After I mentioned the other day that I was planning to give the Labour candidate my sixth preference out of six in the local elections, Auld Acquaintance left this comment -
"I wouldn't even give that bunch of chancers my 6th preference, In fact I am not even using all my preferences."
That of course chimed with the sentiment uncovered by the poll I ran a few weeks ago, when most of you said that you weren't planning to rank the three London parties at all, and also with a comment that was left by an anonymous poster at the time -
"Surely the best way to not vote Labour up is to leave them off the ballot. Just select SNP and SSP and that's that?"
I don't want to put words in anyone's mouth, but the latter comment did make me wonder slightly if there might be some confusion about the voting system. There seems to be a sense that only ranking the SNP candidates somehow makes for a more 'emphatic' vote against Labour (or Tory, or whichever party), or conversely that opting to rank the other candidates with your lower preferences would 'dilute' your vote for the SNP. Neither perception is accurate.
If your top preferences are for the SNP, your vote cannot possibly stray from the SNP column until all the Nationalist candidates in the ward are either elected or eliminated. So if an SNP candidate fails to be elected, you need have no fear that your lower preferences for unionist parties will have somehow contributed to that. But if you don't fill in those lower preferences, what you are effectively doing is abstaining on every question other than the fate of the SNP candidates - including, for example, whether you would rather see an independent or a Labour councillor elected. How many of us are truly neutral on that point, particularly if we live in a council area where the fight for control is between Labour and SNP? We wouldn't literally be "voting Labour up" by abstaining, but we'd sure as hell be missing a golden opportunity to vote them down.
In my own three-seat ward, there are two SNP candidates, one SSP, one Labour, one Tory and an independent. It seems overwhelmingly likely that the Labour candidate and both SNP candidates will be elected. But from what I've heard about him, the independent seems rather impressive (notwithstanding his sniping against the local SNP!), so it's perhaps not entirely inconceivable that he might just about find himself in the mix. Now, let's suppose the SNP candidates are the first two to be elected, and their excess votes are then proportionately redistributed to help decide whether Labour or the independent claims the third seat. It would seem absurd to have abstained in that stage of the voting, given that it would dilute the SNP's overall chances of dislodging Labour from power in the council. So here's how I'll be ranking the candidates -
Only the sixth preference is superfluous here - not ranking Labour at all would have exactly the same effect, but all of the other five preferences are potentially significant. I would obviously prefer Labour to Tory in a Westminster contest, but given the state of play locally it makes sense from a tactical point of view to place the Tory fifth. I'm placing the SSP third solely on the basis that they are an explicitly pro-independence party - I've no idea where the independent candidate stands.