The Rev revs again

Stuart Campbell has once again posted on Wings, arguing that people who argue as I have done, that a vote for the SNP on the Regional List (the List) could be better used by being put to another independence-minded party, “apparently STILL don’t understand either the Holyrood electoral system or basic arithmetic”. As I hope to demonstrate, this most recent post by the Rev suggests that it’s not such as me who fails to understand basic arithmetic, and certainly not us who don’t understand how the system works.

Essentially what Campbell has done is to start from the 2011 election, compared the SNP vote share on the List to their forecast vote share today on the List, and multiplied their 2011 vote by that multiplier. So the SNP in 2011 got 45% of the list vote. Just now the polls suggest they will get 46% of the list vote, so a multiplier of 1 (actually 1.013 he points out). Thus he multiplies the 2011 votes by 1. In the same way, Labour get 0.72, the Tories 1.2 and the Lib Dems 0.76, while the Greens get 1.8.

Using this methodology he adjusts the 2011 votes, and assumes that the SNP will win every seat other than Orkney & Shetland (which will go Lib Dem) and two in the south of Scotland (which will go Tory). Then working through every region on this basis – adjusted 2011 votes and with the SNP usually winning all the constituencies, he demonstrates that the outcome would be as follows

Labour 24 (+2 i.e. two more than 2011)
Conservative 17 (+5)
Green 9 (+7)
SNP 5 (-11)
Lib Dem 1 (-2)
Ind 0 (-1)

Thus horror of horrors, the SNP have lost11 regional list seats, or as Rev Campbell puts it

“And what we find is that a very significant swing towards the Greens in the list vote actually results in FIVE FEWER pro-independence MSPs on the list. The Greens gain seven seats overall, but every one was already a pro-independence seat.

(One in Lothian vacated by the sadly-deceased Margo McDonald, and the other six at the expense of the SNP, who also lose a further five to Labour and the Tories.)

It’s then left to the SNP to do the heavy lifting of ensuring there’s still a majority at Holyrood for independence by winning nearly all the constituency seats.”

Trying to put this as delicately and kindly as I possibly can – this is total bollocks! Indeed, it is actually quite hard to know where to start on the various parts of its nonsense.

The major problem is that Campbell has “projected” from the current polls that the SNP will win 69 constituency seats – that they will win every seat in every region bar two – Highlands & Islands, and South of Scotland. In 2011, they won “only” 53. The two years – 2011 and 2016 – are not directly comparable without much more.

As John Curtice reminds us in the Electoral Reform Society paper that, however unintentionally, was the touch paper to light this dispute within the Yes movement, (, there are two parts to the electoral system for the Scottish Parliament. One is the regular first past the post system in 73 constituencies. The second part, attempting to introduced some sort of proportionality to the system, as Curtis puts it, “In this part voters are invited to cast a vote for a list of candidates nominated by a political party (or for an individual Independent candidate should there be one on the ballot paper). Voters can vote either for the same party as the one they backed on the constituency ballot, or for a different party. Either way, the total number of these ‘list’ votes that are cast for each of the parties is tallied up in each of eight regions of Scotland into which Scotland is divided for this purpose. Once those totals are known seven ‘additional’ list seats are allocated in each region (making 56 across Scotland as a whole) such that the total number of constituency and list seats won by each party is as proportional as possible to the share of the list vote won by each party in that region”

Therefore, the more constituency seats a party wins, in order to restore proportionality, the number of list votes for each party is divided by the number of seats it has won + 1. Thus if the SNP, as Curtice goes on to consider, won all nine seats in Lothian, their list vote on the first round to select the first list member, would have been divided by 10 (9+1).

Thus one of the reasons for the SNP’s loss of list seats, which Campbell choses to just ignore, is because he projects that they will win 69 constituencies, compared to 53 constituencies in 2011. For instance, in Table 1 of his report, Curtice works through the allocation of regional list seats in Fife & Mid-Scotland in 2011. At that election the SNP “only” won 8 of 9 seats in that region, but manage to take the final (7th) seat quite narrowly from Labour. However, if they had won every seat in that region they would have won no list seats at all, since with their list vote divided by 9 in 2011 they only just manage to take the 7 list seat, but had their list vote been divided by 10 (i.e. 9 constituencies +1) this would have been too much of a disadvantage and the 7th seat would have gone to the Labour Party.

Secondly, it is therefore, an utter nonsense to somehow blame any swing to the Greens for the SNP’s loss of list seats. They have lost list seats because they have won more constituency seats. It’s how the system is supposed to work. It is quite unbelievable that someone with the depth of knowledge of Stuart Campbell seems to misunderstand this fundamental aspect of the Scottish electoral system. Let’s be quite clear about this, as the SNP vote grew post referendum, and particularly post Westminster General Election last year, this situation has become increasingly obvious. But no attempt has been made to address the problem of how SNP voters might most constructively use their second vote. For instance, as Curtice has indicated they might consider voting for another independence – “That would appear to imply that under this scenario many a list vote for the SNP would be ‘wasted’, that is it would fail to contribute towards the election of an MSP. Indeed, under our scenario that proves to be the case for any regional list vote cast for the SNP anywhere other than in the Highlands & Islands region, the only region where the party is projected to win any list seats.”

Instead, the only advice to SNP voters is #bothvotesSNP and from a coterie of commentators including James Kelly (!%29), G A Ponsonby ( and Peter Bell ( One might want to ask why, but while there are a number of hypotheses, there are no certain explanations. However, Liam Stevenson (a RISE list candidate for Central Scotland) offers some interesting thoughts.

“The reality is that the SNP are not the only party that are pro-indy. Now, there are others – all of whom offer their own vision as to what an independent Scotland should look like. If we have a parliament that is top heavy with Yes advocating parties of varying colours, at the cost of unionist MSPs, it is not only stronger for democracy – in that it creates a broader parliamentary force which represents a cross-section of the Scottish electorate, as opposed to everyone hedging their bets on the SNP, but it is also stronger for the independence movement for this exact same reason.”

While Stevenson has his own agenda (being in RISE) to argue for other indy supporting parties, he is right when he says that voting tactically could reduce the number of Unionist MSPs in the next Parliament, IF it is done to the degree necessary. We have already explored this in a couple of earlier blogs. However, he is also right when he argues that

“if the UK government see that we have returned a parliament with cross party support for independence, then it is another kick in the teeth for them…”

Right now the Unionist parties can attack independence by attacking the SNP – any weakness or failure on their part can be used to chip at confidence in independence. But if there is support in Holyrood for independence from parties other than the SNP then the attack on independence has to become a wider one on the entire country. Once the equation of independence = only SNP has been broken, then the attack has to become much more amorphous. For instance, to the extent the leadership of an independence campaign extends beyond the SNP, then the sort of attack that was regularly made on Salmond would no longer suffice. Such attacks would become much more difficult and would have to be much wider. Given the possibility of

And just as important is his observation that

“We witnessed throughout the referendum campaign that the Yes movement was so much more than the SNP”. Yes might have been disproportionately SNP, but one of its key strength was that people of different political view, or members of different political parties (or none) came together in a way that demonstrated how the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts. While the SNP may have been far and away the largest part, others from other parties and none played their own part. The fact is that the SNP were not the entire independence movement, and to vote for anyone other than the SNP is not a vote against independence, but a vote to further the independence debate at Holyrood from one of “if independence” to one about “how independence”. In that respect the mutterings of the above commentators is both partial and unhelpful.