majority — the two parties’ combined number of seats would have remained constant if all the votes for the Greens had been allocated to the SNP instead, so a vote for them wasn’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 splitting the regions between them, so that the SNP would campaign for list votes only in South Scotland and Highland & Islands, giving the Greens 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.