Make your first – and second – vote count for a varied voice

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Your second vote is the one that will really count in the Holyrood election in two weeks’ time – this is the one that will determine how democratic our system can be, according to experts.

All predictions point to another SNP majority in the constituencies, but the regional vote is the one that can give Scotland a more proportional representation.

Through our voting system, if your candidate and party does well in the constituency votes, the less likely it will be for them to win ‘list seats’, which are divided up between the other parties and candidates.

The constituency vote – Falkirk East and Falkirk West in this area – is the first past the post ballot that will give us our MSPs.

The regional Additional Member System (AMS) is the one that gives opposition and smaller parties a chance to have a voice in the parliament which can better represent minorities or those who did not vote for the winning party or parties.

There will be 129 MSPs elected again on May 5 – 73 will be first past the post in the constituencies which comprise close to 55,000 electors each within their boundaries.

The other 56 will be list MSPs, with seven elected from each of the eight regions – Central Scotland, Glasgow, Highlands and Islands, Lothian, Mid Scotland and Fife, North East Scotland, South Scotland and West Scotland.

The two Falkirk constituencies are in the Central Scotland region.

The mixed member system was brought in at the Scottish Parliament following devolution back in 1999 as the majority did not want just first past the post elections, which could mean a one-party government with a majority of seats, but with less than half of the overall votes cast throughout the country.

The best example of proportional representation came back in 2003 in the “rainbow parliament” when the list MSPs were made up of rises in support for ‘minority’ parties like the Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP). There was also a number of independent candidates elected, including veteran Falkirk politician Dennis Canavan.

The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has published a report – The 2016 Scottish Election Briefing: Possibilities and Problems – analysing possible scenarios and outcomes based on recent polling, highlighting the importance of the electorate’s list selections.

Director of ERS Scotland Willie Sullivan said: “This report presents some major findings ahead of May 5. The fact that the SNP regional vote may be even stronger than has previously been suggested shows there is a growing predominance of the SNP in Scotland that could potentially stifle other opposition parties.

“Politics should contain lots of different voices; something we’ve said in the past when it was Labour dominating Westminster seats in Scotland.

“It seems the same is now true with the SNP dominant at Westminster under first past the post, and could become even more so the case in Holyrood.

“In part it comes down to voter behaviour. Voters should realise that the list part of the vote is a chance to select what kind of opposition or smaller parties they would like in Parliament.”

The ERS report can be found at www.electoral-reform.org.uk.

Tactical voting

While the present voting system does favour larger parties, the list vote will be crucial in the make-up of the next Scottish Parliament.

Forecasts show the nationalists will have an overall majority in constituencies – a “bad sign” for smaller parties according to the ERS report – proportional representation will ensure representation from other parties.

A party that wins between five and six per cent of the vote will secure seats, while a party that gains 20 per cent can expect to get around 20 per cent of the seats – even if it does not win any of the constituency seats.

The ERS launched a major analysis of the SNP’s predominance in Scotland – One Party To Rule Them All: Does Scotland Have A Predominant-Party Problem? – last night.

In this political commentator Professor John Curtice points out a scenario that suggests people should vote tactically with their list vote to get the Parliament they want.

He believes that if voting goes as polls suggest they will, the SNP won’t have many list seats.

Prof Curtice said: “That would appear to imply that under this scenario many a list vote for the SNP would be ‘wasted’, that is it would fail to contribute towards the election of an MSP.

“Indeed, under our scenario that proves to be case for any regional list vote cast for the SNP anywhere other than in the Highland and Islands region, the only region where the party is projected to win any list seats.

“That this situation could arise in a number of regions, given the SNP’s current standing in the polls, has led to speculation that nationalist supporters might be wise on the second ballot to vote tactically for a different party, such as the Greens or the left-wing RISE grouping, both of which also support independence.

“That way their vote might contribute to the election of another independence supporting MSP rather than apparently be wasted, though this is not a strategy without risks.”