It’s now four days since the Scottish Parliamentary elections. It has taken this long for me to come to a proper understanding of all this. I have finally made sense of the convoluted voting system in Scotland – at least for the Holyrood Devolved Parliament elections. No one I have ever spoken to has been able to explain it to me and these 2016 election results have prompted me to make my own exploration into the political and voting machinations in this country.
The system(s) came into being in 1999. I should have done this exercise in 2011 which is when I first voted in the Scottish elections (ahem!! Not knowing enough to make really sensible choices). I come from a preferential system of voting where voters can vote for their own choices of candidates (not just parties) in order of preference. Of course, you can vote for the candidates selection of running partners but you don’t need to. It’s called voting above the line – for the candidate’s own preference of running mates, or you can vote below the line and select your own preferences. Sometimes – as in the bicameral Senate elections it can become unwieldy because of the number of minor parties standing for election. But it is a much better system. Also Australia has compulsory voting and that tends to mean that voters have to become familiar with those candidates standing for election. There is about a 7 to 8% of spoiled votes in any Australian election but that is better than a turnout of only 58.3% of voters in my region in Scotland. That’s 41.7% who didn’t vote at all. When I contemplate the amount of effort, angst, arrests and (some) deaths that have gone into the adoption of universal suffrage, I am appalled at the apathy that non-voters embrace as though not knowing anything or refusing to engage with those who hold power over us all is something to be proud of.
But, forgive my wee rant. Back to the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary elections. These are some salient points I have learned:
There are 129 seats in Holyrood. 73 are Constituency seats and 56 are Additional Member seats.
The Constituency seats are determined by the First Past the Post system and yields one member per constituency. Each member elected by either system has equal status within Holyrood.
Each person in Scotland is represented by 8 members of the Parliament – one constituency member and 7 additional members.
There are 8 Regions that represent larger areas and contain 9 or so constituencies. 7 members are elected from the Regional List vote. Those additional member elections make up the 56 additional members of the Holyrood Parliament.
Lists are closed lists and the selection of candidates for the list is made by the political party. The voter votes for the political party not individual candidates. Candidates can stand both as a constituency candidate and as a list candidate. However, if the candidate wins his/her constituency seat, then he/she is no longer available to stand as an additional member; the name is removed from the list which then moves up one. These list candidate names are announced just prior to elections.
MID SCOTLAND & FIFE
1 John Swinney
2 Annabelle Ewing
3 Keith Brown
4 Shirley-Anne Somerville
5 David Torrance
6 Alycia Hayes
7 David Doogan
8 Roderick Campbell
9 Karen Marjoram
10 Rosemary Hunter
11 Maciej Wiczynski
12 Neale Hanvey – The first five on this regional list were voted in as constituency candidates and so were removed from the regional list. I think this was a silly use of regional list candidates and didn’t favour any new blood in the SNP.
It is easily seen how Labour diminished itself without even trying. It is also easy to see where the Conservatives picked up constituency votes – to my mind, partly because Labour self-immolated.
I am using Mid Scotland and Fife (region) as I live within the boundary and I have to use Mid Fife and Glenrothes (constituency) as that is where I live.
My regional area is securely SNP and of the 9 constituencies, 8 SNP members were elected and one Liberal Democrat. No other party got a show in the constituency vote.
Interestingly the SNP Regional List candidates ran thus:
John Swinney; Annabelle Ewing; Keith Brown; Shirley-Anne Somerville; David Torrance and three more candidates further down the list. All five of the SNP list candidates were elected as Constituency seats which left the last three swinging from pegs on the washing line. Not that it would have made any difference because so many voters wasted their second vote for the SNP. This becomes clear further down this blog post.
I will use the actual list voting figures. Voters in my region voted:
SNP 120,128; Conservative 73,293; Labour 51,373
Lib Dems 20,401; Greens 17,860; UKIP 5,345
Scottish Soc. 1,073; Solidarity 1,049; Libertarians 650
The additional members are elected taking into account the number of constituency members each party has won. There are 7 AMS (Additional Members) to be elected. A method using a divisor (the number of constituency seats already won +1) is used. The number of votes cast is divided firstly by the number of seats won +1. The SNP vote was initially divided by 8+1(9), 0+1(1) for all the rest except for the Lib Dems that won one constituency seat 1+1(2).
To all intents and purposes, we can ignore UKIP, Scottish Socialists, Solidarity and the Libertarians, none of which had any likelihood of gaining any seat in this Parliament from this region. After each division, the highest number of votes wins a seat. All divisions are made from the original votes cast with the new divisors reflecting any seat gained.
