Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Flying without Wings

So let's recap.  A couple of weeks ago, a keen supporter of the idea of attempting to game the Holyrood electoral system by setting up a so-called "Wings party" made an utterly preposterous claim on social media.  Gavin Barrie informed the world that the worst-case scenario if Mr Stuart Campbell stood candidates against the SNP on the list ballot at the next election is that the Wings party would gain sixteen seats and that the SNP would lose two.  I pointed out that this was obviously nonsensical because, by definition, the worst-case scenario would have to involve the Wings party taking zero seats, which is always a possibility for any small party (let alone a new and untested party) if it doesn't secure enough votes.  It's also a statement of plain, inescapable fact that a party that takes some votes away from other pro-independence parties on the list, but without taking any seats itself, could end up costing those parties list seats.  The following truth is therefore self-evident: the worst-case scenario is that the Wings party would lead to a net loss of pro-independence seats in the Scottish Parliament, and not, as Mr Barrie ludicrously claimed, a net gain of fourteen seats.

When he saw my rebuttal, Mr Barrie became astonishingly defensive.  He refused to justify or even explain his claim, but nevertheless insisted I was wrong and repeatedly demanded that I wait for days or weeks to see his detailed modelling of various election permutations before commenting further.  I refused, because it was literally impossible for any modelling that may or may not have been done to substantiate the claim he had made.  His suggestion that the proof was just there, tantalisingly out of sight, seemed to me to be a cynical attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of people who desperately want to believe in the pretty fiction that a Wings party would be a risk-free enterprise for the Yes movement.  He became increasingly frustrated at his inability to silence my rebuttals, and ultimately the frustration gave way to outright abuse.  That led to a minor slap on the wrists from the powers-that-be at Twitter: a suspension of seven days.

His time in 'Twitter jail' having now come to an end, he's at long last published parts of his modelling - or, rather, Stuart Campbell has for obvious reasons of self-interest published it for him.  I say "parts", because at one point in the article he makes a high-flown claim about his belief in the "democratisation of information", and yet (at the time of writing) the link that is supposed to lead to his detailed data actually leads to an error message.  Presumably that's an honest mistake and we can look forward to it being swiftly remedied.  Anyway, if you haven't read the article yet, here's a spoiler alert: no, the modelling doesn't substantiate his original claim about the worst-case scenario being a net gain of fourteen seats.  Who'd have thunk it, eh?  In fact it very helpfully proves that the opposite is true, and that a Wings intervention could easily lead to a net loss of seats for the pro-indy side.

A sizeable chunk of the article is devoted to playing around with permutations that assume that the result of the constituency ballot is identical to the 2016 result, but that the list result is different due to varying chunks of the SNP list vote switching "tactically" to the Wings party.  That in itself is a bit of a nonsense, because as I pointed out umpteen times in both 2011 and 2016, one of the most important reasons that tactical voting on the list isn't viable is because it's impossible to know the constituency result in advance.  It's all very well with the luxury of hindsight to play God and to shift list votes around safe in the knowledge that the constituency ballot won't chuck a wrecking-ball into your calculations, but real-world voters in 2016 weren't able to do that, and they won't be able to do it in any future election either.  That's why I've always said that attempts to game the system are "gambling voting" rather than "tactical voting" - you're making a guess (potentially quite a wild guess) about how a large number of individual constituency results will turn out, and then trying to work out what would need to happen on the list to produce your desired outcome, assuming that your guess is correct.  But if your guess is wrong, and if the constituency results turn out differently, the "tactical" action you take on the list could easily backfire and produce an effect that is the complete opposite of what you intended.  You could end up with a worse result than you would have had if you'd simply played a straight bat and not tried to game the system.

And, no, voters did not know in advance that the SNP would win 59 constituency seats in 2016.  Most people expected the figure to be considerably higher than that, and indeed the rallying cry of many advocates of gaming the system was that the SNP were guaranteed to win the 65 seats required for an overall majority on constituency seats alone, and that they therefore didn't need any list votes at allIn the end, the SNP didn't win a majority even with the help of four list seats.  If more SNP voters had heeded the siren calls of the "tactical voting" lobby, their party would have ended up six seats short of a majority.  There would have been just 59 SNP seats, and 70 opposition seats.  Imagine the reaction of the unionist media if that had been the result.

Remarkably, having been proved wrong about the SNP being guaranteed to win a majority without needing any list votes, the tactical voting lobby is brazen enough to make the opposite claim this time: that it will be too difficult for the SNP, or even for the SNP and the Greens in combination, to win a pro-independence majority no matter how many list votes they take, and that the only possible remedy to this supposed problem is for SNP supporters to switch tactically to the Wings party on the list.  You'll notice this about the gaming-the-system brigade if you study them for long enough: the goalposts shift effortlessly and endlessly.  I wouldn't be remotely surprised if by this time next year they're back to claiming that a majority is assured and that the list vote can therefore be treated as a sort of luxury vote - which actually is a more intuitively plausible claim given the current state of opinion polling.  The scary Wings messaging of "the pro-indy majority will be lost without us" almost seems about nine months out of date - which indeed may not be a coincidence if the plan was hatched quite a while ago.  But the justifications and reasonings will doubtless "evolve" with time.

For the purpose of this discussion, let's follow Mr Barrie down the rabbit hole of assuming that the constituency result is somehow fixed and knowable in advance.  Even based on that impossible assumption, his own modelling shows that a Wings intervention could lead to either a net loss of pro-indy seats, or a net gain of pro-indy seats.  It all depends on how many SNP supporters switch to the Wings party on the list on a "tactical" basis, which is - once again - something that no voter can have foreknowledge of when they're standing in the polling booth.  What Mr Barrie appears to be hinting at (and this drives a coach and horses through his earlier "worst case scenario" claim) is that the risk/reward ratio favours taking a punt on the Wings party, because there would 'only' be a net loss of one pro-indy seat if between 5% and 12% of SNP voters switch to Wings, while there could be a net gain of as many as 11 or 13 pro-indy seats if one-third of SNP voters switch to Wings.  But the elephant in the room as he treats us to detail after detail from his modelling (almost an attempt to blind us with science) is that the scenarios in which a net loss of one seat will happen are many orders of magnitude more likely to actually occur than the scenarios which could bring about substantial net gains.  Nobody is saying, and nobody has ever said, that successfully gaming the system is impossible in theory - merely that it's so close to being impossible in practice as makes no difference.  With all due respect to Mr Campbell and anyone else involved in this project, the notion that one-third of the SNP's entire support (which in 2016 would have been more than 300,000 people) are going to suddenly defect to a sort of "pop-up party" is in the realms of absolute fantasy, and not worthy of serious discussion.  That elusive mind-control ray still hasn't been invented, I'm afraid.

