Thursday, January 5, 2017

Why it's important to give your lower preferences in the local elections to other pro-independence parties

This is a sort of "readers' request" post - I was asked the other day to post an explanation of how the Single Transferable Vote system (STV) works.  Probably not a bad idea, because for the vast majority of us, when we go to the polls in May for the local elections it'll be the first time we've voted under that system for five years.

As long-term readers know, I spent an inordinate amount of time on this blog in the run-up to both the 2011 and 2016 Holyrood elections trying to expose a cynical propaganda campaign that was hoodwinking people into thinking that the list vote was a sort of 'second preference' or 'bonus' or 'luxury' vote.  In 2011, it didn't go much further than the familiar "2nd Vote Green" schtick, but last year there was a much more concerted (I'm tempted to say ruthless) drive by the wider radical left to con SNP supporters into thinking that their party was guaranteed to win an outright majority on constituency seats alone, and that their list votes would be wasted unless given to the Greens or RISE.  Bella Caledonia pushed that line relentlessly, and for one mad weekend just before the election, even the Sunday Herald was taken over lock, stock and barrel by the "split your votes" campaign.

The reality is that, in principle at least, the list vote is the more important vote because it broadly determines the overall composition of parliament.  That's certainly how it played out last year after the claims of 'absolute certainty' that the SNP would clean up in the constituencies turned out to be bogus.  The SNP's constituency vote increased, while their list vote fell - leading to a decrease in the SNP's overall number of seats, and the loss of their overall majority.  That outcome shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone, but I suspect it was a very nasty shock to some SNP supporters (including even some SNP members) who bought into the idea that voting for their own party on the list was unnecessary.  We should count ourselves lucky that the vote-splitting propaganda didn't cost us the pro-independence majority at Holyrood - it could very easily have done if more people had been persuaded to switch to RISE or Solidarity on the list, because neither of those parties were even vaguely close to winning a list seat in any region.

Having been so sorely bitten by last year's events, it's perhaps understandable that many SNP supporters are now instinctively reacting by saying "I'm only going to vote for the SNP in the local elections, and I'm not going to give a ranking to any other party".  But it's really important to stress that the Single Transferable Vote system used for the local elections is completely different from the voting system used for Holyrood, and using your lower preferences for other parties is nothing like so-called "tactical voting on the list".  It's literally true that using your lower preferences in the local elections cannot possibly harm the SNP in any way.  At worst, it won't make any difference to the outcome at all, but at best it will help another pro-independence party to deprive a unionist party of a seat on your local council.

Some people seem to intuitively struggle with the idea that the SNP cannot possibly be harmed by using the lower rankings.  I think maybe they imagine that STV is a kind of 'points system' akin to the Eurovision Song Contest - ie. if you rank Labour tenth, they'll be awarded 'one point', and that point might end up costing the SNP a seat.  But that's simply not how it works.  If, say, there are two SNP candidates in your local ward, and you give your first two preferences to those candidates, your lower preferences will not even be taken into account until both SNP candidates are either elected or eliminated.  Your vote will not budge from the SNP column until that happens.  There are no exceptions to that rule - as long as you make sure you give your top preferences to all of the SNP candidates (there may be more than two depending on which ward you live in), using your lower preferences for other parties is literally risk-free.

The best way of looking at your lower preferences is that you're expressing an opinion on who should be elected if the SNP are no longer in contention for one of the seats in your ward.  If the final seat in your ward boiled down to a straight fight between the Tories and the Greens, wouldn't you want to help the Greens to win?  Or would you want to effectively abstain and risk ending up with a Tory councillor?  You're doing the latter if the SNP candidates are the only ones you give a ranking to.

It probably matters less whether you bother giving rankings to the unionist parties, although speaking personally I used all of my rankings in both 2007 and 2012, and I expect I will do so again this time.  One way of making the impossible choice between Labour, Tory and Lib Dem is to look at which party is vying with the SNP for control of your local council.  In Glasgow, for example, it might make sense on a tactical basis to rank the Lib Dems higher than Labour, because depriving Labour of a seat by any means will make it harder for them to form an administration.  I expect in most cases pro-indy people will want to rank independent candidates higher than all unionist party candidates (unless the independent in question is known to be a hardline unionist themselves).

OK, a couple of extra pro-indy councillors on North Ayrshire Council isn't going to decide the constitutional future of Scotland.  But as they say at a certain supermarket chain, every little helps.

