It was brought to my attention the other night that a few people have been falsely claiming that my position on "tactical voting on the list" has changed, and that for some unspecified reason I now regard the idea as workable. That is categorically untrue. My jaw dropped to the floor when I heard about the misrepresentation, because I've banged on so much about the subject that it's very hard to see how anyone who reads this blog or follows me on Twitter could sincerely have got the wrong end of the stick about my stance.
My guess is that Stuart Campbell's self-interested propagandising may have something to do with this, because a few months ago he theatrically pretended to think I had driven a coach and horses through my opposition to "gaming the system" by reiterating a point I've actually been making for a long time - namely that Alex Salmond is pretty much the only person who could make the idea work, because he's the one politician who has an extremely large personal following that could be confidently expected to vote for any party he decided to front. But that exception to the rule is not particularly important unless you actually think Mr Salmond is going to lead a list-only party in opposition to the SNP. At the moment I'm not aware of any indication that he is minded to do so. RevStu's implicit claim was that "James is saying that you only need a well-known person on board and it'll work fine", but that's absolutely not what I'm saying. The more I've thought about this, I've come to the conclusion that I literally cannot think of a single other person apart from Alex Salmond who has a big enough following to make a success of a pop-up list party. Jim Sillars could maybe have pulled it off if it was 1990, but it's not 1990 anymore.
I'm not sure how much time it's worth devoting over the next year to warning people about the risks of so-called "tactical voting on the list", because it's increasingly like a dialogue with a brick wall. People become so infatuated with the tantalising prospect of a "voting system hack" that can supposedly get rid of Murdo Fraser and his ilk that they refuse to engage with the inconvenient reasons why it won't actually work in the real world. Indeed, as we've seen, they'll sometimes convince themselves that you're telling them that it will work. It's like a sort of deep trance. What I would compare it to is a gambler who spends all his time fantasising about how he's going to spend his vast winnings on a 100-1 bet, and refuses to face the fact that there's a 99% chance (or higher) that he's actually going to lose money.
What makes it even more bewildering is that a lot of the people currently caught in the trance were utterly scathing about "gaming the system" in 2016 when it was the Greens and RISE pushing the idea. It's as if they think it was only unworkable in 2016 because of the "wokeness" of its proponents. And the reverse is true as well - people on the radical left who were adamant in 2016 that gaming the system was feasible have now changed their view, but only because of their horror at the possibility of "TERFs" picking up a few list votes. Speaking as the rarity of someone who has remained totally consistent on this, and who has pointed out that the laws of mathematics and the nature of the voting system aren't affected by the wokeness of the candidates, it would be rather nice to at least gain some credit for my consistency rather than having people make up fairy-tales about my position. But it seems that's too much to ask.
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I see that Ruth Wishart has a piece in The National today about how to "maximise pro-indy seats". It's not online yet, but I know from what she's said on Twitter that she's going to come out in favour of the "gaming the system" wheeze. Let me yet again set out the real way in which it's possible to maximise pro-indy representation, even though it won't be what people want to hear -
Vote for pro-indy parties that are large enough to have a hope in hell of winning seats. That means voting for the SNP on the constituency ballot, and either the SNP or the Greens on the list. The important caveat on the latter point is that you should always vote for your first-choice party on the list - if you're an SNP supporter, switching "tactically" to the Greens on the list is pointless and possibly counterproductive, because there's no reason whatever to think that the Greens have a better chance of winning list seats than the SNP. Some people did chase shadows in that way in 2016, and all they succeeded in doing was contributing to the loss of the SNP overall majority, with all the negative consequences of that in terms of squandered momentum for the independence movement. To put it in perspective, in 2016 the SNP won four list seats and the Greens won six. In 2011 the SNP won sixteen list seats and the Greens won only two. The SNP are absolutely capable of winning list seats even when they poll strongly on the constituency ballot.
But who won't win list seats? Fringe parties. It takes at least 5% or 6% of the vote in an electoral region to win a seat, and fringe parties almost never reach that level of support. The only exception was the Scottish Senior Citizens' Unity Party, which won a single seat in 2003 by putting up Celtic legend Billy McNeill as a candidate. (That was a stunt, because McNeill was far enough down the list to ensure he wouldn't be elected, but it did the trick and the unknown John Swinburne became an MSP instead.)
In almost all circumstances, if you vote for a fringe party you might as well be abstaining, and you simply make it easier for unionist parties to win more seats.
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I'm the guest on the latest edition of the podcast A Broken World, hosted by Grant Parker - you can listen to it HERE. (Bear in mind it was recorded two-and-a-half weeks ago.)