But "aha!" says Mr Barrie - we can eliminate the risk of even losing one seat if the Wings party simply chooses to sit out the list ballot in two of the eight regions, namely Highlands & Islands and South of Scotland.  If that happens, the Wings impact will at worst be neutral, and at best (if it gets up to that aforementioned fantastical level of support) will be marvellously beneficial.  But at this point, I fear that we must leave Mr Barrie behind in his rabbit hole, because back in the real world we have absolutely no way of knowing if Highlands & Islands and South of Scotland are the only regions in which the SNP stand to lose list seats.  Anyone with a memory span of longer than three years will recall that on the only occasion to date when the SNP won an overall majority at Holyrood (which was also one of only two occasions to date in which a pro-independence majority has been secured) they took at least one list seat in seven of the eight regions.  If that scenario were to re-occur, a Wings intervention could cost the SNP list seats anywhere but the Lothians.  (And it's actually not at all hard to construct an alternative scenario in which the SNP could be harmed on the Lothians list as well.)

When I put the inconvenient example of 2011 to Stuart Campbell a few weeks ago, he came up with what I can only describe as a fatuous reply: "It's not 2011 anymore."  By which he meant that the days of the SNP getting 44% of the list vote are long gone.  And upon what did he base that remarkably sweeping claim?  I can only assume he based it on opinion polling.  Which leads me to the downright peculiar conclusion that it can't have been 2011 anymore even in 2011 itself - because according to this list of pre-election polls, not a single poll suggested that the SNP would reach 44% on the list in 2011.  Indeed, in the autumn of 2009, at roughly the same stage of the electoral cycle that we're at now, the polls put the SNP in the high 20s or low 30s on the list.  I'll be blunt about it: Stuart Campbell's claim to know eighteen months in advance that there is some sort of ceiling on the SNP's potential list vote is risible and without foundation, and nobody should waste any further time on it.

Having completed his discussion of permutations based on the assumption that the 2016 constituency result was fixed and knowable in advance, Mr Barrie goes on to repeat the same exercise based on seat projections from a recent YouGov poll.  Which of course is an even more futile task - opinion polls are just snapshots of ever-changing public opinion, and may not even be accurate snapshots.

The third section of the article takes us onto territory that concerns me greatly, ie. the possibility that things may not go according to plan for the SNP and that they might unexpectedly lose a substantial number of constituency seats, which would mean they'd be relying on their list vote holding up if they're to avoid a devastating loss of overall representation at Holyrood.  But never fear: Mr Barrie breezily informs us that if we just vote tactically on the list, Wings will take sixteen seats, which will more than make up for the loss of SNP constituency seats.  What he mysteriously fails to mention is that his accompanying graph clearly demonstrates that Wings will only be taking sixteen seats if - yes, you've guessed it! - one-third of the SNP's entire support defects to Wings on the list.  That is an utterly excruciating sleight of hand, and the fact that Mr Barrie's entire case hinges upon it leaves him with very little credibility.  He sums up by claiming that a Wings party "would in any currently-plausible circumstances pose no risk whatsoever to the Yes majority".  It would have been far more accurate to say that the only circumstances in which Wings poses no risk to Yes representation are currently-fantastical ones.

Mr Barrie's parting shot is rather passive-aggressive, and it's safe to assume it's directed at least partly at me -

"But I’m sure that certain other rather sensitive commentators will as we speak be frantically searching for permutations where it could do damage, in order to justify their increasingly-heated opposition.  The documents are below. I invite them to make their case."

First of all, the documents aren't "below" - they're still not there even two hours after I started writing this blogpost.  I look forward to perusing them if they're ever actually published.  Secondly, I would just gently note that one good way of measuring the "sensitivity" of a commentator is whether or not they react to polite disagreement by repeatedly calling someone a "dishonest c**t", and then treating the subsequent temporary suspension from a social media website as an ordeal akin to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  Maybe Mr Barrie would be in a stronger position to lecture others on the subject of sensitivity if he took responsibility for the consequences of his own actions in future.  And thirdly, I'm afraid I'm going to have to disappoint him on his prediction that I'll be "frantically searching for permutations".  I'm actually not particularly interested in specific permutations, and it was only at the request of a reader that I recently produced one illustrative example of how a Wings party could reduce the number of pro-indy seats.

It's not a point of difference between myself and Mr Barrie that there are hypothetical scenarios in which Wings could help and hypothetical scenarios in which Wings could harm.  (Mr Barrie has only grudgingly admitted to the existence of the latter, but what matters is that he's admitted it.)  Where we actually part company is that I do not believe that any of these permutations are of concrete use in attempting to game the voting system.  The level of foreknowledge required to vote tactically on the list in a successful and risk-free way - rather than as a wild punt that could explode in your face - does not exist and will never exist.  And frankly, even if that precise foreknowledge were to become available, the likelihood is that all it would tell you is that Wings does not have sufficient support on the list to win any seats, regardless of how you vote yourself.  The vast majority of new parties flop, and the vast majority of new parties also think they're going to be the exception to that rule.

