Scottish Parliament Elections 2016

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.

Constituency results

Scottish Parliament election, 2016: Mid Scotland and Fife

 
Constituency Elected Member Result
Clackmannanshire and Dunblane Keith Brown SNP hold
Cowdenbeath Annabelle Ewing SNP gain from Labour
Dunfermline Shirley-Anne Somerville SNP hold
Kirkcaldy David Torrance SNP hold
Mid Fife and Glenrothes Jenny Gilruth SNP hold
North East Fife Willie Rennie Liberal Democrats gain from SNP
Perthshire North John Swinney SNP hold
Perthshire South and Kinross-shire Roseanna Cunningham SNP hold
Stirling Bruce Crawford SNP hold

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.
So:

                          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

Scottish Parliament election, 2016: Mid Scotland and Fife
Party Elected candidates Seats +/− Votes % +/−%
SNP 0 -1 120,128 41.3% -3.9%
Conservative Murdo Fraser
Elizabeth Smith
Alexander Stewart
Dean Lockhart
4 +2 73,293 25.2% +11.0%
Labour Claire Brennan-Baker
Alex Rowley
2 -1 51,373 17.6% -7.4%
Liberal Democrats 0 -1 20,401 7.0% +1.2%
Scottish Green Mark Ruskell 1 +1 17,860 6.1% +1.9%
UKIP 0 0 5,345 1.8% +0.7%
Scottish Socialist 0 0 1,073 0.4% +0.4%
Solidarity 0 0 1,049 0.4% +0.3%
Libertarian 0 0 650 0.2% +0.2%

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.

 

English reflections on a Scottish referendum – a reblog

Looking through a distorted window: English reflections on a Scottish referendum

Seeing the Scottish referendum from outside Scotland, it was too easy to entirely misunderstand it.

Image: Maxim Edwards

Reading coverage and opinion from England on the Scottish independence referendum has been a strange experience. It has been like looking at someone you know and love through a distorted window: the image is contorted to the extent that you can barely recognise the person you’re looking at anymore. There is a sense in which people who have never lived in Scotland or been involved in the political debate in Scotland just don’t get it. This is what has become so abundantly clear reading and talking to people in England about the referendum. It’s not just that they disagree with those in Scotland campaigning for independence it’s that they don’t really understand the situation at all.

English observers have received most of their information through sources that are based in England and on the whole are against independence (only one newspaper the Sunday Herald backed independence, no UK newspaper did so). At best the information comes from people who don’t understand at worst it comes from people who have deliberately distorted the picture. Research from John Robertson suggests that in the coverage prior to this year pro independence views made up only 2/5 of the views covered on British TV. Furthermore, prominent BBC journalist Nick Robinson has been criticised for cutting footage so as to suggest that Alex Salmond did not respond to his questions. This does not make it easy for the English to grasp what has gone on in Scotland.

Many people in England just don’t get why many Scots would back independence. Some originally believed that it must be some sort of xenophobic anti-English sentiment or simplistic patriotism. According to this view the enthusiasm for Scottish independence is part of a dangerous sort of nationalism moving across Europe that comes with a hatred of outsiders: a form of dangerous fascism. Many with good political sentiments are wary of any form of nationalism and find the idea of pride in a particular nation deeply problematic. I was once one of those people. I didn’t recognise the fundamental difference between nationalism in a dominant country that wishes to celebrate and extend that domination and be seen as better than the rest of the world and the nationalism of a country that is currently ruled by a larger unit or outsiders and wishes for self-determination: a country that wishes to have power over its own affairs rather than to dominate others. It is also vital to recognise that nationalism does not have to be based on an idea that there is a particular race or culture that is special or should dominate a region. However, the first important truth to realise about the majority of those who support independence in Scotland is that it’s not really about nationalism at all. To explain what I think it is about and why it is so hard for those in England to understand I’m going to have to tell a bit of a story.

Photo: Maxim Edwards

I was born and brought up in England (where I now live) but spent 5 very formative years living in Glasgow. It was my first real home as an adult and by the time I had to leave for work I felt fully a part of that world. So much so that I find it almost impossible to support the England football team and after a few drinks I often find myself trying to claim a Scottish identity (much to the humour and confusion of the people I’m with). Whilst living in Scotland I got into politics: activism, campaigning and following events at Holyrood and Westminster. At that time independence was not really on the agenda. It was something I talked to people about and learnt to understand but it was not a major topic of debate like the Iraq war, student fees or privatisation. In those days even when people voted for the SNP at Holyrood elections this was not primarily because they supported independence. In fact at the time many SNP voters did not want full independence for Scotland. There was a majority against independence (calculated by the Sun at 58% compared with 22% in favour) even when the SNP got 44% of the popular vote and a majority in the largely proportional parliament. Whilst living in Scotland I learned to appreciate the fact that Scotland is another political world. The playing field is just fundamentally different compared to the rest of the UK. This is what explains why so many Scottish people voted for independence this year and why so many English people just don’t get it.

