Saturday, April 16, 2016

Proportional representation : the clue's in the name

With a certain amount of trepidation, I've been having a look at the latest "if you don't vote RISE or Green on the list you're a blithering idiot who doesn't understand the voting system" article on Bella Caledonia, this time written by RISE candidate Liam Stevenson.  A lot of it covers points that have been rebutted a million times before, but there's one general claim that's worth taking up.  It's one that was also made on Stephen Paton's somewhat misleading video about the Additional Member System a few weeks ago.

"I had a conversation with a friend of mine who was particularly passionate about a party that was seeking list votes due to it’s progressive stance on LGBT+ issues – yet, today, opted to give his second vote to the SNP instead. Why? Because he thought that he was voting for Nicola Sturgeon to be the First Minister.  The entire point of the voting system that we use in Scottish parliamentary elections – that is, the Additional Member System (AMS) – is proportional representation: to ensure that single party dominance does not prevail..."

That's a straightforward contradiction.  The point of proportional representation is not to prevent single party dominance, but rather (and the clue is in the name) to provide representation in proportion to how people actually cast their votes.  It's true that PR makes single-party dominance considerably less likely, because it eliminates the distortion of majoritarian systems which often produce landslide majorities for one party on the basis of 40% of the vote or less.  But the bottom line is that if the electorate chooses to give one party 70% of the vote, a PR system will give that party roughly 70% of the seats.  That's exactly what it's meant to do.  The obvious example is South Africa - the PR system there has produced overwhelming landslide majorities for the ANC, far in excess of anything the SNP could ever hope to achieve, in election after election since universal suffrage was introduced in 1994.  If you're a South African opposition politician, and you're disappointed that PR hasn't produced the parliament of minorities that it does in most countries, the rational response is to persuade people that your party has better policies and better leaders than the ANC - not to scream at voters that they're buffoons for failing to use the system in the way you think they're "supposed" to.

In our own system in Scotland, the proportionality is solely based on how people vote on the list ballot.  The d'Hondt formula attempts to make the overall composition of parliament (constituency and list seats combined) roughly proportional to the popular vote on the list.  It doesn't always fully succeed, because the seven list seats in each region are sometimes not enough to correct a really extreme imbalance in the constituency seats.  But to the extent that the system is proportional at all, it's proportional to how we vote on the list ballot.  Constituency votes can't contribute to proportionality - if they have any effect on the overall outcome, it's by detracting from proportionality, ie. by making the composition of parliament less reflective of the popular will.   So it seems very, very odd for Liam to imply that people who vote SNP on the list are somehow not really voting for Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister.  If you're electing a government or a First Minister on either ballot, you're doing it on the list ballot, not the constituency ballot.  If by any chance the result of the election doesn't properly reflect how people vote on the list, that's a failure of the system (caused by the unwise ratio between constituency and list seats), not some kind of glittering success for PR.

But is that failure going to happen?  In other words, will the SNP break the system by winning an outright majority before a single list vote is even taken into account?  Liam seems to think it's a nailed-on certainty.

"Every poll shows that the SNP will clean up in the constituencies..."

Er, nope. What the polls actually show is that IF there is no change in public opinion over the next few weeks (during the most intense period of the campaign when opinions are most likely to change), and IF opinion poll methodology is bang-on accurate (highly questionable after what happened last year), and IF some very dubious "projections" of how constituency votes might translate into constituency seats just happen to be totally right, then the SNP may not need any list votes to win an overall majority. But there again, if it hadn't been for the Foinavon fence and the shockingly unpredictable behaviour of a couple of dozen horses, I'd have probably won a fortune on the Grand National last week.

Don't let me put you off, though.  If you're an SNP supporter and for some reason you don't care at all about whether there is an SNP overall majority, by all means take a punt on your second-choice party on the list. Bear in mind that if the party you switch to doesn't receive at least 5% or 6% of the list vote in your region (an almost impossible threshold for RISE in particular), your so-called "tactical" vote will at best be totally wasted, and at worst will backfire by helping to increase the number of unionist MSPs. But hey, that's the nature of gambling.

