Apologies for returning to the topic of the "tactical voting on the list" fiasco yet again, but I am absolutely flabbergasted at the rubbish that is still being written about it. Almost all of the things that we warned could go wrong with the grand scheme did go wrong on Thursday night, and yet still the tactical voting lobby brazen it out, insisting that "wasted SNP list votes" were somehow the real problem in this election. (Exactly how fewer SNP votes could have solved the problem of the SNP falling short of a majority is a bit of a mystery, but don't hold your breath for an explanation.)
It really is both the ultimate circular argument, and the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy. First they tell prospective SNP list voters that their votes are going to be "wasted" and they should vote for a different party instead. Some people heed that advice, and as a result the SNP list vote drops, and the party doesn't have enough votes for a list seat in six out of eight regions (compared to just one out of eight in the 2011 election). Then they say : "You see? We told you SNP list votes would be wasted!" Shameless, or what?
I mean, do they think the sixteen list seats that carried the SNP to an overall majority in 2011 were magicked out of thin air by pixies? Seriously, guys, the SNP won those seats because more people voted for them on the list in 2011. This isn't rocket science.
Here's what STV's online election reporter Dan Vevers (who openly admits that he is glad the SNP failed to win a majority) had to say on Twitter earlier today -
"If 7% of SNP voters had gone Green, the Greens would have been five seats behind Tories on 14...With this swing, Greens would have had 74% of the Tory number of seats with only 60% of its regional vote...If someone really wanted to light a match in a powderkeg, one might even say both votes SNP ensured the Conservative surge...Where pro-union folk voted smartly to maximise Unionist voices in Parliament, the evidence suggests pro-indy people did the opposite."
Just HOW many times does the bleedin' obvious have to be pointed out to people - that tactical voting is often relatively easy, risk-free and effective in single-member constituency elections, but is virtually impossible on the list. This was exactly the problem that the SNP and the broader pro-independence movement faced in this election - that attempts at unionist tactical voting were going to take place almost exclusively on the constituency ballot, where it was potentially going to prove highly effective, and that attempts at pro-indy tactical voting were going to take place almost exclusively on the list ballot, where it had every chance of backfiring. Ironically, one of the major reasons for the risk of it backfiring is precisely that people were failing to take into account the potential for successful anti-SNP tactical voting in the constituencies. I'm in no way being wise after the event on this point - I said it a number of times during my debate with Tommy Sheridan in February, for example.
To cast an effective tactical vote in a single-member constituency election, you only need to know one thing in advance with a high level of confidence - and that's who the top two candidates in the constituency will be. In some cases, it's not possible to know that, either because there was a virtual tie for second-place last time around, or because public opinion has shifted dramatically since the last election. But in many, many constituencies on Thursday, it was the easiest thing in the world for unionist voters to identify that the top two parties in their constituency would be the SNP and a specific unionist party. So all that Tories in North-East Fife or Edinburgh Western had to do was vote Liberal Democrat, and they knew that one of two things would happen - either a) the SNP would lose and the objective would be accomplished, or b) the SNP would win and the unionist position would be no worse than it otherwise would have been. In other words, tactical voting in constituencies generally either works or has no effect - but it very rarely backfires.
In contrast, think about the sheer number of things an SNP supporter in Glasgow would have had to know for sure in advance before he or she could have cast a risk-free and effective tactical vote on the list -
* That the SNP were definitely going to win all nine constituency seats. (And yeah, yeah, "everyone knew" that they were going to manage that, but then everyone knew the SNP were going to win Dumbarton - until they didn't.)
* That the effective target for the SNP to win a list seat after winning all of the constituencies would be as high as 59.5% of the vote. (It could easily have been significantly lower than that, depending on how the list votes divided between the other parties.)
* That the SNP had no chance of getting close to 59.5% of the list vote. (And really the tactical voting lobby can't have it both ways on this point - if their whole argument rested upon the SNP being so all-conquering in Glasgow that there was no risk of the party failing to take a clean sweep of constituencies, it's not immediately apparent why a 50%+ list vote should have been considered such an impossible target.)
* That Solidarity were going to fall well short of the threshold for a list seat. (Without knowing this, there would have been no way of knowing that a tactical vote for Solidarity would be completely wasted and that the Greens might be a better bet.)
* That the Greens didn't have enough support for a second list seat without the assistance of tactical voters. (The point here is that if the Greens already had enough support anyway, tactical votes for them would have been completely wasted, because the d'Hondt formula would already have divided their vote by three and they would have had no realistic prospect of a third seat.)
Tell me, Dan, how the hell was anyone supposed to know all of that? This has got nothing to do with unionist voters being "smarter" than us, it's simply about the fact that none of us actually possess psychic powers.
Meanwhile, Juliet Swann, once of the Electoral Reform Society, made my jaw drop to the floor with these tweets -
"a few thousand votes switched from Greens to SNP OR VICE VERSA could have influenced seats... BUT so could any other combo of any other party's votes. The fact is we have multiple parties & people voted 4 them...cannae vote tactically in AMS ;-)"
Juliet, who I met last year and is a very nice person, has by all accounts been going around over the last few months with her trusty set of graphs, giving talks to pro-indy groups with the aim of persuading them that SNP list votes would be "wasted" and that they should vote for a smaller party instead. When you've been doing that sort of thing quite openly, it does seem incredibly disingenuous to turn around after the event and innocently say "there was a choice of parties and people made their own choice, tactical voting is impossible, so nothing to do with me, guv". If you've made an intervention and changed people's votes, for heaven's sake take ownership of that intervention, and either apologise for it or stand by it.
Oh, and as for Kevin Williamson's claim that he should be forgiven for saying that the SNP were absolutely certain to win a majority on constituency seats alone because he couldn't possibly have known that Nicola Sturgeon would pose with a copy of the Sun and lose some of her voters...give me a break. If you want to say fatuous things like that, no-one can stop you, but just don't expect to be taken seriously on this topic when you have another bash in five years' time.