Vote however you want. It’s what the Scottish system is designed for.
So here’s my take on the ‘both votes SNP’ bollocks that’s going around.
There’s a lot of speculation about this or that scenario, what’s going to happen, what we do or don’t know, and most of it in my little bubble is a bit of an argument between SNP supporters and Scottish Greens – with the Greens as the lefty party arguably best placed to scoop up the list votes of lefty SNP voters.
So what do we actually know?
We know the SNP are likely to win big
We have the SNP sweeping almost every constituency in Scotland in basically every poll and we have the evidence from 2015GE to look to as well. Is it a dead cert that the SNP will win almost every constituency seat in the country? No. Is it quite possible? Yeah, it’s very likely indeed. And sweeping the constituency votes does mean you have too much overhang to get more than maaaaybe one MSP off the list in a given region (already the case in many regions in the last SPE). To say that list votes for the SNP are wasted is only to say that they’re likely to do ‘a bit better’ as a party than in 2011. Does that not seem like a pretty safe bet to you? As much as one can never be fully certain of anything, I think we can be about as certain as is physically possible of that one.
We know the result will be representative of what we as a nation has voted for
With AMS you get what you vote for, collectively speaking. The ‘top-up’ method means that the overall number of MSPs delivered to Holyrood will be roughly representative of the % support they get on the regional list – that’s the one where you vote for a party rather than a representative. Although this system was put in place in a relatively naked attempt to prevent the SNP ever getting a majority (hah) is is actually a pretty good system for us PR nerds who care about notions like ‘fair representation’ and ‘being able to vote for who you want’.
So for the SNP voter who doesn’t care who’s in opposition, ‘both votes SNP’ is fine – sure, chuck them your list vote on the off-chance that they don’t have too much overhang in the region for it to gain them more than a single seat if you like.
We know that ‘both votes SNP’ will probably benefit the other bigger parties
‘Both votes SNP’ in this climate with this system is most likely to benefit Labour (or in some places the Tories) more than anyone else. It really is. In case you haven’t already read a million explanations for how, I’ll explain in brief.
You have, say, 10 constituencies in a region, and 7 spots on the regional list. Let’s say the SNP get every single constituency seat in the region. This is entirely possible – it happened in 2011 so there’s no reason to think it won’t happen this year – it’s not like SNP support has gone down, is it? There are straight-up ‘First Past the Post’ constituency votes, just like in Westminster. You know how those work: most votes wins, simple as that.
The regional seats are then assigned according to the % a party has received in the list vote, but that share is weighted according to how many seats they already have in the region from constituency votes. Basically this means that if the SNP sweep every constituency in a region, their share of the list vote becomes next to irrelevant because unless they get literally 100% of the vote they can physically only get one seat regardless.
That means that support for the other ‘big parties’ on the list becomes really important, because Labour (and maybe the Tories now? Hard to say) are still parties with a decent amount of base support. Like, they still have a lot more support than the Greens, say. So if Labour, say, have won no constituency seats in the region, they win big on the regional list. They win particularly big if the bulk of the non-Labour support has gone to a party who are getting next to nothing off the list due to sweeping the constituencies.
Add to that the massive increase in support for smaller leftwing parties. The Scottish Green Party’s membership has increased by something like 900% since September 2014. The base vote for these parties is significantly higher than it was five years ago. This makes it pretty hard to look to 2011 for figures on how smaller parties may perform on the list.
So that is how, from a technical perspective, list vote SNP can benefit Labour. To be fair, this presupposes that SNP voters are unlikely to throw their second votes at a unionist party. We can’t be sure of that, I guess, though it seems pretty certain.
It also presupposes that the SNP maintains their currently strong position – a weakening of that position does make things shakier in terms of how much list votes matter. We can’t know that either. I’m really just talking about likeliest scenarios here.
But all that being said…
Vote for what you want
Fill disclosure in case you hadn’t figured it out yet: I am a member of the Scottish Green Party. The Greens have always fought against tactical voting because usually tactical voting is what denies us votes and keeps us down. For us to advocate for it now that it might benefit us is hypocrisy of the highest order. I believe it makes us look dishonest and insincere.