Early in the article, Mr Barrie chides me (sorry, he chides "other pollster bloggers") for relying on modelling at national level rather than at the level of the eight electoral regions.  And that brings me neatly onto the subject of one of the very few small parties that sort-of-enjoyed instant success just after being created.  In 2003, the Scottish Senior Citizens' Unity Party stunned us all by winning a seat on the Central Scotland list, even though nationally they took only 1.5%  of the list vote.  How was that possible, given that 5% or 6% is generally considered to be the de facto threshold for representation?  Quite simply they didn't stand in every region, but in the region where they took a seat, they secured 6.5% of the vote.  So, yes, it's theoretically possible that the Wings party could nick a seat even if they're only on 2% or 3% or 4% of the national vote, and that could happen if they do significantly better in one region than in others.  I don't think that's remotely likely, though, and it should be noted that a big part of the reason why the SSCUP made their breakthrough is that Billy McNeill (and also a former Rangers star - I can't remember which one) agreed to be a nominal candidate, albeit far enough down the list not to have to worry about becoming an MSP.  That's the sort of luck you need if you're going to beat the odds as a new party.

And even if Wings does nick one seat somewhere or other (which, let's face it, would be an astonishing result), so what?  The system wouldn't have been successfully gamed.  There wouldn't be a substantially greater number of pro-indy seats.  It would just be a quirky little result that would become a footnote in the history books.  Mr Campbell has said himself that to truly make the effort worthwhile, he'd be looking for something in the region of 15% of the list vote - and if anyone thinks that'll be easily attainable, all I can do is wish them luck, because they're going to need it.

I hope you're not flagging yet, because I've yet to come to one of the most important flaws in Mr Barrie's modelling - he takes no account at all, as far as I can see, of the potentially disastrous effect if some votes for the Wings party come from the Greens rather than the SNP.  He acknowledges in passing that attempts at gaming the system have often focused on the Greens, so what happens if people who took a punt on the Greens on a tactical basis in 2016 switch to the Wings party?  We actually got very lucky in 2016 - the Greens took a little under 7% of the vote, which was only just about high enough to secure a significant number of seats.  We were at risk of falling between two stools - enough people had abandoned the SNP on the list to ensure that the SNP didn't take as many seats as in 2011, but the Greens were also in danger of not polling high enough to partially make up for that.  The greater the number of small pro-indy parties there are competing for "tactical" votes on the list, the greater the danger of falling between two stools in precisely that manner, because the votes will be spread too thin.

The way things are heading, the 2021 campaign could be truly dismal.  The Greens will be telling us that gaming the system can work but not for Wings, and Wings will be telling us that gaming the system can work but not for the Greens.  There would be a sort of poetic irony if the two parties ended up knocking each other out, but that wouldn't do much good for the independence movement.

Mr Barrie implies that Wings can succeed where the Greens have failed over the years, because there are reasons why SNP voters are "increasingly uncomfortable" about lending their votes to the Greens.  This is presumably a reference to the Greens' stance on the trans issue.  But it's a statement of the obvious that there are also any number of reasons why the Wings party might repel a large fraction of SNP voters - Mr Campbell's abusive online behaviour, his controversial interpretation of the cause of the Hillsborough disaster, his idiosyncratic abhorrence of the Gaelic language, and indeed his own stance on the trans issue, which is just as contentious at one end of the spectrum as the Greens' stance is at the other.

I personally don't see any need for a new pro-independence party.  But for those of you who disagree, this is what I think you should demand from it -

1) A party that exists for reasons other than perceived tactical advantage.  If your Party Election Broadcast is an embarrassing three minute monologue about the d'Hondt formula, you're going wrong somewhere.

2) A party that is not organised on the Il Duce principle.  Any party with aspirations to hold the balance of power in our national parliament must be controlled by its members, rather than being the personal possession of its founder - regardless of the magnetic hold that individual may have on his followers.


  1. Another problem is, if this supposed gaming of the Holyrood system was successful, and pro-independence parties won a collective majority that they probably wouldn't have if they just voted SNP, the unionist parties would use that as a justification for denying the legitimacy of that pro-independence majority in Holyrood.

    That would make the whole gaming process completely self-defeating.

    1. The above is an important point!
      The D'Hondt system is designed to produce numbers of MSPs reasonably proportional the party support as expressed on the regional list vote.
      If there is a good pro-independence majority of voters in country then there should be no need to "game" the the system - a pro-indy majortity should be achieved anyway.
      If there is not a good pro-independence majority of voters and the Wings proposed subversion of the list vote does work, the unionists would have a very strong case for denying the legitimacy of such a pro-independence majority in Holyrood. If there were a pro-indy majority in the country would independence supporters accept a pro-union Holyrood majority achieved by unionists gaming the voting?
      Furthermore what could this pro-indy majority in Holyrood actually do?. If they somehow managed to call a referendum they would lose it, and any chance to achieve independence delayed for a considerable time.
      Meanwhile the SNP would be running a devolved government held hostage by Wings MSPs in much the same way they currently have been by the Greens eg re budgets and repealing the OBFA. At least the Greens are an established party with established principles and policies (whether you agree with them or not). We have absolutely no idea what Wings MSPs position would be on any issue - or even if they would have a common collective view at all. We really do not know what we would be letting ourselves in for.
      James' analysis as to why the Wings idea is not likely to work and may well be damaging is reason enough to reject the idea. Considering the repercussions if it did somehow work are even more reason to reject it.
      While James' detailed response is reason eno

    2. Please ingore the stray part sentence on the last line.

  2. IMO, Stu is definitely "at it". I have commented on his blog about the necessity for good polling, but so far have received just two sarcastic comments in reply from him.
    Alex Birnie

  3. It depends on the percentage of the SNP vote that Wings can take. I worked it out for West of Scotland on the basis of Wings taking 50% of the SNP list vote, resulting change from 2016 would have been +3 Wings, -1 Green, 0 SNP as there were 0 SNP on the list.

    In fact in 2016 there were only 2 regions the SNP got any MSPs on the list, 1 in H&I, and 3 in South Scotland.

    I looked quickly at the data on the Wings article and it looks about right to me, and I did stats at Uni for what that's worth.

    James, you are dismissing this without ANY data analysis. That's just plain wrong, sorry pal. You're better than this.

    1. My patience is wearing a bit thin with that sort of cowardly jibe from anonymous commenters. My response to Mr Barrie is detailed and thorough, and has taken me about five hours to write (minus sandwich breaks). Your complaint is essentially that I don't buy into his premise that endless discussion of fanciful permutations can tell us something important. And my reply to that is: "Yes, exactly." What's your point?