34 comments:

  1. WHY DO YOU HATE DEMOCRACY, JAMES? WHY DO YOU WANT THE FASCIST SNP TO CRUSH SCOTLAND UNDER THEIR MIGHTY THUMBS? WHY ARE YOU WORKING TO DESTROY THE YES MOVEMENT?

    :-p

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    1. Every time I hear the word "Fascist", I reach for my revolver

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    2. WHY ARE YOU SHOUTING? I'm not deaf I just don't agree with you.

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  2. Why take the risk of jeopardizing a SNP majority?

    SNP x 2

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  3. Percentages in these polls don't tell us where the votes are concentrated. So going by the usual seat predictor is foolhardy in my opinion. If you wish the SNP to have an overall majority then it has to be an SNP vote on the Regional list in addition to a constituency vote.

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  4. Bella Caledonia has decided to run these kinds of articles on countless occasions in the last year or so. All this has achieved is to piss off supporters of the various pro-independence parties, and create ill feeling. Mike Small appears to be completely unwilling to admit that the Holyrood voting system is not suited foe tactical voting in the slightest. Unionists must love Bella Caledonia because essentially BC is playing the old divide and rule game to prevent significant change, and it is playing right into the hands of the British establishment in the process!

    If you have the temerity to disagree with Mike Small on the lunacy of tactical voting, you can expect him to blame the SNP or individual posters. You would think that having attracted the ire of other pro-independence blogs, such as Wings, Derek Bateman, and WGD, he would reflect on what damage he is doing to Bella Caledonia. But he seems genuinely unaware of why people are getting increasingly annoyed with him and his website/blog. The strange thing is Bella Caledonia does not appear to be mentioning RISE's actual policies much at all.

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  5. Kenny - calm down. When we get real democracy by removing ourselves from the tender mercies of Westminster then most of us will vote for more left wing parties. Until then we must give full support to the SNP wherever it is possible that one of the Tory parties can get in on the list. Don't be fooled by the divide and conquer undercurrent being pushed around at the moment. There are those who have no concern for Scotland who are trying to dupe people like you! SNP x 2 for the sake of democracy and freedom!

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    1. Kenny was being ironic, by the way!

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    2. James - not at all clear to me that Kenny "was being ironic". I don't know anything about him but there have been lots of funny comments around recently that make me wonder!

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    3. Kenny is one of the regular posters and I took it as satire. :)

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    4. Fair enough Marcia - but he is completely unknown to me as I'm only on here occasionally. Unfortunately that only emphasises the danger this type of "irony" highlights! SNP x 2!

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    5. Sorry. I thought the :-p made it clear I wasn't being 100% serious. I've just had a wee FB spat with a notable commentator on this very subject, so I'll repeat my sentiments here. If you want a green Scotland above all else, vote Green. If you want a red Scotland, vote RISE. But if independence is your top priority, vote SNP. I agree they're not as radical as they could/should be on some issues (and actually very radical on a number of others that I know have cost them votes) but the way some of the other pro-indy voices have tried to argue that not only is it totally safe to vote "other" on the list but that it's the ONLY sensible, logical pro-indy thing to do is just dishonest. That's why I've got no problem with Loki since his focus is and always will be on what's going to end poverty. Voting Yes was instrumental for him, not fundamental. But the likes of Mike Small and some of the other writers on BC recently have tried to tell an untrue story about what we can learn from the polls and how AMS actually works. And when they start calling strong SNP supporters drones or robots or unthinking idiots, it really is just doing unionists' work for them.

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    6. Thanks for your very lucid explanation - i'll look out for your posts in future.

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  6. Bella Caledonia? They don't support Independence for Scotland.

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    1. Glasgow Working Class 2April 17, 2016 at 12:29 PM

      Scotland is independent and in a Union. You want to break this Union but be in a Union with the EU. So why do you hate the English?

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    2. Thus speaks the Crayola Kid...

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  7. I have decided to take a moratorium on commenting on any post on Bella. It has become nothing more than a propaganda vehicle for RISE. Any dissent is met with comments such as "Unionist puppet,arrogance,blind cultist and cognitive dissonance". As was mentioned in another comment on another post, who are RISE going to blame when they fail to win a single seat? Probably the voters, they're too wrapped up in their cocoon of self-importance to realise it was their own inadequacy.