I do not advocate for tactical voting.
If you are an SNP voter, and you would like to see opposition from the likes of the Greens or even RISE and similar, then yeah, chucking your list vote at a different pro-indie party is a great idea.
But lemme be clear here: that’s not ‘tactical voting’. Voting for what you want isn’t tactical. It’s just voting.
There’s something else I should be honest about when I advocate for you voting for who you want to win…
I don’t care how big the SNP’s majority is
I don’t even care if they get one. I don’t want Scottish independence to come at the cost of political diversity. I need to be honest about that. I don’t care about the SNP losing seats from people voting Green, and to pretend otherwise would be disingenuous.
So when I say to you “Sure, vote for who you like, it probably won’t impact on the SNP seats” I should probably clarify that I don’t care if the SNP lose seats from people voting how they like. Indeed, I think the SNP did better in minority government than they are with a majority (though I like the leader a lot better now). It’s true that AMS isn’t designed to deliver a majority under normal circumstances, but I don’t see that as a bad thing, even if it was originally a Labour plot.
So let’s not pretend here that when I talk about where the average SNP voter’s list vote goes I actually care if it costs them seats – I am confident that they’re going to be the biggest party regardless and if votes sent other ways erode that… good.
What I want is for there to be more Greens in Holyrood and I don’t care if it costs SNP votes to get that because frankly I think the SNP can take it. Most Greens will feel the same. I’m sick of us Greens tiptoeing around pretending we actually like the SNP rather than considering them the best of a bad lot. If I liked the SNP I’d be voting for them. More honesty on all sides would be nice here.
What the SNP actually want
Let’s be frank here: The SNP are very good at electoral maths. They know they are not going to win a lot of seats on the list.
Ultimately, the SNP want both votes not because it will impact their actual representation in terms of MSPs a single jot, but because that sort of mandate – a mandate so large that they could say “So many people voted for us that we literally broke the system“, furthers their ultimate goal of independence for Scotland, and as they smell that goal nearing they care not in the slightest what sort of single-party shitpit Holyrood turns into in the meantime.
I’m glad we’re closer to independence, I truly am – it’s my ultimate goal too. But I liked the SNP in legislative terms a lot better when they were moderated by being a minority power and having to compromise. I believe that a party with as much power as the SNP currently has is good for no one. I would rather independence happened more slowly than it happened at the expense of political diversity.
(I also reckon to be honest that it’s probably better for the SNP if their opposition is mainly made up of unionist arseholes than genuinely left-wing people who also want an independent Scotland. Not better for Scotland, but for the party? Ehhh…)
But that’s what I believe: I’m not asking you to agree with me on that.
The final word
I wouldn’t ask anyone who genuinely supported only SNP policies and had no wish to see any other party with power to vote for anyone but the SNP. They won’t get many – if any – seats out of it, and a high list-vote for the SNP will almost certainly have a positive knock-on effect on Labour (or maybe Tory?) representation, but it will be an honest act – votes from the heart – and that is what PR are systems are there to facilitate.
When I argue for second vote Green, I’m arguing for folk who don’t think the SNP are the bee’s knees but rather the best mainstream option, and who would like to see their policies tempered by another lefty pro-indie party instead of Labour, to not fall for this “both votes or the bad guys win” bullshit. I am arguing for the best of both worlds if and only if that is the world they’d prefer to see. If they don’t care who’s in opposition (or if they’d prefer it was Labour than the Greens), then fine.
Do what you want.
All I’m saying is: don’t not do what you want out of a fear that the SNP won’t squeeze every last ounce of support they can out of the electorate. They’ll be just fine.
Morag Hannah is a Scottish Green Party candidate on the North East Regional List (safely far enough down to avoid Holyrood!) and a writer for Geek Scot. Checkout out our other article on this subject from fellow Geek Scot writer and SNP member, David Barratt here.