One thing that has become clear in the discussions/arguments of recent days is that there is a real degree of paranoia among some independence supporters about how we ended up with the voting system for the Scottish Parliament, ie. "it was designed to shaft us, so we should use it to shaft them". This is quite odd on the face of it, because by any objective measure the Additional Member System has so far worked out beautifully for both the SNP and the combined pro-indy forces. There have been five elections since devolution in 1999, and three of them have produced SNP governments. Two of them produced outright pro-indy majorities. And in the two elections in which the SNP didn't come out on top, the list element of the system gave us far more pro-indy MSPs than we would have had under first-past-the-post. For example, either 27.9% or 28.7% of the MSPs elected in 1999 were in favour of independence (depending on how you classify Robin Harper), but it would have been just 9.6% without list MSPs.
As far as I can see, a lot of the paranoia seems to derive from a single-word answer that a young Jack McConnell once gave at a press conference when a journalist asked him whether proportional representation was introduced specifically to stop the SNP ever getting a majority. He said "correct". But we wouldn't regard Jack McConnell as a reliable witness about anything else, so why we treat that particular answer as gospel is rather unclear. What we do know for sure is that at the outset of discussions in the Scottish Constitutional Convention in 1989, the Liberal Democrats (then known as "the Democrats") were insisting upon some form of proportional representation for the Scottish Parliament, and in complete contrast to their attitude in coalition negotiations with the Tories twenty-one years later, they were actually treating electoral reform as a genuine deal-breaker. The chances of a cross-party agreement appeared remote, because it was so obviously in the narrow interests of the Labour party to hold the line on first-past-the-post - if they did, they looked set for indefinite majority rule in Edinburgh.
But, of course, Labour eventually made the seemingly irrational decision to give way. Why? I can think of three plausible explanations, and it may well have been a combination of all three. Firstly, Labour did have some enthusiasts for electoral reform in their own ranks, so those people may have made their presence felt. Secondly, given that the Thatcher/Major government seemed firmly entrenched in power at Westminster, Labour may have felt that a common front with the Lib Dems was essential to build the moral pressure for devolution. And thirdly, it may have occurred to the likes of Donald Dewar that however dominant Labour appeared to be in Scotland, the SNP would only need a relatively short burst of popularity at some point in the future to win an outright majority under first-past-the-post - and just one SNP majority might be enough to make Scotland an independent country. So proportional representation may have been partly an insurance policy against that distant eventuality.
But even if that was the reasoning, we have to bear in mind that once Labour had conceded the principle of proportional representation, they then hedged their bets by trying to limit how proportional the system would be in practice. They brought in a regional list system rather than a national list, which effectively gives a dominant party a "winner's bonus" in its strongest regions. They refused the possibility of German-style levelling seats which could have more or less guaranteed full proportionality. And they insisted on there being fewer list seats than constituency seats, which makes proportionality even less likely to be properly achieved. In fact, at one stage Labour were openly pushing for a ratio of just 40 list seats to the 73 constituency seats, which would have made single-party majority government very easily attainable, as has proved to be the case under a similar ratio in Wales.
All of these things were done to put Labour in command of the Scottish Parliament, but Dewar and co must have known that a somewhat less proportional system was bound to start working in favour of independence if the SNP ever became the most popular party. And so it has proved. Labour's greed for short-term power led them to effectively downgrade their own insurance policy, and in the long run they paid the price for it.
It's also worth making the point that the insurance policy was proportional representation as a general concept - the selection of an exact type of proportional representation wasn't so important. There's nothing about a mixed system of constituency and list MSPs that in itself constitutes a conspiracy against independence. In 1999, exactly half of the list seats were won by the SNP, and those SNP list members then proceeded to set up "shadow constituency surgeries" in Labour-held constituency seats across the central belt. Unsurprisingly, that infuriated Labour activists, who demanded that the 'unelected' list MSPs should know their place. SNP supporters were entirely guilt-free about the whole thing: the list seats had merely given their party something closer to its fair share of representation, and it was about time that Labour got used to not having a completely free run on a minority vote.
The only thing that's changed since then is that the boot is on the other foot because the SNP have replaced Labour as the dominant party in the constituencies. There's nothing unfair or crooked about the fact that the list seats are now mostly held by unionists - that's the case simply because the list seats are there to make the overall composition of parliament roughly proportional to how people cast their votes. If one side of the constitutional debate is under-represented in the constituencies, they'll be automatically compensated for that on the list. The pro-independence side has benefited from that process in the past, and may well benefit from it again in future.
We would be foolish to casually throw away a system that is infinitely fairer to all sides than first-past-the-post. However, it could certainly be improved - scrapping the regional lists in favour of a national list would increase proportionality at a stroke, and having a single vote to elect both constituency and list members would put an end to all the interminable nonsense about "tactical voting on the list", which - for the reasons that have been rehearsed on this blog a million times - is practically a contradiction in terms.