Thursday, May 10, 2012

The negligence of Councillor Alex Gallagher : three killer questions about independence he has yet to ask

Star blogger "Braveheart" (aka the newly re-elected Labour councillor for North Coast and Cumbraes) continues in his fearless quest to randomly put the word independence in inverted commas at every available opportunity -

"Agree Lab/SNP cooperation could be a good thing. Don’t understand: if Lab/SNP cooperation can solve the problems in Edinburgh, what’s the point of “independence”, which cannot?

...why destroy a working system? How would “independence” add value?"

Quite so. It's even more inexplicable that the SNP were actually trying to win the election in Edinburgh outright - now that really would have been a mortal blow to the cause of separatism. But what really puzzles me is that Alex regularly hits the nail on the head with killer questions like that, but never seems to get round to posing these equally vital ones -

1. If the combined effects of the gravitational forces exerted by the Moon and the Sun and the rotation of the Earth can already efficiently regulate the tides of the sea, how can "independence" add value?

2. Thousands of yellow wagtails successfully arrive in southern Scotland every spring after spending the winter in warmer climes. How would "independence" help?

3. Jocelyn has been very happily married to Brian for thirty-seven years. They enjoy bowling and talking to their pet parrot. Wouldn't "independence" just get in the way?

Of course, none of these questions become any the less perplexing if you replace the word "independence" with the words "a Labour government" - and nor does the question Alex actually asked, for that matter.

Monday, May 7, 2012

You can't be half-pregnant, but it seems you can have PR without much proportionality

There's much consternation in the elites of the EU this morning, because it looks like the two pro-austerity parties in Greece, New Democracy and PASOK, will fall just short of an outright parliamentary majority. But in truth it should never even have been close. The two parties' combined share of the vote tumbled from 77.4% in 2009 to just 32% yesterday, so the fact that they've still ended up with more or less exactly half the seats is a perversion of the democratic process that you'd only ever expect to see under "good old British" first-past-the-post. Given that Greece supposedly has a system of proportional representation, how on earth did it happen? There are two reasons. The more prosaic one is that a great many parties fell below the 3% threshold required for any representation, meaning that all the parties that reached the threshold had surplus seats to share between them. The more eccentric reason is that the Greek system randomly hands 50 bonus seats to the party in first place. This applies regardless of whether the leading party has 60% of the vote or 7%, and regardless of whether its lead over the second-placed party is 23% or 0.00001%. It is, in short, a nonsense, and has clearly thwarted the democratic will of the Greek people on this occasion.

I can only assume that the rule was introduced to produce a decisive winner in old-style two-party contests, but when the party system suddenly becomes more fractured, the effect is far more distorting. To put it in perspective, New Democracy are projected to secure 108 seats with their "election-winning" 18.85% of the vote, whereas the left-wing coalition in second place will claim just 52 seats with their 16.8% of the vote.

But there are more insidious ways in which the devisers of electoral and governing systems can deliver 'proportional representation' without much proportionality. One of the very first posts I wrote on this blog back in May 2008 pointed out that PR for the London Assembly is a sham, and the election last Thursday illustrated that point beautifully. London voters were deeply divided - the Tories led by 44% to 40% in the mayoral vote, and Labour led by 41% to 32% in the Assembly election. The purpose of PR in such circumstances ought to be to produce balance and pluralism. But because a two-thirds majority is required for the Assembly to exercise its one and only meaningful power (to reject the Mayor's budget), the Tories are left with absolute power on a minority vote - just as would happen under FPTP. The irony is that, in combination with the two-thirds rule, PR for the Assembly actually makes it less likely that there can be any check on the Mayor's power, because the distorting nature of FPTP would have made it easier to achieve the big majority required to alter the budget.

So London has the superficial appearance of proportionality and pluralism without an iota of the substance - a characteristically Blairite concoction. Thanks heavens we in Scotland (to use Mrs Thatcher's phrase) have gone in completely the opposite direction, and instead of concentrating local government executive power in the hands of one person, have dispersed power by means of a genuinely proportional system.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

And more good news : Hollande will be President of France

It's a curiously paradoxical five-yearly tradition that the French-speaking parts of Switzerland and Belgium demonstrate their apartness from their larger neighbour by playing a crucial role in French presidential elections - the media in those regions are not bound by the embargo on exit polling, and are always the first to give an early (and invariably accurate) indication of the result. They've just done so, and are showing a lead for François Hollande of about 5-6%.

We'll know for sure when the polls close in a few hours.

UPDATE : Some real (leaked) results from France's overseas territories...

St. Pierre and Miquelon :

François Hollande 65%
Nicolas Sarkozy 35%

Martinique :

François Hollande 68.5%
Nicolas Sarkozy 31.5%

Guadeloupe :

François Hollande 72%
Nicolas Sarkozy 28%

French Guiana :

François Hollande 62%
Nicolas Sarkozy 38%

Saint-Martin :

François Hollande 51.5%
Nicolas Sarkozy 48.5%

Saint Barthélemy :

Nicolas Sarkozy 83%
François Hollande 17%

These are all better results than the previous socialist candidate Ségolène Royal managed in her 2007 defeat. There are also real results from French citizens in other countries, which show a very mixed picture. However, the report on the website of Belgian broadcaster RTBF points out that Hollande's narrow lead in Toronto represents the first time the left have ever won in that city. Perhaps unsurprisingly given Quebec's social democratic traditions, Hollande is much further ahead in Montreal.

Final results in : SNP confirmed as winners of the popular vote

Just a very quick update on yesterday's post - as expected, it has been confirmed that the SNP won the popular vote on Thursday, along with the most seats. Here are the full figures from the party's website -

SNP 502,201 - 32.32% (+4.46% on 2007)
Lab 487,884 - 31.39% (+3.24%)
Con 206,856 - 13.31% (-2.26%)
LD 102,399 - 6.59% (-6.10%)
Grn 34,252 - 2.20% (+0.16%)
Ind 184,329 - 11.86% (+0.98%)
Oth 36,055 - 2.32% (+0.9%)

These numbers of course relate only to first preference votes, which is the standard way of measuring the popular vote in countries that use STV (basically the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Malta).

I was slightly bemused to see Kate Higgins suggest on Scottish Roundup that Ian Smart's analysis of the results was "far from triumphalist". He may have had some cautionary words for his own side, but he also made the wild claims that Labour had won the popular vote, and that the SNP needn't concern themselves too much with coalition negotiations around the country. Well, he's been proved completely wrong on the first count, and I don't think I'm sticking my neck out too far in suggesting he's light-years off-beam on the second count as well.

Yes, it was a tight election, much tighter than last year's - but the SNP won, and on every measure.