    2. >>It depends on the percentage of the SNP vote that Wings can take. I worked it out for West of Scotland on the basis of Wings taking 50% of the SNP list vote…<<

      The objection is not that the maths is wrong, the objection is to the idea that a new party could get anything like 12% of the SNP's vote, much less 50%. This is patently ludicrous. The idea of "voting tactically on the list" is not new. It comes up during every Holyrood election cycle. If it worked, then the Greens or RISE would have benefited from it already. In fact, by Gavin Barrie's own analysis, a hypothetical Wings party would have to do about as well as the Greens on the list before they would start having a positive impact in terms of pro-indy seats. It's not going to happen. Recognizing Wings as a "brand" and reading the blog are not remotely accurate gauges of the number of votes a Wings party would get.

    3. I did Stats at university also, and I have used stats professionally through most of my working life. The modelling by Barrie/Wings may well be OK arithmetically but it's founded on badly flawed assumptions, as James explains very cogently above. If the assumptions are daft, so is the modelling and the conclusions.
      William Barlow

    4. I read Wings Over Scotland very regularly. His analysis of the media is excellent and a complete eye-opener. The Wee Blue Book changed so many people's opinions and was invaluable. But I would never vote for a Wings Party because, Mystic McTernan aside, we aren't psychic and don't know the constituency results when we vote regionally. If the list vote were held a week after the constituency results were announced, that would be a different matter. For safety's sake, I recommend Constituency - SNP and Region - SNP.

  4. It felt to me a lot like "blind them with science", and I don't know who this guy is, but he seems worryingly like oor side's dug food salesman.

  5. Anonymous @ 2:36
    Your opening statement was correct. "It depends". Anybody can take a spread sheet, plumb in an imaginary figure like 5%, 35%, or 50% as you and Mr Barrie have done, and get a completely imaginary number of seats. Until Stu Campbell conducts a poll, he and Mr Barrie have NO IDEA how many SNP voters might switch to Wings, and that is a vital piece of information, before he even THINKS of starting a new party. James, carry on what you are doing, telling truth, because you ARE better when it comes to this kind of stuff.
    Alex Birnie

  6. Sadly, the voters don't always do what you want them to do, at times it is like herding cats.

  7. 'If it is too good to be true, it normally is'.

    It would have been better to balance the analysis with more of the risks, instead of focus mainly on the potential ‘gains’. The obvious risk is that the SNP vote falls and ‘Wings’ fails to get 5%. The Green vote could fall too as Wings takes some votes off them. Net result a loss of seats and potential loss of majority. This is a big risk as getting 5% for a start-up isn’t easy, even under PR. Ask UKIP, the Lib Dems and the Greens.

    That aside, if the goal is simply more pro-indy MSPs, why not vote Green? They are already established and now getting >5% so a much safer bet if your only aim is this.

    Which is where the 5% risk comes in. There is no obvious point to a wings party unless it has different policies. Namely, a policy of opposition to the SNP and Greens for one or more important issues. Then it can attract votes.

    However, if Wings is an opposition to the SNP and Greens, why would an SNP voter vote for it? Or at least why would anyone vote SNP and Wings? This would make no sense.

    This is key and why the plan is something of a pipe dream. If sounds cool in principle, and the numbers look amazing, but the reality is very different.

    Also, in terms of the raw numbers….

    Fundamentally, the whole premise of a ‘tactical list vote’ is flawed due to a failure to understand the Holyrood system. Your regional vote is your No 1 vote. The most important of your votes. It should always be for your most favoured party. That’s because it is a proportional system vote. If your party gets >5% in your region, your vote will count.

    From the outset, the regional vote should have been Vote 1 to highlight this. But British FPTP holds on as it is liked by parties and MSPs…

    Your constituency vote is not PR and can readily be wasted. It may not be counted even if your party gets 49.9% of the vote. 70% of votes can be readily binned here, not counting for the make-up of government. Vote shares here are irrelevant to the election outcome; only seats matter.

    So someone who votes (1) SNP (2) Green is not an SNP voted giving their second vote to the Greens. They are a PR green voter tactically voting SNP on the constituency. The same will apply for Wings. Vote Wings on the list and you are now a Wings voter first and foremost

    Vote Wings if you like the Wings policy platform (I will duly consider any manifesto), but understand that you are now a wings voter, and that your SNP vote is now secondary. That your Wings vote is PR secured (if it gets >5%), but your SNP constituency vote may well be binned. Of course by doing so, you are also risking SNP (and green seats) in favour of Wings seats; which is natural for a Wings voter.

    I think honesty is needed here, although it seems many don’t really appreciate the obvious in this case.

    1. Here is some really simple modelling.

      5% SNP = vote not counted
      10% SNP = vote not counted
      15% SNP = vote not counted
      20% SNP = voted not counted
      25% SNP = vote not counted
      30% SNP = vote maybe counted if the seat is a 3 way marginal
      35% SNP = vote maybe counted, but still tight
      40% SNP = voted very likely counted
      45% SNP = vote almost guaranteed to be counted

      5% SNP = vote counted
      10% SNP = vote counted
      15% SNP = vote counted
      20% SNP = voted counted
      25% SNP = vote counted
      30% SNP = vote counted
      35% SNP = vote counted
      40% SNP = vote counted
      45% SNP = vote counted

      Which is why the SNP, just like all parties, desperately want your list vote. On the PR list, it always counts (above the 5% cut-off).

    2. That might be the most wrong any person has ever been about AMS. Of course the list vote gets COUNTED. The point is that in the SNP's case it also gets DIVIDED BY TEN, so most of the time it may as well count for nothing.

    3. Why does your vote "count" if it happens to be for the winning party, while it's "wasted" if it's for a losing one? That's just arbitrary. Your vote only really "counts" if, without it, the result would have been different, and that's almost never the case. Increasing a winning margin by 1 is no more significant than reducing a losing margin by 1.

    4. "Why does your vote "count" if it happens to be for the winning party, while it's "wasted" if it's for a losing one?"