35 comments:

  1. Instinctively I now wouldn't give my vote to any other Party but the SNP. Whatever the election was for. Just how I feel James.

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    1. Fair enough, if you're really totally indifferent as to whether you end up with, say, a Tory, Lib Dem, Green or UKIP councillor. I can't imagine being equally content with each of those options.

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  2. Nice explanation. It's kind of annoying that so many people seem to spend their whole lives talking about politics online but still don't understand the voting system.

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  3. agreed, voting snp 1&2 and greens 3 wont do any harm but it probably wont do much good. however, i you are a green and give your 2nd and 3rd votes to the snp, this may well have an impact. the biggest problem we will have is gotv, media will run with the line that an snp win is a foregone conclusion, to lull the yes supporters to not bother voting. the main focus should be highlighting the fact that the snp winning over all control in any of the 32 councils is going to be very difficult. indeed, a third of the seats wont even be contested by the snp
    SC

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    1. Well, in my ward, SNP with two candidates got elected 1 and 2. If the SNP voters had given all their votes to the pro-indy independent (he voted YES), he would have got in. So it would have made a bit of difference in my council, where instead the Conservative got elected - in a NOC council which had an SNP majority of 1, now a Labour one after a by-election.

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  4. I live in a 3 member ward in North Ayrshire. Our existing councillors are 1 SNP, 1 SLab, 1 Independent. All 3 are decent people who do their best for the ward, but voting is a different matter!

    I'm assuming SNP put up 2 candidates, so I'll cast my first two preferences for them. If there's a Green, they'll get the next. Next preference would be the Independent - she might be a Tory, for all I know, but she has been effective and her election won't count as a Unionist win.

    LD won't stand, I'm sure - would be eliminated at a very early round if they did as will any RISE or Socialist Unionist candidate long before any remnant of my 1st 3 preferences are exhausted.

    Other wards will be different. Everyone has to judge on the basis of the ward they live in, but there will be very few (if any) wards where all the councillors are SNP (that's the whole bloody point of STV!)

    So James is spot on. Who would you least dislike as the non-SNP councillor(s) in your ward?

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    1. She's a decent person oldnat, as far as I can see votes for an issue, not on any party lines. No idea what her Indy stance is. It's a neighbouring ward to mine which has 4, currently 2 SNP, 1 Lab, 1 Tory. They all work OK for the community but the Lab guy is VERY anti-SNP and anti-Indy, rabidly so.

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  5. I have stayed away for a while because of your troll.

    Its not perhaps a good idea to rank any of the yoons. I would rank nationalists only. The consequences are unpredictable in the later voting rounds. Once the 2 SNP are elected it could be a dozen more eliminations until the final member is elected. I studied - as best I could - the tranfers from fringe parties in some wards ( which means every party at some stage of the cycle ),and was surprised at times by the inferred second or third preferences. Some people vote in strange and contradictory ways.

    The SNP strategy here has to be to garner most seats on the first ballot. That needs 20+% PER candidate in a 4 member ward and 25+% in a 3 member ward. Glasgow is mostly 4 member wards, but I would think they would have to be brave to stand more than 2 candidates in any ward. Yet Labour won sometimes 3 members in a Glasgow ward last time out ( and more after defections). I wouldn't put money on the SNP polling 60% in a ward ( yet Labour did achieve that in some places in 2012 ).

    I would also be wary of Greens. They seem to be out to make a name for themselves, but the SNP will get the blame for enacting more madcap schemes if Yellow/Green coalitions are the norm. Anti car legislation? 100% recycling targets? Not bad in themselves perhaps, but hardly likely to keep every SNP voter onside. Remember how hard it was in IR1 to get people to stop thinking it was a vote about Alex Salmond.

    STV is fairly complex. I found a great explanation last year that was aimed at schoolkids, but have looked ever since and still not found it.

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    1. But, in some wards, it could be that not ranking anyone but SNP could allow a Yoon to gain a seat. If that's what you want, then do as you suggest.

      There is no absolute rule. Everything depends on the ward you are in, its voting history, and how you think the Lab -> Con votes that show up in the polling will translate, on the ground, in your ward.

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    2. I'm not sure I agree with you about the complexity of STV. It's certainly true that counting the votes can be murderously complicated, and political parties need to make difficult judgements about how many candidates to put up in each ward, but the basic principle that the voter needs to understand is really simple, and is probably a lot simpler than the Holyrood system. There are no perverse outcomes - you can't harm your higher preferences with your lower preferences.

