There’s been a fair bit written about tactical voting at the Scottish parliamentary elections. The SNP is going to take almost all the 73 constituency seats, it seems, and this makes is quite hard for them to gain additional seats via the corrective proportional mechanism of the ‘second’ or ‘regional list’ vote which voters have. It’s being argued by minor parties like the Greens and small left-wing parties that SNP voters should maximise the ‘independence’ value of their second vote by voting for one of them. This way, they say, SNP supporters will be helping the independence cause while making it harder for the unionist parties to acquire ‘list’ seats.
Here are two points for anyone wavering about how to use their second vote to consider.
First, the d’hondt system is perfectly fair (Thomas Jefferson created his own ‘fair-votes’ system a hundred years before d’Hondt and it produces exactly the same results) yet highly unpredictable. The simple fact is that because voters don’t know enough about how other voters are behaving on election day, they can’t know if a withholding a vote for the SNP and giving it to, say, the Greens instead will help or hinder the independence cause.
Remember that the single seat Labour held onto at the 2015 General Election was its most marginal. All pre-election predictions were that if any Scottish Labour MPs held on to their seats it would be those with huge majorities, or perhaps Jim Murphy benefiting from fillip party leaders usually get in elections. In the end, it was Ian Murray, the Scottish Labour MP with the smallest majority, who survived. This was because the scale of the swing across Scotland was so huge that no Labour MP at all could have survived on the basis of simply having a big majority. Ian Murray survived because he ‘surfed’ the whole problem of majority size – Liberal Democrats deserted their party wholesale, switched to Labour en masse and saved the personable and articulate Murray.
Perhaps the same phenomenon will save a Labour candidate or two on voting day this year. Who knows? Not the journos or academics, not the politicians and certainly not the voters. So it’s impossible for anyone to predict where the SNP may fall short in the constituency vote and possibly pick-up a list seat instead, or where they may even pick-up list seats in addition to all the constituency seats simply on account of the scale of the SNP vote. In addition, it’s impossible for anyone to predict whether their second vote would actually help, say, the Greens to win an extra list seat or simply help Labour or the Tories to one by suppressing the SNP vote where the Greens don’t have enough to pick-up a list seat anyway.
Second, SNP supporters should reflect on the fact that ‘pro-independence’ parties and candidates might simply be saying anything to get elected; whereas they can be fairly sure that their SNP candidates are personally committed to independence. There are fairly powerful theological reasons which suggest it’s odd for far-left socialists and greens to be deeply personally committed to independence. Notions underpinning international socialism and the deep end of the global green movement (more right than left, in truth) tend to mitigate against creating new international barriers; this doesn’t mean they’re incompatible with nationalism but it does behove those folk to explain how they square away their personal philosophies in this respect and it’s hard to see decent evidence of any of that. I’m certainly left with a sneaking suspicion that the ‘pro-independence’ position of some of the small parties is more a matter of them seeing a better chance for election and grabbing it than their truly putting independence at the centre of their agenda.
Finally, driving past the Stirling roundabout the other day I saw a poster imploring people to ‘vote Ruth Davidson for a strong opposition’. This early acceptance of defeat by the Tories, perhaps unique in a national election, represents the Tories’ pitch for middle-class Labour voters who hate the idea of Jeremy Corbyn to slip over to the Tories for the day. The irony here is that few Labour voters will fail to spot that the enormously impressive Davidson is still a Tory; it seems more likely to me that tactical anti-Corbyn Labour voters will vote SNP because they hate the Tories and the politics of Corbyn a lot more than they hate the SNP. The SNP will take these votes because they represent the middle-ground and this further exposes the causes of Scottish Labour’s continued decline even after reaching what seemed a new low last year.
For those voting in May the simple truth is that a vote with the heat and the head will be the same thing. That’s quite a nice thought, isn’t it? People should vote twice for the party they support, feel good in their heart and also know that they haven’t parked their brain in doing so.