Arc of Prosperity

Scottish Independence within the EU – with a Scandinavian Slant


The second vote

Polling Place
Polling Place.
The current infighting amongst independence supporters is frankly driving me doolally. I completely understand that very few Unionist voters can be dragged away from voting for Labour, the Tories, the Lib Dems or UKIP at this stage, so the easiest way to win votes is from within the pro-independence block, but if people don’t calm down soon, we’re going to endanger the prospects of winning the next indyref.

So let’s take a deep breath and look at things rationally.

Of course all Independentistas should vote SNP with their first/constituency vote. A vote for the Greens or RISE would clearly be a wasted vote that at worst would allow Labour or the Tories to win a seat. The second/list vote is much more “interesting”, but here’s my take on it:

  • It’s important to realise that Scotland consists of eight regions that don’t share votes in any way. National polls are therefore of limited interest when you try to work out how to vote in your region. For instance, a vote for the Greens could very well be wasted in West Scotland and South Scotland but not in Glasgow and Lothian. You might want to have a look at the detailed predictions on the SP16 Rolling Polling blog for more information about your constituency and region.
  • Unfortunately opinion polls aren’t very precise with regard to small parties, so the support for the Greens and RISE tend to jump up and down a bit. To make it even worse, nobody seems to have done a full-sized poll in any region — all we have is regional breakdowns in national polls, and the numbers are so small that the statistical uncertainty goes through the roof. In other words, we just don’t know what will happen. We can be confident that the SNP will win most constituencies, but we don’t know whether they’ll fail to win zero, three or ten of them. We don’t know whether the Greens will scrape through in Glasgow and Edinburgh but not elsewhere, or whether they’ll win at least one seat in every region. We don’t know whether RISE will get in anywhere. This uncertainty means that tactical voting is risky and can backfire.
  • I blame the electoral system. The combination of first-past-the-post constituencies with d’Hondt lists, with the complication that there aren’t enough list seats to make the result fully proportional makes it hard to figure out what will happen. Mathematically speaking I guess it boils down to the question whether the number of list votes cast for the SNP divided by the number of constituencies they’re expected to win plus one is likely to be smaller or greater than the number of list votes cast for the Greens in a region; however, the current polls are simply not precise enough to answer this question.
  • Another way of looking at this is to look at who the list votes are most likely to benefit. For the Greens and RISE, it’s as simple as looking at who’s ranked number one (and perhaps two) in each region, whereas for the SNP, you need to ignore the candidates who are likely to win a constituency. For instance, in the Glasgow region number one and two on the list are Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf, and I’ll be very surprised indeed if they don’t win their own seats. A list vote for the SNP is therefore most likely to benefit fifth-placed Rhiannon Spear (Young Scots for Independence’s national convenor); voting Green is effectively a vote for Patrick Harvie and perhaps Zara Kitson; and a vote for RISE will benefit Cat Boyd (if they get enough votes to get in at all).

In effect, we all need to figure out on our own how to vote. As an example, here’s what I’ve been thinking: I stay in Eastwood in West Scotland. This is one of the few constituencies that the Unionists have a chance of winning (and Jackson Carlaw probably has a much better chance than the incumbent, Ken Macintosh); if they succeed in this, there is a good chance that the SNP will be able to win a list seat if they get enough second votes (because the number of constituency seats gets subtracted before list seats are allocated). At the same time, the Greens haven’t done very well in this region in the past, so it’s quite possible a vote for them will be wasted. In West Scotland I would therefore argue that a list vote for the SNP is less likely to be a wasted vote than one for the Greens.

Then there’s the personal aspect. A list vote the SNP is most likely to help elect Stewart Maxwell, while voting for the Greens would benefit Ross Greer, and that’s a total non-brainer: Stewart Maxwell is a wonderful MSP — he is an extremely hard-working parliamentarian, has a great media profile, lives in the constituency, is always approachable, and is just a great guy — whereas Ross Greer seems to have made quite a few enemies already during his much shorter political career (see for instance this and this).

I will therefore give both my votes to the SNP on 5th May, and I will recommend that you do the same if you live in the West Scotland region. However, I appreciate that the calculations might look different elsewhere. For instance, I would love to see Andy Wightman elected to the Scottish Parliament, so I can understand why people living in the Lothian region might choose to vote SNP + Green.

The thing to bear in mind is that this election basically consists of eight separate regional elections, and what’s rational in one of them might seem crazy elsewhere. We also haven’t seen any really detailed regional opinion polls, so there is a lot of guesswork involved in this. You won’t know until the day after the election whether giving your list vote for the SNP, the Greens or RISE would have been most useful, so unless you have a time machine, you can’t make a purely rational, logical choice, but have to rely on your gut feeling to a certain extent.

Let’s all do what we feel is best, based on where we stay, and let’s not fall out with our fellow independence supporters if they reach a different conclusion. The next indyref campaign could be just a year away, and then we’ll need to stand shoulder to shoulder again.

4 thoughts on “The second vote

  • alasdair smith

    great article Thomas. I agree wholeheartedly with your comments about stewart.

  • Thomas, the next #indyref won’t happen at all without an SNP majority in Holyrood. There’should only 1 way to achieve that and it’s Vote SNP 1&2.

  • Pingback: The Boring Election – Mewsing Out Loud

  • It’s interesting that you link to my blog, then proceed to make some statements that are, at best, iffy based on the data presented there. Very disappointing.

    For example, in the West Region, my calculations have NOT ONCE this year predicted an SNP list seat but have suggested a Green in 13 of 18 polls this year. In cases where that Green is not predicted by my calculator, it has instead been Labour or the Tories taking the seat. The links provided to sully Ross Greer’s reputation as utterly laughable. It’s well known that Wings and Greer have nothing but contempt for each other, and the Clydebank Post story is utter sensationalist nonsense, completely overblowing what was a decision taken by a large group of party representatives.

    With all due respect, given that you link to my blog as a guideline then completely ignore the West results contained therein, it’s very hard not to come to the view you are letting an unfairly formed opinion of the Green candidate there influence your completely false suggestion that “a list vote for the SNP is less likely to be a wasted vote than one for the Greens” in the West region. By all means, argue for an SNP vote on the basis of the strength of the candidates or party, but don’t spout utter nonsense about wasted votes.

    For South, the story is somewhat more complex. The occasional expectation of Tory constituency gains does tend to see the occasional smatter of SNP list seats to compensate. However, South has a similar record to West in terms of suggestions that it will elect a Green MSP, making it unlikely a Green vote in South will be “wasted.”

    There’s also the fact that Greens are polling on average 8% nationally at the moment. It’s absolutely true to state there is no rock solid method of estimating how that will be spread regionally, but there is no conceivable national breakdown of results that would see that return only the two MSPs they presently have in Glasgow and Lothian regions – it would certainly elect a crop of Greens across the country, and quite possibly one in each region.

    It nonetheless remains my personal advice, as it has been throughout the campaign (albeit advice I studiously avoid offering on my polling blog itself, which presents only the results of polls and does not encourage a particular voting strategy), that individuals should vote for the party and/or candidate that best suits their views.

    Rather than seeking to game the system, which is indeed less than optimal (AMS is pretty dire), people should have the courage of their convictions. For a rock solid SNP voter, by all means, vote SNP on both ballots. But for a Green minded SNP voter, who might quite like to see both parties well represented in parliament, a Green vote in any region is a vote well used, not a vote wasted. And, naturally, for someone whose inclinations tend towards pure Greenery, they should have every confidence in voting for the party.


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