I know the interminable argument about the Holyrood voting system is not exactly the most pressing subject at the moment, but I would just like to congratulate the "tactical voting on the list" brigade for managing to convince people that they'd somehow be helping the cause of independence by abstaining on the list ballot. This was a genuine tweet yesterday -
"We get two votes in the Scottish elections. One for constituency & one for the list. Can anyone tell me what would happen if some of us used our first vote for the SNP and didn't cast a second vote? Cos I know that SNP x 2 works against us."
You can kind of see the "logic" here - because the Greens, RISE and others are so adamant that giving both votes to the SNP is a bad thing, people take that literally and assume that voting SNP on the list is actually harmful and decreases the number of pro-independence MSPs, and therefore conclude that not voting on the list at all must by definition be better than voting SNP. Not to put too fine a point on it, that conclusion is completely nuts, and it should give the tactical voting lobby pause for thought about the grave dangers of the confusion they are sowing.
In one sense, voting on the list is no different from voting in constituencies - ie. there's a chance your vote might help to elect someone, and there's also a chance that it won't. It just depends on whether enough people vote in the same way that you do. But if you don't vote at all, all you're doing is letting other people make the decision entirely for themselves. If you take it to an extreme and no pro-independence voters at all take part in the list ballot, all that will happen is that every single MSP elected on the list will be a unionist. It really is that simple.
List seats are distributed on a compensatory basis to make the overall composition of parliament roughly proportional to how people voted on the list ballot. That is why, in principle, the list ballot is the most important of the two ballots, and also why people should vote for their first choice party on the list, regardless of what that first choice is.
Nevertheless, it's possible that a vote for a large party like the SNP on the list might not help to elect anyone if that party has already won a large number of constituency seats in your region, and if its list vote is not overwhelming enough. It's also possible that a vote for a small party like the Greens on the list might not help to elect anyone if that party falls below the de facto threshold for representation in the region, which is perhaps around 5% or 6% of the vote. The position of the tactical voting lobby is effectively that the former is guaranteed to happen, and that the latter is guaranteed not to happen. Both of those claims are self-evidently bogus and are disproved by the results of previous elections. But even if they were true, there is still no planet on which abstaining would do any good, or indeed do anything but harm.