Initial Votes Div.#1 Result Div.#2 Result Div.#3 Result
SNP 120,128 9 13,348 9 13,348 9 13,348
Conservative 73,293 1 73,293 2 36,647 2 36,647
Labour 51,373 1 51,373 1 51,373 2 25,687
Lib Dems 20,401 2 10,201 2 10,201 2 10,201
Greens 17,860 1 17,860 1 17,860 1 17,860
After the first division the Conservatives have the highest number of votes and thus win their first additional member. This means that the next divisor for the conservatives will be 1+1(2). Labour picks up its first additional member after the second division which increases its divisor by 1 to 1+1(2). The Conservatives pick up their second additional member after the third division so their divisor becomes 2+1(3).
Initial Votes Div.#4 Result Div.#5 Result Div.#6 Result
SNP 120,128 9 13,348 9 13,348 9 13,348
Conservatives 73,293 3 24,431 3 24,431 4 18,323
Labour 51,373 2 25,687 3 17,124 3 17,124
Lib Dems 20,401 2 10,201 2 10,201 2 10,201
Greens 17,680 1 17,860 1 17,680 1 17,680
After the fourth division Labour has another additional member which increases its next divisor to 2+1(3). After the fifth division, the Conservatives pick up their third seat and their divisor increases by 1 to 3+1(4). The sixth division sees the Conservatives add their fourth additional member taking their next divisor to 4+1(5).
Initial Votes Div.#7 Result
SNP 120,128 9 13,348
Conservatives 73,293 5 14,659
Labour 51,373 3 17,124
Lib Dems 20,401 2 10,201
Greens 17,680 1 17,680
After the seventh division, the Greens pick up their first additional member. And, of course, there are 7 additional member seats allocated to Mid Scotland & Fife, so that’s the end folks.
The Conservatives gained 4 additional members; Labour gained 2 additional members and the Greens gained one.
Additional member results
What interested me was when the SNP started exhorting voters to vote SNP 1&2. I received this exhortation in the post and was bemused. I knew that the second vote (the regional list vote) would diminish the additional member vote for them and couldn’t understand why the SNP had done this across all of Scotland. They should have realised that their support in regions like Mid Scotland & Fife would be enough to get their constituency candidates up and running and that any second vote would be useless and better given to another pro-independence party.
I talked to several SNP people throughout this period leading up to the elections. One person told me that the second SNP vote – the regional vote – was seen as insurance. Well – that went drastically awry, didn’t it!
When I read Craig Murray’s blog on this that had to do with the Scottish Independence issue, I decided to do the whole exercise above to cement the mechanics in my brain. As you can see, Craig Murray was quite correct when he said that the 120,128 SNP list votes were wasted. Not one SNP list member was elected. But it did allow the Conservatives to get 4 additional members elected in an area that is not historically known for Tory support.
Murray cited these particular regions, none of which achieved an SNP List member because of the SNP’s directive to vote SNP 1&2. The list vote did them no favours but voters followed their directive without thinking for themselves. I am reprinting what he wrote in case you don’t click on the link and read his blog.
‘North East Scotland 137,086 SNP list votes 0 SNP list MSPs elected 137,086 pro-independence list votes totally wasted.
Central Scotland 129,082 SNP list votes 0 SNP list MSPs elected 129,082 pro-independence list votes totally wasted.
Lothian 118,546 SNP list votes 0 SNP list MSPs elected 118,546 pro-independence list votes totally wasted.
Mid Scotland and Fife 120,128 SNP list votes 0 SNP list MSPs elected 120,128 pro-independence list votes totally wasted.
West Scotland 135,827 SNP list votes 0 SNP list MSPs elected 135,827 pro-independence list votes totally wasted.
Glasgow 111,101 SNP list votes 0 SNP list MSPs elected 111,101 pro-independence list votes totally wasted.
That is over 750,000 SNP pro-independence list votes completely wasted, electing nobody at all on the list.
By contrast in these regions the Tories got 376,000 – almost precisely 50% of the list votes the SNP received there – and got 19 MSPs for them!’
Mind you, I also think that disillusioned Labour supporters felt that their only option was to vote Conservative in the Regional vote. Why, I don’t know. There’s nothing as weird as folk. Take as given what a political party tells you to do, I guess. Thinking would be an advantage. Not seen, these elections.