Note: This article assumes that readers are fully familiar with the AMS voting system used in Scotland. If you are not or would like a refresher please read this article first:- How Scotland Votes: A Guide to the Scottish Elections
Greening Your Vote in the Scottish Elections
I’ve mentioned in a previous post that we in the Greens general regard the First Past the Post voting system as an unfair and unrepresentative system. It punishes all of those parties which poll less than about 35% of the electorate with fewer seats than they deserve whilst rewarding those parties which can achieve just slightly more than that with almost all of the power. For a smaller party like the Greens this means that looking for seats within the constituency vote is a particularly difficult enterprise and, in all likelyhood, would result in a waste of resources more effectively spent elsewhere.
For this reason it is very likely that you, as a voter, will not see a Green candidate on your constituency ballot paper next year (although exceptions like party co-convenor Patrick Harvie’s campaign in Kelvin will be one to seriously watch).
The great advantage within Scottish politics, however, lies in the Regional ballot. I’ve detailed in my How Scotland Votes article how this ballot is used to ensure proportionality within the parliament as a whole but this article intends to deal with another of its great strengths. The regional ballot allows voters who may describe themselves as “traditional” voters of one party to compliment or nuance their voting intentions by voting for another party as well.
I will here argue that in the Holyrood elections next year there is great scope for many voters to consider seeing a regional vote for the Greens not as a “splitting” of their vote but as a strengthening of it. Even when your “traditional” Constituency affiliation has been with the Labour party or the Liberal Democrats or with the SNP there is much that you may also find appealing within Green politics and much which may lead to you to giving us your Regional vote.
The Labour party is in a rather sorry state right now. Downtrodden by electoral defeat after electoral defeat and crippled by a leadership seemingly unable to understand the basic facts of why its support has been leaving it the party has recently become more concerned with trying not to offend Tory voters by actually opposing the Tories than it is with recovering lost core support. There is even, astoundingly, talk that the upper echelons have discussed abstaining from the first purely-Tory budget in 18 years rather than voting against it (even knowing that they couldn’t actually be responsible for bringing down such a budget due to the Tory majority).
Up here in Scotland, another leadership crisis has resulted in a contest in which the primary front-runner is someone who just a few months ago claimed that they were not capable of taking on the job. If there is to be a party which can effectively oppose the Scottish National Party which is, as Patrick Harvie noted at the RiC Conference last year, on track towards a kind of majority in Scotland to which the Labour party couldn’t even have dreamt, then it will need to come from a party not afraid to support when support is justified and not afraid to criticise when critique is required. The Greens will not fall into the same SNP=BAD trap into which the Labour party has fallen.
As a Labour voter, however, you do not just wish a party against the SNP. You also want to support the policies of the left within working environments. You wish to support the rolling back of anti-trade union laws which strip workers of their rights and make it harder to protect against the crushing blows of the Tory austerity agenda.
The Greens support such collective policies and wish to go even further, encouraging fairer industrial democracy where workers themselves help to organise and run their workplaces and help to break down the adversarial attitudes of “Shop floor versus management” which have lead to unions sometimes getting a worse reputation than their vital services warrant.
For a voter who still believes in the Labour party and in Labour values a strong message could be sent to the party that your values have not shifted even when the leadership’s have. You may be the sign that the party should stop trying to win unwinnable Tory voters and start looking back at its core support. You may be the catalyst for the reversal of its fortunes and the revitalisation of the Labour movement.
There’s been a lot of talk among the SNP about using the Green regional vote as a tactical lever to maximise the number of openly pro-independence MSPs in Holyrood. The basic principle is that, as noted in my How Scotland Votes article, if the SNP do as well in the Holyrood constituency vote as they did in the UK General Elections then any list votes given to the SNP become severely weakened in terms of winning additional seats. One recent poll [Survation, 14th July 2016], for example, resulted in the SNP winning 70 out of 72 constituency seats based on 56% of the constituency vote, similar results to the UK GE. They also were projected to receive 45% of the regional vote but win only 1 additional regional seat. The tactical theory goes that if even just one quarter of the SNP/SNP voters which effected that resulted voted SNP/Green instead then the Greens could gain 12 additional seats on top of the 12 they were polled to win for the “price” of only one single SNP MSP. (If that seems unintuitive, please reference again the primer article and try plugging some example numbers into election result calculators such as the one provided by Scotland Votes). This would result in the Greens becoming the second largest party in Parliament and hence the primary party of Opposition.
I’ll be quite honest though. I’m not much keen on single issue tactical voting like this as it can, if used badly, lead to unfortunate side effect. Imagine, for instance, if the only other pro-independence party in Holyrood was one nearly identical to UKIP. Would you be quite so keen on their support?
