The two-vote system for the Scottish Parliament always seems to confuse some voters. The constituency vote is straightforward, a first past the post election, similar to the vote used for UK General Elections, where the candidate with the most votes gets elected. However, it’s the regional list vote (sometimes called the 2nd vote) which leads to confusion. Too many people have differing opinions on how this vote is calculated and the best strategy to maximise the SNP (or even the support for Independence parties).
Every time the Scottish Parliamentary elections come around the same old arguments appear over who to vote for on the regional list vote. This time around the emergence of a number of Independence supporting parties have added some extra confusion to the potential options.
The idea behind these new parties is that the SNP picked up so many constituency MSPs that it resulted in them only managing to pick up a few MSPs from the regional list votes. That resulted in some regions where the SNP didn’t pick up a regional list MSP and a perception that too many British Unionists were elected. To overcome this some of the new Independence supporting parties are planning to stand only on the list to try to remove these BritNats from our parliament. However, to do this they need to get somewhere in the region of 6% of the regional list vote – is this attainable?
The SNP are currently highlighting the importance of this regional list vote, with presentations to members to stress the need for a Both Votes SNP strategy. The argument being that if the SNP can increase its support in the regional list, they can still pick up MSPs from the list. This happened at the 2016 election including in the North East where the SNP won all the constituency seats but still had a strong regional list vote and managed to pick up one MSP from that list.
The Greens have successfully used the ‘2nd Vote Green’ strategy persuading many voters to choose their list candidate as almost their second choice. And let’s not forget that although the BritNat vote isn’t as dispersed as it used to be, the use of tactical voting within the BritNat voting block has been tried out in the past and possibly accounted for the Tories winning more MPs in Scotland at the cost of the SNP as Labour supporters lent their vote to the Tories to keep the SNP out.
The tactic of SNP supporters switching to one of the new Independence supporting parties so that we get more MSPs who are in favour of Independence has its problems. As mentioned earlier, you need around 6% of the vote to get at least one candidate elected on the list and these new Indy supporting parties are very new and haven’t achieved a breakthrough in recognition with the public. There is also the problem that the Indy vote options is getting very crowded. There will still be some attraction to voting SNP – especially if the SNP can put up credible candidates (more later) – the Greens will still be targeting the list (although there are rumours that they may be putting up 20 or more candidates in constituencies), SSP are likely to be on the list and now we also have Action for Independence (including Solidarity) as well as ISP chasing the list only vote. We also have Scotia Future standing in both constituencies and the list. Without some form of co-ordination it’s unlikely to see how any of the new parties will make the 6% mark. It’s difficult to see the SNP advising members to lend their vote to any other party and only the AFI are interested in trying to co-ordinate Indy supporting candidates – so it looks like it will be difficult for any new party to make the breakthrough, and conversely splitting the Indy vote may actually result in more BritNat politicians getting elected!
However, the SNP need to give the public some credible candidates to vote for, especially if the ISP and others keep pushing the idea that voting for SNP on the list is a wasted vote. After all the Greens have done well with pushing the plan of 2nd vote Green – making people think the list vote is in reality a second vote. If the SNP persist in trying to game the system by using zipping to promote candidates due to the special interest groups they represent will the public appreciate this, if most of the list candidates are those who failed to win a constituency is that not also highlighting that the list is a second choice vote?
The SNP have to make the public believe that there is something or someone worth voting for on the list. This could be achieved by ensuring popular and well-known candidates top all the regional lists. For instance, there is no secret that some of the best SNP talent is wasting its time in Westminster – so why not bring them back to Scotland? Why not have Joanna Cherry top of the Lothians list – she would possibly have a wider appeal than for just one constituency and may help to cement and even increase the SNP list vote in that area? Similarly sticking Mhairi Black at the top of the West of Scotland list could help to stop the drift of SNP votes going to the new Indy supporting parties. What about looking at some of the more high profile Indy campaigners – if they are SNP members could they be promoted to top various regional lists – people like Lesley Riddoch?
The list vote could determine whether we have a majority SNP government or even an Independence majority parliament. If the SNP don’t pick up all the constituency votes which current polls suggest they should, they will still need list MSPs, but putting up candidates that don’t appeal to the public – who now will have a deluge of Indy supporting alternatives – could result in fewer SNP MSPs, and potentially let some BritNat politicians in through the back door.
It’s time the SNP focussed on their core aim of delivering Independence and put all other matters to the side. Creating a rainbow Parliament may be a worthwhile cause but what use is it if we are still tied to the corrupt UK? Putting independence first, putting up credible and popular candidates and the SNP could see their list vote increase.