As a left leaning open minded person there was a wealth of real political choices in Scotland. There were plenty of leftist groups to choose from and there were radical parties that had even held seats in the parliament. The Greens had at one point held seven seats and a party called the Scottish Socialists had also had 6 representatives in Holyrood from 2003-2007. Meanwhile in the centre the SNP and the Scottish Labour party were battling to out social-democrat each other (and the SNP were winning). The SNP picked up policies from the Scottish Socialists including scrapping prescription charges, introducing free school meals and replacing council tax with a more equitable system in order to gain votes. Making a stand against privatisation and private public partnerships was a vote winner. Votes in parliament declared a majority against nuclear weapons of 71:16 with 39 abstentions.

While I was in Scotland the parliament introduced free care for the elderly. It became clear to me that things that south of the border we had been told were impossible were actually happening right here in Scotland. Whilst in Glasgow I witnessed the SNP take a majority in a proportional parliament (a very rare thing) on the basis of scrapping council tax and replacing it with a system based on earnings. I realised that Scotland was a world in which the post-Thatcherite consensus was not being followed. Political reality in Scotland is something that many left leaning England dwellers can only dream about (free old age care, free higher education, proportional representation in parliament, the protection of the NHS from privatization). While temping at the Scottish Government I witnessed some business present the case for a private sector measure to try to reduce absenteeism in the Scottish NHS through a system where ill employees must phone up a call centre who would give them medical advice and seek to identify whether they are really sick. The businessmen had been successful in selling the service to parts of the NHS in England.

However, I was delighted to hear from civil service superiors that although they liked the plan, outsourcing of this kind was politically impossible because the SNP government would never support paying a company to give medical advice to absent NHS staff. This shows how different things are in Scotland. However, the fact that much of the civil service in Scotland hires temps through agencies that take a large cut of the money and offer no benefits or guaranteed hours shows that Scotland is not yet an anti-neoliberal paradise. In this political world joining the Labour party was to support conservativism it was just not a viable option for someone with progressive politics. And all this was before the fall of the banks and the financial crisis.

Another difference about Scottish politics concerns participation and attitudes of working class people in Scotland. In Glasgow talking politics at the bus stop is not as taboo as it is in some parts of England. People express their views. Political discussion is not just for the intellectual middle class intelligentsia and the political elite. Even more importantly working class people have political options when it comes to the ballot box. If they are sick of the Labour party and the Tory party because they seem only to speak for the interests of big businesses and forget working people they have many options. Meanwhile in the North of England those who quite rightly see through the major parties have only UKIP to turn to. And many are willing to turn there to stick two fingers up at the political elite regardless of the fact UKIP contains plenty of that elite and does not support any of the things they are interested in.

Image: Maxim Edwards

What my time in Glasgow taught me was that the political situation in Scotland is different. What is not fully grasped down south is that what is possible politically is fundamentally different north of the border. It is this fact that has led so many left-leaning Scottish residents to back independence. Independence gives them a chance to have a society that is different to the neoliberal one that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are aggressively rolling out for the UK. The stepping up of neoliberal policy and the strict austerity that the coalition has imposed and the Labour party has only criticised in a limited manner is very different to what the majority of Scots support. It is a threat even to the devolved services because it can reduce their budget and force them to make cuts to public services. The fact that the Labour party has pledged to largely stick with conservative spending plans and not reverse cuts to services means that many left-leaning Scots see no hope whilst remaining in the UK. Meanwhile independence offers the chance to pursue an anti-austerity agenda through a proportional parliament and to promote these policies to an electorate committed to a strong public sector. Once this is understood it is no longer a mystery why so many left leaning Scotland residents are pro-independence. This is not about the SNP being a social democrat party. They are committed to neo-liberal economic policies like cutting corporation tax to attract foreign investment although they also support more Keynesian public investment in industry. Rather it is about having an electorate and a parliament open to ideas outside a neo-liberal consensus. It is this situation that makes protecting the NHS, getting rid of council tax, providing care for the elderly and not charging for university vote winners. The situation isn’t perfect. Scots are more in favour of abortion rights, less anti-EU, more against privatisation, but share similar views to the rest of the UK on questions like gay marriage. However, it remains true that debates and policies that are impossible in England can happen in Scotland.