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  8. There are no guarantees, and this system is very difficult to play tactics with. I respect the Greens and RISE, but I think the risks are too great for anything other than SNP x2.

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  9. I have sympathy with a lot of the aspirations of both RISE and the Greens but my aim is independence. The only realistic vehicle for that is an SNP government. SNP 1&2.

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  10. In my experience VERY few people indeed understand our 2-vote electoral system - a very close relative even thought you couldn't vote for the same party with both votes! I have been agonising about my second vote for months, seeking but failing to find clarity in any blog (& I read many pro-independence blogs). Only yesterday, after some serious thinking in bed - did the penny drop for me that the list vote was THE MAIN VOTE that sets the make-up of the Parliament .... which James' paragraph above has coincidentally confirmed for me today. Why did every other blog entry seem only to confuse with their complexity?
    Until yesterday, despite being an SNP member, I was quite tempted to vote Green on my list vote, partly as I have a great respect for the top Green in our area (ex-SNP John Finnie), but also as I'd like to see a few Green MSPs nudging the SNP from time to time. Looks like I'll be waiting 'till independence before voting Green. Why can't anyone produce a simple guide - and one that doesn't mention that word "d'Hondt"!

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    1. Last week, I recorded a video about the voting system for Phantom Power, and I think it'll be out over the coming week. I'm afraid it does mention d'Hondt, though!

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    2. ...... and a common misconception/ confusion, because list MSPs are grouped regionally, is that the list vote just counts regionally and not nationally! Will check out your video, James.

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    3. http://wingsoverscotland.com/ams-for-lazy-people/

      This does mention d'Hondt but its easy enough to follow. The easiest explanation I found was one for schoolchildren, but I cannot remember where I found it.

      Some FPTP seats are 3 way splits, and could be won on 33% of the vote + 1. It is not a foregone conclusion that SNP are going to win all 73 FPTP. They may get that, but they may get say 64. If the List vote is diluted that could leave them short of a majority. That could see us not getting another independence crack again.

      SNP x 2. After independence vote for who or what you like. But don't take any foolhardy - however well meaning - chances at this critical stage.

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  11. I fail to understand how anyone could disagree with a single word of your blog, James. Wrt Bella, Mike Small has a rhinoceros hide and is impervious to criticism. His response to the deluge of complaints about his attack on Derek Bateman and Paul Kavanagh was "I am all for positive debate Punklin - just astonished with what I am reading". Self-awareness? - not so much.....

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  12. James

    Should we not be campaigning to change the voting system from De Hondt to STV, which gives the public much more sophisticated choice between different candidates (and would allow you for example to vote entirely SNP without voting for the horrible Ms Coyle)

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    1. I used to regard STV as the holy grail, but I had a rethink when I saw how close Fine Gael were to winning an overall majority in 2011 on a relatively small minority vote - probably 40% would have taken them over the line, which is almost as bad as FPTP. I now think an open list system is the way to go.

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    2. Glasgow Working Class 2April 17, 2016 at 1:17 AM

      First past the post is better and has served Britain well inspite of a few idiots. This opportunist getting ten per cent idiots serves them well.

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    3. How would an open list system work?

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    4. I have favoured the open list system for some time now.

      For me, it entails having larger constituencies returning several MSPs. Say, for example, 42 constituencies returning 3 MSPs each (I'd keep the three "island" constituencies as fptp due to their relatively small electorates).

      Basically, the MSPs would be elected from lists of three candidates put forward by each party. Just as happens with the current regional lists only with smaller numbers. The main difference being that voters get to choose which candidate from their chosen party's list they want to vote for.

      I would allow the parties to rank the candidates 1, 2 and 3 on the list but voters could choose to ignore that ranking and vote for one further down the list.

      At the count, the votes for each party would be tallied up and, obviously, the party with the most votes would get the first MSP. The candidate on that party's list that got the most personal votes would be that MSP. That party's vote would then be divided by two (number of MSPs + 1) and then compared with the other parties total votes to decide which one gets the second MSP and who that MSP will be in exactly the same way. That party's vote would then be altered (as before) and the process repeated for the third MSP.