We need to therefore examine the other impacts of a Green party which may well become one of the primary parties of opposition in this Holyrood election. Why would a Green regional vote compliment and strengthen an SNP constituency vote more than would another SNP vote?
Policy wise, we share very similar goals. Indeed, we often go further on them than the current SNP government have been willing to. Many SNP members have expressed to me their desire for stronger statements and actions against things like TTIP and fracking. The Greens have already issued such statements and would be more than willing, even in opposition, to support action on these. The Green vote will help the SNP gain the confidence to come down off the fence on these and other issues without fear of losing a vote in a potentially slim majority. Completely the opposite of the Conservative’s recent climbdown over the repeal of the foxhunting ban due to that very fear.
The Greens are strongly principled. When we find ourselves in agreement with others, we say so. When we do not, we also say so and give our reasons for it. This is what a mature Opposition is supposed to do. We are not interested in the current simple-minded “Aw Agin Thou, For SNP=BAD” trap into which the Unionist parties have fallen (I feel justified in lumping them all together at this point. How many times at FMQs have the three of the leaders and representatives stood up and asked basically the same question three times?). We shall criticise when warranted but we shall offer solutions to problems rather than simply repeating the problem.
This all brings up an important point. With a strong Green group sitting in Holyrood the whole dynamic of Parliament changes dramatically. Right now, the political centre of both the Scottish and UK Parliaments lies somewhere near the absolute centre right of policy. The SNP have been triangulating around the left of centre ground formerly occupied by Labour who have been shifting substantially rightwards to follow the UK party in their futile attempt to out-Tory the Tories.
By shifting the political anchor in Scotland to the left of the SNP a strong Green group would not only lead to policy which better aligns with a substantial portion of SNP members it, along with the effective use of devolved powers, would lead to a rapid sense of divergence in philosophy between Scotland and rUK. It is this, not simply sheer numbers of MSPs, which will drive the next push for independence.
So this is it. If you are an SNP voter who wishes to see an independent Scotland; nuclear free and powered by our vast renewable resources; committed to fairness and equality for all; deeply against the worst depredations of the investment banks and desiring to protect our public services from wanton privatisation then, by all means, the SNP are capable of delivering it. By giving your regional vote to the Greens, you can make sure that they do.
It’s fair to say that their flirtation with power in the last Parliament was a complete disaster for the Lib Dems. Under Nick Clegg they simply sold out far too many of their principles in exchange for what they thought was power. Instead, they became the scapegoats for much of what went wrong during the previous term and many of their voters, especially to the right of the party, concluded that if they were going to play at being Tories they may as well simply vote Tory [New Labour should heed this as a warning of their present course].
The remaining liberal core of the party has been stranded without much representation from their own party. One of my liberal colleagues recently remarked “My kind of politics has gone.”
The new leader, Tim Farron, has a rather Sisyphean challenge ahead of him if he is to rebuild the party to anywhere near the highs it saw under the late Charles Kennedy and he had, during his election campaign, made several comments suggesting that he would return the party to staunch liberal values and become, in effect, a liberal “signpost” (to use Tony Benn’s term currently back in political parlance). Just this morning, however, on the Andrew Marr Show Farron, now elected leader, has apparently backtracked stating instead that he will continue to hold the party to that increasingly narrow sliver of policy between the Labour party and the Tories as they continue their seemingly endless shift rightwards and will not rule out working with the Tories again in the future.
So what for the Liberal voter left behind by their party? Where can you find a home or where can you find an anchor to help pull your party back to its roots?
The Greens still hold to many of the policies once held and since ditched by the Liberals. We still firmly believe in the Financial Transaction (or Robin Hood) Tax the Lib Dems cast aside as part of the coalition. We still believe in free university education for all and our commitment to decentralisation, truly down to a local level, is beyond doubt.
Farron recently made a very good showing in a recent interview on environmental issues and there is much to commend within it. If he shows the same commitment to these values as he has to ending political triangulation he’s going to need another signpost from his members and voters to pull him back to those values.
In Scotland, with both the constituency and regional votes, a liberal voter, especially one who lives in one of the liberal core constituencies, can send this precise message. For many of the same reasons outlined here and in the above sections, the Green regional vote can send the message to the greater Liberal movement that you know in which direction that movement should go.
This idea of “splitting” your Scottish election vote between the constituency and regional ballots may be unfamiliar to some hence I would greatly welcome feedback from anyone affiliated to any of the parties mentioned above. How do you feel about voting for two different parties in the Scottish elections? Have you thought about this kind of thing in previous elections? What else do you consider before marking your ballots?