Given the differences discussed above it is no wonder that there is a disconnect between Scotland and England that makes it difficult for those south of the border to understand what is going on. The political world is just different in Scotland. This means that when the Westminster political elite, London journalists and people living in England turn their attention to something going on in Scotland they are likely to misunderstand it. They have an understanding of politics in England: they know the constraints, they know the limits of reasonable opinion, they know what makes you ‘loony lefty’, unelectable or seem economically incompetent. However these limits and the spectrum are different in Scotland. Furthermore the parties they are observing have different platforms in Scotland, there are additional parties and the balance of power between those parties is different too. This can leave people at sea if they look at Scottish politics through an English frame.

All the experiences and understandings from my time living Scotland come from before the political earthquake that has been the build up to the referendum. I have not been a part of the society as the massive changes have taken place. I have only been able to look on from abroad (I was in Germany last year) and try to get snippets of what has happened. This means that there are now no doubt ways in which I don’t really ‘get’ what is going on. Furthermore, my experiences were predominantly Glasgow based and say nothing of society in Scotland in general. In fact the referendum results from rural areas show that Glasgow is not representative.

The referendum campaign has brought many young and working class people in to the debate and on to the voting registers than ever before. This is a huge development. While I was active in Scotland I saw the beginning of return of young people to politics. When I first started attending rallies it was the baby boomers who dominated. Young people of my generation weren’t particularly interested. But five years later this was changing and fast. The referendum campaign has seen an explosion in political participation by this generation as they rally round the chance to actually make a difference.

I arrived in Glasgow the weekend before the referendum to crowds of motivated, articulate and informed people talking about the referendum. There were songs and chants but there was also debate. The city was abuzz with referendum talk and campaigning. There was a movement. I arrived wishing to see what was going on and hoping to see a good campaign and a reasonable debate. I left with the shocking realization that Glasgow was going to vote yes and that a radical change to politics was actually possible. I have never before been able to see first-hand or been part of a campaign for radical change that has had a real chance of winning. Those on the left who have been part of the official yes campaign, Radical Independence Campaign, Green Yes, National Collective, Labour for Independence, Women for Independence, English Scots for Yes, Yes LGBT, Scots Asians for Yes and any other pro-independence networks should be immensely proud of what they have achieved. I am really in awe of them for creating such a strong and diverse movement. On the left we are used to being in the minority and facing an uphill battle. The yes campaign started with such a battle and made huge gains despite not having the backing of the media or the majority of elites. This is a huge positive development. It inspires me to think that there may be hope for radical political change in the UK yet. It suggests that it is not impossible to build a movement for positive change that is capable of winning.

In most elections people are asked to back one party or another: to select one group of elites to rule over them. However, the referendum was a directly democratic event: it asked people to make a choice themselves. This is part of why it had so much power to get those who dismiss politics as a farce to participate. The fact that people were voting not for some elites to rule was not fully grasped by the BBC who showed pictures of ‘campaign head quarters’ as the results came in and talked about votes for the yes campaign or for the better together campaign. These votes were not for a campaign. They were votes in favour of a particular decision. Talking of those video streams of campaign headquarters there was a stark difference between the young careerist political types shown at ‘Better Together’ headquarters with their smart dress and rosettes showing party allegiances and the rag tag collection of people at the media office for a part of the yes campaign that the BBC showed. Although these people looked predominantly middle class they did not look like wannabe prospective politicians from good universities and moneyed backgrounds (the type you usually see at campaign headquarters). Furthermore, they did not declare themselves as ‘the campaign’ but a part of a wider movement doing some media stuff. This showed how the yes campaign brought about a different kind of politics. It was not just the debating society types hoping for a career in politics that were involved in the campaigning.

The weekend before the referendum, where Sauchiehall Street meets Buchannan Street at the Donald Dewar statue, masses of friendly smiling people who turned up to support independence. Being in the crowd it felt to me like Scotland was becoming a democracy of the kind civil society champions like the Scottish Enlightenment thinker Adam Ferguson and communitarians like Michael Sandel endorse. It felt like a demos had emerged where people actively and loudly engaged with politics. Whilst outside the BBC protesting at the poor journalism mentioned earlier in this article a woman started to explain to me how single mothers were being imprisoned for not paying their license fee. Her enthusiasm and passion for political issues was clear as was her fearless discussion of them with anyone she came across. If Scotland can keep this up then there is a chance for a better future. I just hope that the energy, interest and commitment that the vote inspired can be maintained and used to make gains and improve life in Scotland and the wider UK. Already, there has been an ongoing debate as to how to move forwards and remain engaged. I hope that something beautiful can come out of this debate.