      The main advantages of this system are;
      1. Proportionality among the major parties is more likely (but not guaranteed ... it never can be).
      2. There is no two tier system of MSPs ... they are ALL list MSPs. Even the three "island" MSPs should be elected from lists.
      3. It would be harder for a party to foist a party favourite on an electorate that want to vote for their party but dislike that particular candidate.

      The one disadvantage with the system is that smaller parties may find it harder to win seats. This could be addressed by having fewer constituencies with more seats.

      I don't know if this explanation tallies with Mr Kelly's perception of open lists but I hope it helps you understand what it might mean.

      Me Bungo Pony

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  13. Greetings from Malaysia. I usually read and rarely comment but today I feel the need to.

    The Bella article in referred to is misleading at the very least. I think we need to look at AMS voting system differently.

    The mistake everyone does I think is to place emphasis on the constituency vote. Actually the list should be counted first (rightly mentioned by one of the comments above). Only then we can truly allocate the MSPs via the percentages. The MSPs voted through the constituency votes could be subtracted from the allocated numbers. I think this should allowed voters to grasp the logic of AMS in Scotland.

    For example Glasgow region (constituency and list) has a total of 16 MSPS. Say the SNP got 50 percent of the votes, they are entitled to 8 MSPs. If they won all the constituency seats, most likely they will not get a list MSP but this had been proven wrong in the North East. This is why it is paramount to vote SNP twice. The danger of not voting SNP twice lies in the situation if the SNP fails to win a constituency seat. If it doesn't and the list vote has been diluted, the SNP majority could definitely be reduced.

    Personally AMS is complicated. I prefer a fully proportional election system i.e. the regional vote only system. If you get 50 percent then you are entitled for half the seats, no more no less.

    In Scotland proportionality cannot be achieved because the constituency and list seats are not equal to each other. Unlike Germany, the number of seats is fixed and cannot be adjusted to ensure proportionality.

    What angered me more in the article was the fact that the editor believed voters should split the vote just because RISE is more leftward and SNPbad issues that you would usually hear from the unionists side. For me this is laziness on part of RISE. If you want voters to vote for you then put up a manifesto that is worth voting for; not because the other party is bad or otherwise.

    I think a lot of SNP voters are angry and rightly so because RISE is perceived to take easy way out and riding on the Yessers/SNP coat tails. If I were a long time SNP voter (since the 1960s for example), I'd be very pissed. Who the hell are you to tell me SNPbad because I have been voting SNP for nearly 50 years? What is your track record to say so?

    I think RISE has made a wrong strategic move. They should have targeted the local elections in 2017 and build their reputation from there. It would probably be easier since they are quite well known at that level. Now they have alienated a percentage of the electorate and sullied their reputation. Furthermore they are risking the SNP majority. Anything less then 69 MSPs will be trumpeted as a repudiation of Scottish independence.

    Lastly, I think the SNP is playing it safe in order to ensure majority in the Parliament. I believe the SNP will try their very best to deliver independence by 2021. You will see radical actions by the SNP/Scottish Government during the next term. For me the indication was Nicola Sturgeon's launch of a new independence drive in this coming summer.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. I will try again, without the typos.

      Good comment Abu.

      I think the system as it is, confuses people. Not only that, apparently Labour and tory canvassers have been telling people it is illegal to vote SNP twice! The unionists will thrive on the lack of awareness of the system, they always do.

      The Electoral Commission Guide which came through out letterboxes was well hidden between the pages of the junk mail. The unionists thrive on any lack of information, and therefore lack of peoples' awareness.

      This is democracy, UK style.


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  14. Could I also add another advantage of what I will now describe catchily as the "multi-member constituency, open list system".

    4. Voters who do not support the majority party in a particular constituency, but do support one that still has significant support in that constituency, will probably still see their vote count in getting someone from that party elected.

    A system that sees the majority of votes cast actually getting someone elected cannot be sniffed at .... in my opinion :)

    Me Bungo Pony

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