      The Electoral Reform Society Society explain:

      But millions of those people's votes are being thrown on the electoral scrapheap. A new report from the Electoral Reform Society shows that 68% of votes had no impact on the [2017 UK GE] result. That's 22 million votes going to waste.


      Votes for non-winning candidates under FPTP do not count towards the make-up of elected members. Only votes for the winning candidate do.

      So if you vote SNP on the (FPTP) constituency and Green or Wings on the (PR) list, but the SNP don't win the constituency, then your SNP voted counted for nothing. It had no impact on the final MSP numbers. Only your Green/Wings voted was counted (assuming they reached the 5% regional threshold).

      If you only stand in the constutencies and not on the list, and don't win any seats here, you will get zero seats.

      So, if the SNP got say 45% of votes but the 'Grand Unionist Alliance' (the perfect counter to a Wings list party) got 55% under FPTP, and Wings got 45% on the list, the SNP wouldn't get as single seat even though 45% had voted for them.

      Constituency vote shares only determine constituency MSPs. They have no bearing on the regional count beyond that.

    5. "That might be the most wrong any person has ever been about AMS."

      No, its correct.

      If the SNP got 35% of the vote but failed to win any constituency seats, and that 35% then voted Wings on the list, the SNP would have zero seats.

      You even agree with me in your own post.

      Of course the list vote gets COUNTED.

      Yes. Even if a party loses in every single constituency, they still can get seats from the list.

      Ergo, it is self-evident that your mist important vote is the list vote.

      Unless you are suggesting a Green voter should vote green for the constituency and SNP on the list? If not, why not? The reasons are blindingly obvious. So Green votes do exactly this; they give their most important PR regional vote to the Greens. But they know the Greens will have no chance in the constituency, so they vote SNP tactically.

      So, if you vote Wings on the list, you are giving your more important, 'guaranteed to be counted' (if the 5% threshold is exceeded) vote to Wings.

      That's fine if you want to do that because you prefer the Wings policy platform, but let's not pretend it's the other way around.

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    7. It's natural that seats won in the constituency are deducted from the regional totals before allocation of the remaining seats.

      However, if you lose the constituency, you are not rewarded with some seats for what votes you did get. Nope; you are now fully reliant on your list votes.

      This is why some argue there should only be one vote, with the % of this used to PR allocate out all remaining seats once constituencies seats have been allocated to FPTP winners.

      AMS is flawed in the case of a mass tactical vote switch. Here, a party could get a very large share of the constituency vote, but fail to win a single seat if their voters did something else on the list (e.g. all SNP voters voted Wings or Green). That would not be the 'PR' intended.

      There is a narrow band where it works the other way, namely the scenario detailed in the Wings article. It needs the SNP on 40% or so and Wings to top 5%. Statistically, quite a narrow window for multi-party elections, even though it looks possible right now. Such an outcome would of course also distorts the result too, making it not really PR any more.

    8. And let's not pretend the SNP are going to get no constituency seats. Because that would be absurd.

    9. The SNP getting zero constituency seats is stupidly unlikely, particularly in the current circumstances. However, what I have said is completely true.

      My analysis/points are independent of polling numbers / vote shares. They simply represent the reality of how the system works.

      However, I note we can go back just 3 elections to 2007 where the SNP won just 21/73 constituencies. The reason they ended up the largest party was their decent list vote share, which won them a further PR 26 seats. Lucky there was no Wings party then!

      In 2003, they won just 9/73 constituencies. That's not far from zero, ergo not absurd. Handily, the list delivered them another 18 seats.

    10. So if you vote SNP on the (FPTP) constituency and Green or Wings on the (PR) list, but the SNP don't win the constituency, then your SNP voted counted for nothing. It had no impact on the final MSP numbers.

      What impact does my vote have on the final MSP numbers even if I vote for the winning party? The number of elected members would be exactly the same if I'd voted for someone else.

    11. Yes it does. You just elected an MSP if you voted for the winning candidate. Sure they are then deducted from the regional list allocation of that party, but you have still put them in government. You just got them a seat early before the main PR count begins. That's all.

      By contrast, if you e.g. vote for the SNP in the constituency and they don't win, then you vote for a different party (e.g. Wings), you will not elect an SNP MSP. Your list vote will be counted, but your constituency vote won't, ergo it's 'wasted'. You could have not bothered with your constituency vote and the outcome would be the same.

      The whole aim of AMS is that the FPTP part 'wastes' votes, so a PR list is used as main basis for allocation, with FPTP seats won simply deducted before the allocation begins.

      If people vote the same way in both votes, it will be very PR. MSPs would be essentially identical to vote shares (on both votes).

      The more people vote switch, the more it will deviate from PR, resulting in increased wasted votes.

      If the wings plan was successful, and the % pro-indy MSPs was much greater than % pro-indy voters, there must be lot of wasted votes (unionist in this case). These could only come from the constituency vote as the list is PR.

      Flip it the other way and a unionist alliance tanks the SNP while wings hoovers up pro-indy voters on the list, and you have a shit load of wasted SNP constituency votes that didn’t count towards government.

      Your regional list vote always counts. Your constituency vote may or may not.

      Vote Wings if you like, but this is how AMS works. Your regional list vote is always your strongest, most important vote, whatever happens.

    12. You could have not bothered with your constituency vote and the outcome would be the same.

      Reality A: I vote for the SNP FPTP candidate. They win by 2001 votes.

      Reality B: I don't vote for the SNP FPTP candidate. They win by 2000 votes.

      In reality A, what difference has my vote made to the outcome?

  8. These modelling scenarios remind me of the GERS. The figures might be accurately dealt with by the model. It's just the figures are mince. Garbage in, garbage out they call it.

    Unlike James I'm not against another pro-indy party, anymore than I'm against more pro-indy media. But there is no time to establish the bono-fides of a new party by 2021. It would need good candidates with voter recognition like the footballers.

  9. A lot can happen between now and 2021.
    Also who will stand for the Wings party?
    My preference is for a YES Scotland figure to stand in maybe just 4 or 5 of the regions. That's a brand the public can understand and support.

