Friday, 6 May 2016

Scottish Parliament elections 2016

I mostly avoided party politics in writing the book (which is distinct from avoiding political issues), but here's my brief take on the numbers from yesterday's Scottish Parliament elections.

The table below shows the main results from the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections. The numbers of voters, votes and seats are taken from the BBC website and all other figures are calculated from them.

The % of votes is the number of constituency plus regional votes for each party divided by the combined total of all constituency plus regional votes.

I'll not go through much of the more obvious commentary you can read on most news sites, but here are a few more nuanced points I've noticed from looking at the numbers.

The Conservatives clearly did very well, and their tally of 31 seats exceeds the combined total of the only two left wing parties to win seats: Labour with 24 and the Greens with 6.

The PR (Proportional Representation) system, does what it says on the tin, and makes sure the number of seats is proportional to the distributions of votes cast. Compare these results with the FPTP (First Past The Post) system used in UK General Elections which saw 50% of the vote get the SNP 95% of Scotland's MPs.

The Scottish PR system is not perfect though.

The SNP got 44.1% of votes cast but 48.8% of seats. The Conservatives got 22.5% of votes and 24.0% of the seats. The Greens also did well out of it, getting 3.6% of the votes but 4.7% of the seats.

The other parties lost out in comparison: Labour got 20.8% of votes but only 18.6% of the seats, and the Liberal Democrats got 6.5% of votes but only 3.9%. UKIP may feel the most aggrieved though as they got 2% of the regional vote (they had no constituency candidates) but zero seats.

Pro-independence parties (SNP, Green, Solidarity, RISE) took 48.2% of the vote and pro-union parties (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, Scottish Christian Party) took 51.1% of the vote. The remaining 0.7% was for smaller parties and I'm not clear on where some of them stand on independence, or indeed if they have a position at all.

If we split parties by their proposals on tax, then 31.5% of votes went to parties that explicitly proposed raising rates of income tax (Labour, Greens, Liberal Democrats, Solidarity and RISE), whereas 67.6% went to parties who proposed much more modest changes to taxation (SNP, Conservatives, UKIP). This is in the context of this Scottish Parliament having more tax raising powers than any before it.

The same party groupings apply to the issue of fracking: 31.5% of votes went to parties that ruled out fracking, and 67.6% went to those which didn't. Of course, there's much more obvious internal party division on this issue than for tax.

The 2016 turnout is about 5 percentage points up on 2011's 50.4%, but nothing like the 85% of the 2014 referendum, or even the 71% of the 2015 General Election in Scotland, or the 66% UK-wide turnout. There were slightly more votes cast in the regional vote than for the constituencies.

Finally, notice the % of electorate row. Scotland's new minority SNP Government will be formed with the explicit consent of 24.6% of the electorate. Ironically, this is slightly up on the 23% that got them a majority government in 2011, and similar to the 24.3% that the Conservatives got for their current UK government.

Now, I'm not saying there's anything unfair about this. If people do not vote, then we should not infer anything about whether they approve or disapprove of who forms the government. In fact, there's a reasonable argument that they've got no right to complain about it.

But, I do feel it's important to consider the questions raised by poor voter engagement, and doing so formed part of the motivation for writing my book.

Although I have mused on it recently, I don't have any good answers. But I suspect they will come if awareness of the issue is raised to the point where people start to discuss it more openly.

I am, however, reasonably certain of who will not come up with a solution: governments. What incentive is there for elected politicians to deal with the very large percentage of the population that don't vote?


  1. I've been involved in several political campaigns, and I've never yet seen one that got anywhere by enthusing non-voters to turn out. From the campaigner's point of view, engaging with non-voters is demonstrably a waste of scarce resources. You see, the thing about people who don't vote is, they don't vote.

    1. I have less firsthand experience than you, but I understand that what you say is true. Rather than think party activists can convince non-voters to vote under the current system, I'm thinking more about how circumstances of society may change so that citizens can be more active, even if activity does not mean just voting. I realise I'm sounding rather idealist, but I am, along with others, perhaps including your good self, dissatisfied with our current situation and think we can do better. And by "we" I probably mean the next generation.

  2. What laws were codified (the Bill of Rights of 1689 and the Act of Settlement of 1701 standing among the most important) served more to restrict the Monarch's power than to entrench it.guarantor