      I don't understand what you mean about it being a bad idea to rank unionist parties - a lot of people probably won't bother, but there's no downside to it as long as you make sure that all the non-unionist candidates are ranked higher than the unionist candidates.

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    3. If there are no more preferences after the nationalists are used up then a ballot paper ceases to carry any further influence. It is to be hoped that we are looking at the redistribution of surplus votes in the main. But if after each round no candidate reaches the quota then the lowest vote gets eliminated and redistributed. In order to drive it to the bitter end it may be that by not voting for any yoon then the last man standing is elected. That lessens their mandate morally and prevents you from being tainted by having helped elect one in any way.

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    4. Well...maybe. I'm not sure anyone really gives a monkey's whether a councillor was elected on the quota or as the last person standing. The end result is exactly the same.

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    5. James, the way it's counted is that if it comes down to 2 candidates, the lower count one is eliminated in the usual way and all the votes give to the other. So usually they will meet the quota, though not always.

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  6. Glasgow Working Class 2January 5, 2017 at 10:03 PM

    What Labour and all sensible people need to do is just simply expose the Nat si Tartan Tories for their Thatcherite policies. Och Aye.

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    1. The troll calls scottish people "jocks", advocates arming Leave campaigners, claimed Jo Cox's husband was a fascist, uses racial and ethnic slurs, pretends to be Labour (badly) while espousing far-right racist hate-speech, praises Theresa May and the tories and displays a perverted poisonous obsession with Scotland's First Minister & her predecessor

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  7. Thanks for the 'public service' post. It's a pity we have so many different voting systems operating all at once in Scotland - no wonder people are confused.

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  8. James Kelly you're an absolute star, whatever I may have said about you in the past (that's a joke).

    Yes, in STV you can absolutely totally safely use all preferences in the council elections, and this is a message that should be carried in WOS, Bella, Newsnet, Commonspace and any others I've forgotten about. Pluse the SNP, Green, RISE parties themselves, and all their branches. I tried but probably failed with my local branch. They wouldn't believe me.

    There is no need for "turf" war between Indy supporters in May. Just vote for your favourite party 1, 2 .. then put the others. I've been banging this drum for months now, and I've eaten my drumsticks in dismay.

    By the way, in 2012 I was taken in by the "vote SNP only" in North Ayrshire. And there were even some saying "Vote for only 1 of the SNP candidates". Oh dear. Wrong.

    Safely use all our preferences.

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  9. In some areas (like where I live) there is generally a slew of Independents. Some have "hidden" allegiances, some of them are just in it for themselves and their cronies and a few are decent people who do a good job. When I hear the meme about there shouldn't be party politics in local government, I think about them in particular.

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  10. Glasgow Working Class 2January 6, 2017 at 9:38 AM

    When voting the electorate should take into consideration the poor health situation of the Scottish people in deprived areas and the length of time the Yellow Tories have been in power as well as the fact the Scottish rich are getting richer.

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    1. Shoosh. The grown-ups are talking.

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  11. In 2013 I was the (paper) SNP candidate in a council by-election. I knew I wasn't going to be elected because our candidate had come third in 2012. He was (and is) still there - the by-election was caused by the resignation of the successful Tory candidate from 2012. The only question in 2013 was whether the LibDems (who topped the poll in 2012 with David Steele's daughter as candidate) would win again, or whether the Tory candidate would manage to save the seat. No way was it going to be an SNP win.

    I asked our branch convener what I should do with my lower preference votes. Apart from me there were only LibDem and Tory candidates. I said, what would our councillors prefer - another Tory so the balance of the council isn't altered, or another LibDem to join them in coalition against the Tories?

    I was told, just vote for yourself. It's SNP policy not to vote for any other party. So I thought, OK I don't see the sense in that but what the heck. I did as I was told.

    I think it's possible that in this case our councillors were secretly hoping for a Conservative win to avoid rocking the boat in the council. A LibDem gain would have strengthened the LibDems in their coalition with the SNP and it's possible that wasn't entirely desirable. (In fact the Tory did win so no great upset basically.)

    I don't see why only voting for SNP candidates should be general SNP policy in council elections though. Yes,m in FPTP and AMS systems it makes sense, but as James says you can't disadvantage the SNP candidate(s) by using your lower preferences for other candidates.