  10. First Wings Party candidate unveiled -

    (It's all good - as long as no "Europhobes" enter Holyrood.)

    1. Candidate's inaugural press conference:

      Peter A Bell says:
      19 September, 2019 at 2:14 pm

      Andy Ellis says:
      19 September, 2019 at 2:02 pm
      @ Scozzie 1.00PM

      “Peter Bell & his chum James Kelly simply aren’t open to reason on the matter.”

      My chum? I shunned the lying little turd long ago. You know nothing."

  11. James, I think that you may be missing a very important factor in all of this. Many of us are sick to death of SNP inaction and do not now want an SNP majority - for the simple reason that we no longer believe that Nicola and the SNP will even attempt to use it to try to achieve independence. I understand that as an SNP member (as I believe you) you will not share this view, but for increasing numbers of independence supporters the idea of having Stuart Campbell kicking comfortable lazy SNP arses is exactly what is needed.

    1. Enter Lord Ha Ha. Westminster calling, Westminster calling.

    2. "Stuart Campbell kicking comfortable lazy SNP arses is exactly what is needed."
      If you want to drive voters away from independence supporting parties.

    3. Alasdair Darling, oops I mean Stirling...

      Crap, SNP are a party of policy, as well as independence.
      The damage to Scotland of 300+ years of Britnat rule would be several hundred volumes long if all written down.

      The SNP are the ONLY party that works for Scotland, for the people of Scotland and in the interests of Scotland's well being, and for future generations to come.

      Nice try though, 'now many do not want a majority'. Tough because that's what Scotland wants, an SNP government. The people of Scotland know which side their bread is buttered now.

      The British Nationalists in WM and at Holyrood would see people go hungry, well actually they do literally sanction people to go hungry and live in destitution. They allowed Scotland's people to suffer in the past, while siphoning away Scotland's oil and great wealth from huge industries. Glasgow, the lowest life expectancy in Europe until not so long ago. All under the britnats' watch and my were they happy with that situation. Utter disgrace, troughers taking from the people, stepping over the poor, and not giving one hoot about them.

      Labour when in power at Holyrood sent £1.5 BILLION back to Westminster in 2006, saying. 'nothing to spend it on in Scotland'. Not infrastructure, not health, not education, not housing, nope, just 'nothing' Utterly despicable, criminal and unforgiveable. Still Jack McConnell was rewarded for that, as you will know, HOL's seat, £300 a day, for life!

      So no, no going back to the old days of Britnat rule in Scotland, keeping Scotland poor, importing drugs into communities to keep the poor compliant. Feeding the Scottish cringe, too stupid and poor. No thanks.

      It's SNP SNP all the way if Scotland wants any kind of decent life affirming future. Independence is the icing on the cake.

  12. Apologies in advance for the long comment - had to split it into two parts.

    I think the problem is you (Scot Goes Pop and Wings) are both right and you're both wrong DEPENDING on which way you look at things, which is why this discussion appears to keep coming up.

    "one of the most important reasons that tactical voting on the list isn't viable is because it's impossible to know the constituency result in advance. It's all very well with the luxury of hindsight to play God and to shift list votes around safe in the knowledge that the constituency ballot won't chuck a wrecking-ball into your calculations, but real-world voters in 2016 weren't able to do that, and they won't be able to do it in any future election either."

    Of course you're right. No-one can know the constituency result in advance.

    But it's important to understand the limitations of *modelling* i.e. an attempt to simulate some sort of real-world scenario through a modelled approximation. It will generally require some simplifications and/or assumptions in order to make the calculation tractable - it's nigh-on impossible to avoid that. But in the absence of any better way to do things, i.e. no one can actually go to the future and come back with the result for us, it's still a reasonable way to proceed PROVIDED we're all aware of the assumptions and limitations and range of model outputs up front.

    This type of modelling is used in a huge variety of important fields primarily because it represents the best we can do. We can't predict the future with any sort of accuracy, but in many fields we still need to try. Hence, modelling.

    I would say that it is a reasonable assumption to start from the same constituency basis as 2016's result and tweak the list vote to understand the relative sensitivities of the final result to a Wings party. It can be both not right and also not automatically "nonsense". As a sensitivity test rather than a crystal ball type prediction of the future, the results are put into a more appropriate context. One can then expand the modelling to consider different constituency vote results as well.

    In a way I do not see this type of modelling as being much different from using seat projectors, which you yourself discuss in your post:

    "Mr Barrie goes on to repeat the same exercise based on seat projections from a recent YouGov poll. Which of course is an even more futile task - opinion polls are just snapshots of ever-changing public opinion, and may not even be accurate snapshots."

    In the interests of balance, has this site not engaged in the same principle before of providing seat projections based on opinion polling? e.g. post on Wed 4th September "First post-Boris Scottish poll puts the SNP on course for dramatic gains from both the Tories and Labour". I don't think you ever presented those as "futile".

    This is not to be critical of your doing so - it is a reasonable sensitivity test for context, just not (as you allude to) an unarguable certainty. But let's be consistent here.

    1. In terms of the actual results, I have myself recently run this exact same calculation of starting from the previous constituency result and tweaking how many SNP voters switch their list vote to Wings.

      I agree that between 5% and 12% (or I can be even more specific and say from my calculation between 4.2% and 11.2%) of SNP voters switching list vote to Wings then we would instead have lost one pro-indy seat. This would have reduced the pro-indy majority to 8.

      Less than 4.2% of switching and it'd not have changed the final 2016 result (as ever caveated with "given the limitations of the analysis i.e. assuming everything else was as it was"). There'd still have been a pro-indy majority of 9.

      From 11.3% and upwards of SNP voters switching list vote to the Wings party then the gains for the pro-indy majority start to mount up quite quickly - but this means circa 100,000 votes nationally for Wings. 15% switching in my calculation would give 8 Wings list seats and a pro-indy majority of 15.

      Now it's all very easy to say this with hindsight and I agree 100% with you on that James. But we can at least understand a bit better the boundaries of the problem. Wings on the list and getting only 2-3% of SNP voters switching wouldn't have made much difference in 2016 (yes, I'll keep caveating by saying if all else was the same). Getting a reasonable 10% switching might ultimately have cost one pro-indy seat but not nearly enough to worry the pro-indy majority.

