SP16: The Morning After

I’ll confess to being a lightweight. I snuck off for a few hours sleep right after the Clydesdale results were called and woke up right after the Lothian list so unlike virtually every other political pundit in Scotland right now, I’m able to type only marginally less coherently than normal.

So. How about those results?

The Green contingent has expanded three-fold and whilst I’m more than a little upset that neither of the two candidates covered by my branch, Kirsten Robb and Sarah Beattie-Smith, made it in I’m heartened by the success of the others notably Andy Wightman in Lothians. Who Owns Scotland? We’re about to find out!

My hypothesis that the SNP would come back with another majority appear to have been disproven although a clear pro-independence majority remains. Arguably, the Greens could call this a result significantly in our favour as we move to the wrangling over Parliamentary positioning begins.

I’m willing to be wrong again but I can’t see much appetite for an offer of a formal coalition. It doesn’t seem like good game theory for the SNP to offer up a Ministerial position (almost certainly something like Energy or Environment) just to avoid a two seat minority. Especially when they already have form for running a minority government with a fair degree of success.

I could see a discussion over some kind of Supply and Confidence arrangement based on some concessions that the Greens have campaigned on and over which there’s already a substantial level of support within the SNP membership.

I’ll make one prediction on this point. Unless the SNP are willing to rely on Tory support, Fracking will not happen in Scotland. Good.

I’d be hoping that there might be some more movement over local taxation and, perhaps, the Scottish Government will let Andy formally get his teeth and claws into the Land Reform Bill. That’ll be a joy to watch. The Greens campaigned on giving the Scottish Government the courage to be bolder on a range of issues. Here’s hoping it can.

So, on the vote itself. We saw hints of the total flight of the Right and Unionist vote within Labour as early as November last year but even as the last polls came in they appear to have underestimated the depth of that flight. Ruth Davidson’s campaign to get people to vote Unionist, rather than Conservative, appear to have been successful. What shall be interesting to watch now is what she does with that support. How far can they be pushed on Austerity (or how far can blame for it be deflected) before the Union-at-any-cost vote starts to tally up just that?

Where it leaves Labour is another great unknown. They’ve been utterly wiped from their birthplace in Glasgow and Lanarkshire and have retreated to the Morningside Reds of Edinburgh. They appear to have three choices ahead of them. Either ossify as an increasingly marginal voice in Scottish politics; Abandon the Unionist vote and try to out-left the SNP (I don’t think at this stage that even a drastic Home Rule or Federal position would draw back those now set on independence) or try to out-right the Tories (which would mean claiming, adopting and accelerating Austerity). I cannot honestly see a route back to the forefront of Scottish politics for Labour barring some singularity event such as actual independence or some act of self-destruction within the SNP greater even than the one that UK Labour appear bent on.

The proportionality of AMS was stretched rather to its limits last night. Despite narrowly missing out on a majority the SNP, as the largest party, were the largest beneficiaries of the system gaining approximately 9 seats more than their regional vote percentage would have suggested. The Tories though also benefited gaining about two more seats than their regional vote share whilst Labour broke about even, the Greens losing one seat and the Lib Dems being rather drubbed by the system, losing three seats to the maths. This calculation would have been mitigated by the addition of 6 “Other” seats which, on these results, would have more likely have been distributed amongst the sitting parties rather than going to smaller ones. In most proportional voting systems around the world a minimum threshold of 5% is often applied and, in our case last night, no small party achieved more than 2% nationally or more than 4% in any single region.

Seat Allocation

It’ll be interesting to see if there are any calls for electoral reform based on these results the way even the SNP made a mild complaint about their overwhelming success under FPTP last year.

Another topic which will now need to be thrashed out is the position of Presiding Officer. I reckon that this year the wrangling over whether the party/ies of government or of opposition give up an MSP for the post will be particularly intense this year given the slim margins and the tactical situations faced by each of the parties. The SNP won’t want to dilute their minority any further, Labour won’t want to shrink further either, the Tories and Greens will want to capitalise on their gains to maximum effect and if the Lib Dems lose one more MSP they cease to be an official parliamentary group.

Personally, I’m rather disturbed by the concept of choosing the PO from the MSPs in the first place. Why should the electorate who have only just chosen their representatives have to give one up as the PO must remain neutral, must resign from the political party and whip and have severe restrictions on where and how they vote (Only in the event of a tie and only to maintain the status quo or further the debate). To me, this isn’t a job for a Member of the Scottish Parliament. I’d look towards inspiration from the “checks and balances” of the US. Perhaps the PO should be appointed from a pool of senior judges or similar judicial positions? They are already used to applying impartially the rule of law so should trivially be able to manage Parliament in a neutral manner.

Of course, an alternative to a Presiding Officer could be an elected President, but that is likely to be a discussion for a post-independence situation…

Where do we go from here? I honestly have no idea. Going from bracing for a substantial majority and “the most boring Parliament” of the devolution period (as one pundit put it) to back to the days of actual discussion about policy I think the next five years could be one filled with potential…if we choose to allow it. For a last word:



The Tories Have Delivered Us EVEL


The White Ensign. Possibly a fitting flag for the United Kingdom of England (plus others).

Thursday, October 22nd 2015. The day that Westminster ended, finally, any pretence that the United Kingdom consisted either of “One Nation” or of four nations joined as equals.

Now we live in a state in which one of those nations maintains a right and power over the other three and representatives from those latter nations have fewer rights to speak, to influence and to legislate than their colleagues and, by way of extension, voters from those nations have less control over how their state is run.

