Today I came across a Twitter reference to a website called “Yes We Can” (http://www.yeswecan.scot/index.php/5-the-scottish-voting-system) and an article there called “The Scottish Voting System“. While it gives a decent introduction to the De Hondt system of voting that will be used to appoint Regional List MSPs, it includes the following
“There are many sources that claim the second vote (especially from SNP voters) should be used ‘wisely’ to help other pro-independence parties gain list seats and hence gain a voice in the Scottish Government. This would also deny Unionist parties list seats into the bargain.
This is a complete and utter MYTH”
The word “myth” is defined as
“a : a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone; especially : one embodying the ideals and institutions of a society or segment of society
b : an unfounded or false notion” (Merriam Webster Online Dictionary).
There are aspects of this assertion which do correspond to that definition. For instance, the assertion is a popular belief – it would be a bad thing if SNP voters don’t vote SNP for regional list. This even makes sense – if you believe the SNP is the party to vote for, should you not vote for it twice? Yes, yes, yes. That is common sense. The problem is that it doesn’t deal with the entire issue, for on the basis of every poll that has come out in more than at least the last six months, the SNP are heading for a majority, even on the basis of constituency seats won alone. But, as we discussed before, what kind of opposition is it better that it faces? One that is predominantly unionist, or Sillars’ independence Parliament where the majority of the opposition might not agree with policy specifics, but like the SNP is committed to independence?
“Yes we can” works through a scenario where, in the representative region they work through, Labour take four seats and the Tories two. The SNP are left with one. Yet as they note Labour “had half the votes of the SNP”, while winning four seats.
“The crucial factor at play”, they assert, “is the number of constituency seats won [by the SNP] in the region“, which we accept is important, but not the only matter which is important. This is sort of “look after the constituency seats and the regional seats will look after themselves”. But they won’t, because, as indeed is noted by “Yes we can”, how the system works is that the more constituency seats you win, the more difficult it is to win list seats. If you win nearly all the constituency seats then its about as difficult as it gets to win regional list seats.
“Yes we can” notes tactical voting – voting for the SNP in your constituency, but someone else for Regional List – “would be greatly reduced in effectiveness since there are a number of pro-independence parties standing and the votes would split amongst them.”, and it is the case that if the pro-independence regional list vote is split then this would be likely to be ineffective. At the same time, we have to ask how much less effective than voting SNP twice, and ending up with a single list MSP (or 8 if we gross it up), while Labour and the Tories clean up the rest of the regional list seats, splitting 48 between them? That’s not exactly a great outcome either, is it?
Despite almost every poll pointing to a near clean sweep of the 73 constituency seats (which by itself would give the SNP a majority), it is asserted by “Yes we can” that “any such scheme [of tactical voting] would seriously compromise the chance of the SNP securing a majority government and to be blunt, an SNP majority is in the best interests of every pro-independence party and the Yes movement in general“. The first part of this seems to fly in the face of the evidence we have just now (and indeed the evidence of the Westminster election last year), as it seems likely the SNP will secure a majority simply on the basis of constituency results. However, the latter part is interesting for its reference to the “Yes movement”.
It was a matter of personal regret and concern to me that Yes Scotland was closed down so precipitately after the referendum. Were it to have continued, it would have had to alter its aims to securing independence rather than simply a Yes vote in September 2014. It would have had to seek new, different sources of funding which would probably have been much reduced. But, it arguably had a role to play. For instance, as a non-party pressure group for independence, it could have served to coordinate the work of independence seeking parties as well as maintaining the involvement of those of us who support independence but are unwilling to make a commitment to a specific political party. However, this didn’t happen, Yes Scotland did close down, and instead the existing political parties have cannibalised the Yes vote between them, the main beneficiaries being he SNP, whose membership grew almost exponentially after the referendum, making it the third largest party in the UK, despite operating only in Scotland. In short, it might be argued that narrow sectional political interest took precedence over the aim of independence, whether unintentionally or not.
Had this not happened, had Yes Scotland carried on for instance as Sillars suggests, as a Yes Trust, then, as we noted in our previous entry Yes Trust might have run Regional List candidates which SNP supporters might have voted for. “Yes we can” observes, as we did in our first article (“How far can political altruism take you Part 1”) that there needs to be a significant transfer of votes from SNP at constituency level to something else – Yes Trust for instance – for tactical voting to be effective. We calculated somewhere between 30% and 50%.
It’s fair to say that not every SNP voter would be motivated to support Green, or RISE or Solidarity, and if the vote is split then the effectiveness of the tactic is certainly reduced. However, is it not more likely to work if the SNP vote is asked to vote for candidates whose commitment to independence is as unquestionable as the SNP, and whose policies might be different, but are still be motivated by the fairer Scotland that we were promised during the referendum?
In short, “Yes we can” are wrong when they conclude “Those who insist Tactical Voting can specifically influence the outcome of the seat allocation have misunderstood how the scoring system works (or they have a hidden agenda).” While it’s true that some parties or political groupings have used for their own ends the limited degree to which the SNP are likely to be successful in securing Regional List places, this is not the only possibility. It almost seems as if such as “Yes we can”, Wings over Scotland, and Peter Bell want to keep that possibility concealed, by making the apparently obvious argument to vote SNP x 2, and/or to attack encouragement by supporters of RISE, Solidarity and the Greens to vote for them on the regional list by pointing to the very real dangers of a split vote (though this is likely to return only marginally worse outcomes than voting for the SNP). There are other possibilities, including an agreed “Yes” slate of regional list candidates, produced by a Yes Scotland Trust. It is not, therefore, inevitably a misunderstanding, nor does it have to be a hidden agenda. Rather it’s a commitment to the aim of independence, and suggesting a means by which we might secure Sillars’ “independence Parliament”, rather than a continuation of the Kezia and Ruth show, which “Yes we can” seems quite happy to see continue. Perhaps “Yes we can” doesn’t fully appreciate those possibilities in the regional list vote? Or choses not to?
In all likelihood, it is now far too close to the Holyrood election to revive Yes Scotland as a Yes Trust, and the likelihood is therefore that the opposition to be faced by the next SNP government will be of much the same hue (though perhaps a little smaller) as the one they face today – bitter, carping, misleading, always looking for faults but with no alternative vision of their own. However, there will be another election in five years, and during those five years a Yes Trust could be involved in coming to the more definitive answers that are necessary to address the issues which played badly during the referendum debate – for instance currency, pensions, what to do when the bottom falls out the price of oil and what we might do when it recovers, relations with rUK on independence, etc. In 2021, with an established record of policy proposals – even if only setting out the range of what might be possible or practical – Yes Trust might then be able to run Regional List candidates, and give Scotland the independence Parliament that we might need to finally secure independence.