      So on that basis there's space to say you're both right. You're right in that it takes a large proportion of people to switch their list vote only for it to really work well for the pro-indy side. Is it plausible to get 15% of SNP voters to switch? I'll leave that to others to judge. You're also right that unless they get a significant % of people to switch the chances are they might cost a seat.

      On the flipside Wings are in the right in that basically under the parameters of the 2016 election with nothing else changed, it's hard to see how they could have significantly hindered the pro-indy majority even in the worst case scenario, and if things went like a dream for them (albeit it is not necessarily likely) they could be significantly increasing the pro-indy majority.

      It's also true to say that more modelling is needed. From the perspective of the analysis I've done (I make no comment on anyone else's) more looking at the switching between SNP/Green/Wings is needed. More looking at the sensitivity of this when the constituency vote changes is also needed.

      But I don't think we should dismiss the Wings party out of hand on this based on the analysis to date.

    2. But it is unnecessary. If its a single issue you vote for (which is what WINGS would be) then go for Green.

    3. That's not an unreasonable comment to make.

      I present no views about voter preference or policies of Greens versus Wings as an alternative list vote option to the SNP. All I present is my take on the modelling which has been done on what happens if we assume a new Wings party is on the scene and gets a certain amount of vote transfer from the SNP and everything else was kept constant.

      As I pointed out, more modelling on what the pro-indy majority would be if:

      (a) there's no Wings but more people move their list vote from SNP to Green and
      (b) there is a Wings party and there is some form of break between people moving from SNP to Wings versus SNP to Green

      would also be extremely useful in the context of this discussion.

    4. And again when I say "would be" I mean within the constraints of the modelling and not as some "this is definitely what would happen" type statement.

    5. "In the interests of balance, has this site not engaged in the same principle before of providing seat projections based on opinion polling?"

      No, that's categorically not the same principle. Reporting on a snapshot of public opinion is not the same thing as predicting that the snapshot will be identical to the final outcome, let alone suggesting that people should change their vote on the basis of that snapshot. So no, there's no inconsistency.

  13. Perfect unionist counter attack to a Wings list surge would be a unionist alliance constituency candidates to take down the SNP.

    That or they all agree to withdraw their candidates, leaving only the strongest unionist to take on the SNP.

    The list of course would ensure the unionists don't lose any seats themselves by doing this.

    This could cause the SNP to take huge hits at constituency level, while those shifting to Wings on the list ensure the SNP struggle here too.

    1. LOL, you really think a "Unionist alliance" would cause "huge hits" on SNP constituency seats? Yeah, all those Tories rushing to vote Labour in Glasgow East ������

    2. A Scexit Party could do well in Glasgow East. 45% Leave.

    3. I simply stated what was possible. I don't know what will happen in elecitons.

      Only those claiming the proposed Wings strategy is guaranteed to work seem to know the outcome of elections before they happen.

      Out of interest, do you remember what happened to the SNP in 2017? The were polling 47%+ right up until the moment the snap election was announced and the campaign began. They then fell 10%.

      So if you want to game the Holyrood system the Wings way, you need plan to get people to do exactly what's proposed in the right constituencies on a mass scale. And you also need a plan to stop them if required based on last minute polling. All of them. Hundreds of thousands of them. A huge country-wide network of people awaiting instructions and ready to follow them.

      A 'tactical voting wheel' could do it maybe :-)

      Or folk can just vote for the party they like based on manifestos, Wings included. That's my recommendation.

    4. What ELSE is it that you think is being proposed? It's not "gaming" an election to stand in it. Are Labour "gaming" the system by standing when there's already a Unionist party?

    5. I've never said it's gaming an election to stand in it. I've also said folk can vote for who they like.

      It's the Wings article that suggests the main reason to vote for the Wings party is to try and game the system, i.e. break the PR aspect as much as possible.

      I've simply said that's possible, but risky.

      Also that if you vote Wings on the list, you are using your most important vote for that. You become a Wings voter who is tactically voting SNP on the constituency.

      It's an important distinction and one folk should be honest about.

    6. Anon 1.40 Labour do actually have some policies.

    7. I don't see anywhere in the article that says anything like that. Can you quote me the line(s)?

  14. My wee Brother is as pro Independence as you can get. My next door Neighbour Bob who is 91 has been SNP all his life. Many in my community were soft No's and are now considering Independence. What do all these folk have in common ? They have never heard of Wings over Scotland let alone vote for them. And this is very much the case in the vast majority of Scottish voters. I really cant believe how delusional or egoistical Campbell is being. Its really not that complicated SNP 1 Greens 2 its as simple as that.

    1. No, it isn't "as simple as that".

      You vote for who you want to, not who some random on the internet insists you should vote for on the list because it's "as simple as that".

      Go away, Green.

    Thats all I have to say.

  16. Incidentally, if you like Wings blog and twitter, the last thing you want is him as a party leader and particularly an MSP.

    Being a party leader + MSP is a full time job, especially if you are good one of these working hard for your constituents + party voters/members.

    So no more Wings articles nor twitter feed from dawn to dusk if Campbell became the MSP for Bathgate East.

    Although I suppose people couldn't get on at him for living in Bath anymore; not unless he did a Jo fae Swindon.

  17. I cannot understand this 'fan' approach to politics Wings supporters have. There's REAL work to be done in politics - constituency work. The Wings fan-base seem to have forgotten the actual job of politicians. Stuart Campbell runs a blog for heaven's sake - he writes an article when it suits him, sometimes every day and sometimes a couple of times a week. Nicola Sturgeon runs a country. I think the workload is somewhat more demanding. So far, the SNP cautious approach is working. Slow and steady is what we need not some crazy rush into uncertain territory. Get some patience and stop acting like groupies.