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    1. Actually, there were more than three candidates, but the others (including Labour) were minnows. I remember the count now. There was an initial gasp when the first interim results were displayed, because the Tory was a lot higher than anyone expected. The allocation went all the way but by the time I was eliminated the Tory only needed a few votes to make the quota and this duly happened from my transfers even though most people who had voted for me and had transfers still in the ring at this stage went LibDem.

      Basically the LibDem rot was well and truly setting in by then, and the Tory candidate was a nice young man from a popular local business family. The LibDem candidate was their failed second candidate from 2012 who was a bit of an odd old bat and not nearly as personable.

      I think the ward is currently polarising between Tory and SNP. If the Tories put up two candidates they might get two seats. The single SNP candidate (not selected yet) will still be fighting for the third seat. We'll probably get it all right though. We got it in 2012 and we're in a better position in 2017.

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  12. I live in a 4 member ward. The present make up is 1 Tory honest enough to stand as a Tory and 3 Independents who are closet Tories or Kippers. All of them are part of the corrupt and incompetent ruling clique of Moray Council. Chances of getting rid of them under STV voting system - ZERO!

    Apathy generated by the Brit Nat Press and Media nationally and locally will ensure that nothing changes.

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    1. Glasgow Working Class 2January 6, 2017 at 6:24 PM

      So you want a Yellow Tory corrupt Nat si regime to replace them ya brain dead right wing nutter.

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    2. Thus speaks an ultra-right-wing authoritarian and unthinking British nationalist. Still want armed militias in every office and factory, dearie? Or are you going to try lying your way out of that?

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  13. Glasgow Working Class 2January 6, 2017 at 6:28 PM

    The Tank Commander gave Knickerless a severe undressing today over Brexit and another Joke referendum.

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    1. More craven snivellings from the Britnat si operative. Its crayon-flecked ravings and obvious love for its Tory overlords would be hilarious if they weren't so abject.

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  14. Having lived in Finland for 30 years, I've long wondered why the SNP put up so few candidates at local government elections. Now I understand. The electoral system is crap. Here each local authority is one big ward. The parties have candidate lists. People vote for a single candidate, the vote also being counted as a vote for the party. Each party is allocated X seats according to its percentage of the vote, and the X most popular candidates on the list are duly elected. This avoids the undemocratic nature of fixed lists ā la Holyrood, while preserving proportionality between the parties. The same system is used for both local and national elections, and EVERYBODY understands it. At European elections the whole country is a single constituency, but again the people rank the candidates, not the parties.
    For some reason I have to choose between Google and Anonymous. I usually post as myself. Now I'll just remain anonymous.

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    1. I've been advocating that system for years with no inkling it was already in use anywhere. Despite having Finnish friends.

      I'd described it as an "open list" system. It allows you to vote for the party you want without tying you to a candidate you may dislike. You only have to put one X in one box, links the voter to local representatives and it is easy to see how each was elected.

      What's not to like?

      "Me Bungo Pony"

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    2. I'm assuming the result is calculated using the D'Hondt (? spelling) system.

      That is, the party with the most votes gets the first representative, and then their overall vote is divided by the number of representatives they have + 1. As happens in the "closed list" system for the list MSPs at Holyrood.

      "Me Bungo Pony"

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  15. There is a temptation to teach the Greens that their behaviour towards List voting in GE and underhand campaigning towards the SNP govt I general, is unacceptable. Even if thar means risking a few more unionist councillors. Their general policy places Green concerns above Scottish Independence even though this could defeat their goals as SNP and indy may be their only chance to get anywhere nearer to their primary objective. They need to be taught to get in line or get out of the way.

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  16. Can I suggest that when the SNP has two candidates in a ward you give your '1'to the SNP candidate placed lower on the ballot paper and your '2' to the SNP candidate higher up the ballot paper. (They are listed alphabetically) This helps because the majority of SNP votes with automatically place their '1' at the first listed SNP candidate, so it will be the candidate further down who struggles more to attract votes and will be more likely to not be elected.

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  17. When voting for who takes out the bins, handing too much influence to the Greens is probably a bad idea - the remains of your xmas dinner will finally be disposed of by Halloween, if you're lucky.

    Anyway, it seems there is more scope for successful transfers of tactical votes on the unionist side. There are more parties with support more evenly distributed. There are also loads of independents who are really independent tories and local hero types who people will go out to vote for due to familiarity and loyalty - even if they aren't fully paid up members of the sare elbow society.

    Sorry to disappoint.

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