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How Scotland Votes: A Guide to the Scottish Elections

A Guide to the Holyrood Election System

The Debating Chamber of the Scottish Parliament Building. Source: Wikipedia

The Debating Chamber of the Scottish Parliament Building. Source: Wikipedia

I know that it feels like we’ve just finished a rush of politics and campaigning and that the next step will be a while away but believe me, a year is not a long time and the 2016 Scottish Parliament General Election will be upon us before we know it. The various parties and actors are already starting to formulate their plans and draw their lines and the speculation over what could result from the vote and how those results could be achieved are being debated over the various Internet and social media channels.

In much of this speculation and amongst my conversations with some of my peers I’ve realised that more than 15 years after the first Scottish elections there remains much to be said about our level of knowledge about how our votes are cast and how the seats are calculated. Here, therefore, is a guide to how it all works.

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Why Democracy?

I’ve just listened to a very interesting discussion on The Public Philosopher program on Radio 4 asking just why do we use democracy to decide our politics and is it a fair and equal system?


(Click image for link to program or click: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02h91r3)

Some of the questions raised include:

What does it mean to be a “fair” and “equal” system?

We currently give every voter one vote in an election but some have suggested giving some people more than one (indeed, in some elections such as the Labour Party’s electoral college based leadership elections some people do receive multiple votes each “worth” a different weight). Is this “fair”? Who should decide who gets more and would, say, a merit based exam merely exacerbate class division?

How does this link in to non-proportional voting systems like First Past The Post? Clearly if you are a swing voter in a marginal constiuency your vote has a far greater impact on the final result than a minor party voter in a seat that another party considers “safe”. Is it really a democracy at all when you can win a seat on 30% of votes cast, especially when turnout itself is only around 50%? (For more: https://thecommongreen.wordpress.com/2015/03/05/under-fptp/).

Questions were raised on gender equality within parties. The Scottish Greens have a clear commitment to gender equality and have structural and procedural levers in place to ensure it. Here we could consider that favouring someone over another for gender reasons may not be equal or fair but if it is done to correct an imbalance which cannot otherwise be eliminated then it is clearly has to be. One could spend a maddening amount of time thinking about the distinctions within equality and fairness.

Or does Democracy mean something else entirely? Is it less about how everyone gets to have a voice and more about making your government accountable? The “benevolent dictator” may protect everyone’s rights and make good decisions this year but if he gets replaced or goes bad next year and you can’t get rid of them then is that a stable system?

On the other side, there is a movement at the moment pushing for participatory decision making where the general public all vote on each policy rather than delegating a relatively small group of people to represent them. Does this harness the power of collective decision or does it simply allow majority oppression of the majority and populist policy? Is a fair democracy sometimes about making an unpopular but right and just decision?

All in, a thought provoking discussion and well worth a listen.

TCG logo

Under First Past the Post, We All Come Second

There is a gaping flaw in the UK election system which desperately needs addressed.  The First Past the Post (FPTP) system through which Westminster politicians are elected is deeply unrepresentative and encourages apathetic MPs.

At first glance, it is a simple and straightforward system. Every citizen gets one vote; each votes for a party within their constituency; whichever party gets the most votes (not a majority, just more than any other) sends one MP to Westminster; the party with the most MPs forms the government.
Underneath this simplicity lurks a flaw in our democracy. FPTP does not fairly represent the opinions of the people. In the 2010 General Election, the Conservatives became the largest party in parliament, winning 47% of the 650 parliamentary seats with only 36.4% of the electoral vote. Labour became the second largest party, with 40% of the seats and just 29% of the vote. While larger parties gained, smaller parties suffered: had the election been run under a representative voting system, the Green parties of the UK would hold five or six seats in Westminster, rather than only one.
The problem gets worse the closer the race becomes. Imagine a constituency election with three roughly equally parties, each receiving roughly 25% of the vote: if one managed to squeeze ahead and win with 26%, they would win the entire seat, and 74% of voters would have an MP who did not share their beliefs. Repeat this across the nation, and it would be possible for a party supported by 25% of the population to have no representatives in parliament.
First Past the Post routinely denies representation for supporters of all but the largest two or three parties.
On the scale of the whole country there is another issue, equally unfair. Either by accident or by design (through gerrymandering) it is possible for some constituencies to have perpetually large majorities for one single party. These are the so-called “Safe Seats.” Since the winner takes all, it becomes pointless for other parties to sincerely contest these seats, and so the quality of opposition eventually drops to the point that the party with the majority can stand almost any candidate and be sure they will win.
This has a corrosive effect on democracy. On average, just 9% of seats change hands during a UK General Election: whomever wins them, wins the election. These “Swing Seats” becomes the only constituencies that matter, and so political parties target their policies to appeal to the voters within them and neglect the rest.
For example, Somerset contains nine of the two hundred seats in the UK most likely to change hands next year. Resources focused there may win more seats, so policy has more impact if made to suit the people living there. Voters in Clydesdale matter little in comparison, and their wants, needs and complaints can be safely ignored.
Even within “Swing Seats,” the threat that the seat and so the nation might be lost to an unwelcome political party causes many people to vote tactically, passing over the smaller parties they prefer to back the least odious party that can win. Little wonder that voter turnout has been declining for decades.
The Scottish Green Party supports a more representative, proportional voting system that allows people to vote for the parties whose policies they prefer without “wasting” their vote. With a proportional vote, the tired old line of “Vote for Us to Keep Out Them,” becomes redundant, and people are free to vote for the party whose policies they approve.
For now, FPTP ensures voters in “Safe Seats” are ignored and taken for granted, while voters in “Swing Seats” are cynically exploited, often frightened into voting for the big parties. The established parties do as they please, and anyone who supports change is disenfranchised.

First Past the Post delivers governments that serve no one. Under it, we all come second.


This article was first published at the Lanarkshire Green Party website: http://www.lanarkshiregreens.org.uk/content/under-first-past-post-we-all-come-second