  18. Yes folks many times we hear of the good people of nations getting excited about voting for a statistic....not
    People vote for people, and Stuart Campbell, talented writer though he is will never make a politician in the next hundred years, the guy is just unpleasant and that's a fact, plus he doesn't care for women politicians (sometimes with good reason) but that doesn't mean you should insult them all, his latest ruse is to pretend he really cares about the new gender argument in the hope of garnering womens support but if you look back at his attitude towards women politicians that doesn't quite tally up

    I don't believe the Kezia Dugdale case was solely about something she said, because he was obsessed by hounding her (sometimes rightly) but mostly just because he disliked her, then moved to Monica Lennon then Annie Wells, granted these are stupid politicians but when he moved his ire on to the First Minister that was a step too far, and his reason? she's not doing what he demands of her quickly enough
    It's this constant unpleasantness that will not see him elected as anything the minute he tries because the media will destroy him

    My own opinion is the whole thing's another scam to collect yet even more money from his supporters to fund yet another court case against the Dugdale in his quest for vengeance and of course it's his source of income in what looks like the realisation that when Scotland becomes Independent there will be no more need of him so bypass go and go straight to Holyrood and collect £70 grand a year

    Income problem solved, and who pays for all this? if you're daft enough

    1. So you are saying that the women who like him/his blog are just dumb females?

      It's hard to read your post differently.

  19. Anybody that truely wants independence will vote SNP 1st vote and second vote. After independence you can vote for whoever you want.

    1. He's never going to get my vote 1st or second.
      He has no experience of public office.
      He's a very minor celebrity Andy's always on Twitter. Im sure I have head that before somewhere

    2. I don't see how your comment relates in any way to what William has said.

      If William is wrong anywhere, it's in appearing to suggest that you cannot "vote for whoever you want" currently.

  20. Apologies James


    ISN' t the time for all this sort of debate AFTER we've won IndyRef2..?

    1. Simple answer: no. Mr Campbell is banging the drum now, so the time to debate the idea is now. If he had held off until after the referendum, the time for debate would have been after the referendum.

    2. In even more stark terms, the time to decide whether you want to remain a virgin is BEFORE you have sex. This idea of forming a Wings party needs to be thrashed out in public BEFORE Stu " takes the plunge" and commits to forming it. Once he's done it, the damage (if there IS going to be damage) is done.

      Stu has been ramping up the rhetoric for weeks and weeks now, and he gives every indication that he's chomping at the bit. Before his " fan club" get too excited, cooler heads need to keep on repeating the same message "Let's see the question first, and IF it is a VALID question, let's see the figures it's produced". Once that has been laid before us, THEN we can make the decision.....
      Alex Birnie

  21. James, you don't understand the electoral system. List seats are allocated in proportion to the number of list votes a party gets. If Wings takes seats from an indy party, the number of indy votes and therefore the number of indy seats remains unchanged; if it takes seats from a non-indy party, the proportion of indy votes and therefore the number of indy seats goes up. Under such a system, Wings cannot cause any indy seats to be lost.

    The system we actually have is marginally different from the one described above. The formula it uses is skewed, to that tiny parties get no seats, small parties get many more seats than their proportion of votes, and large parties have their seats capped. The result is that if Wings takes less than 5% of the vote from another indy party, the number of seats does not change (Wings doesn't gain one, but the other party doesn't lose one), and if it takes more than 12% of the vote from another indy party it adds a dozen or so indy seats (because Wings would then be a small party). If it takes between 5% and 12% of the vote it could cause another major indy party to lose a seat or two, but it would not lose an indy-seat majority.

    Objectors need to find a plausible set of vote-shares that produce an indy-seat majority if Wings is not standing, but no indy-seat majority if Wings stands. You're a psephologist, James. Do the numbers and let us know.

    1. "James, you don't understand the electoral system."

      Blimey, that's quite a claim. I can assure you I do understand it, Derek. For the 2016 election, I even did a 20-minute video explaining the system in considerable detail. It's *because* I understand the system that I've concluded that tactical voting on the list isn't viable.

      Or to put it another way: I did the numbers and I let you know.

    2. By the way, having re-read your own description of the voting system, I'm forced to conclude that you don't understand it yourself. There is no "skewed formula", there is no "cap" on larger parties, smaller parties do not "get many more seats than their proportion of votes". Where are you getting this stuff from? None of it describes the Additional Member System.

    3. Just googling d'Hondt will find many worked examples that show that the system is not truly proportional - i.e., it's skewed. A partciularly clear one (though a bit wordy and not all relevant) is here:

      In the election analysed there, the vote proportions and seats won were:

      SNP 47.7% -- 3 seats
      Lab 24.8% -- 3 seats
      Con 16.1% -- 1 seat
      Seven other parties won no seats.

      Lab has half the proportion of votes that SNP does, but gets the same number of seats. SNP 4 and Lab 2 would have been more proportional.

      The votes need to win a seat were:

      SNP 127,231
      Lab 67,135
      Con 43,583

      Smaller parties are massively boosted, as long as they're not tiny.

      The formula is skewed, the seats of the largest party have been capped, and the smaller parties got many more seats than their proportion of votes. It isn't rocket science, and it isn't news to anyone who knows d'Hondt. Learn your trade, James.

    4. Oh grow up, Derek, it's quite plain from your earlier hapless 'explanation' that you don't have a clue how the system works. Bluster isn't going to save your blushes. What is this mysterious "cap on larger parties"? How does it work? What figure is the cap set at? By what mechanism are smaller parties given "many more seats than their proportion of votes"? In what way is the formula "skewed" under AMS?

      Come on, Derek, show us your expertise. Don't be shy.

  22. So If your saying that you can't game the system by voting tactically as you can't know how everybody else is going to vote then the logical conclusion is that we should just vote for who we want to be represented by. Of course for most of those that are advocating voting tactically for the wings party, that'll be the wings party so we are back where we started. You may as well vote for one as the other so pick one.
    Actually that's why I voted Green on the list last time but they have pissed me off a bit since then.

    1. Absolutely, if Stuart sets up a party for principled policy reasons and drops the gaming-the-voting-system crap, I'd have no criticisms of it. I'd still point out that it's bad for the independence movement, but I wouldn't say he's wrong to do it.

  23. Derek is the Rev Stu's Nas'i bum boy.