Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wisdom on Wednesday : The reason for asking the question

"Whatever the future holds, research shows that, in 2013, Scots are still more discontented with the balance of powers between Westminster and devolved government than any other sub-state in the European Union."

Professor Murray Pittock of Glasgow University, in his closing remarks for the Roots of Scottish Nationalism series on BBC Radio 4.  (It was such an excellent observation that I might even forgive him for the mind-boggling assertion on the same programme that the electoral system for the Scottish Parliament - ie. full blown PR - is a "concession" to proportional representation.)


  1. As I understand it, the Scottish Parliament's additional member system (AMS) is not as proportional as the single transferable vote (STV). I see that Wikipedia defines AMS as a "semi-proportional voting system". The Electoral Reform Society favours STV over AMS, and presumably they have their reasons.

  2. No, AMS (at least in the form used in the Scottish Parliament) is considerably more proportional than STV.

    STV is actually surprisingly unproportional, considering that it's the Holy Grail for so many electoral reform campaigners. For example, it was estimated at the last Irish general election that Fine Gael would have won an overall majority of seats on just 40% of the vote. The reason STV is favoured is that it has other advantages, such as maximising the power of the voter and minimising the power of the party machines.

    It's grossly misleading for Wikipedia to describe AMS as "semi-proportional", and that misunderstanding presumably comes from the same place as Pittock's - there seems to be this notion that only the regional list element is proportional. But of course the whole point is that the regional list seats are distributed to correct any unproportionality in the constituency results, so that the overall result in each electoral region is roughly proportional to the votes cast on the regional list ballot (which is why what James Mackenzie and his ilk sneakily call the "second vote" is in fact the far more important vote). The reason perfect proportionality within each region isn't always achieved is that there sometimes aren't enough regional list seats available to correct a severe unproportionality in the constituency results. But to dismiss that as mere "semi-proportionality" is totally wrong - it's more like 80% proportionality.

  3. "Sub-state." Says it all, really.

  4. It's only PR if there are the same numbers of list and FPTP seats, AND you cast the same vote twice. If you change your vote it stops being in any way proportional.

    Did labour perhaps arrange a situation where they knew the confusion would benefit them?

    It certainly did in the first two elections where the SNP lost a massive proportion of it's vote between the two parts of the election.

  5. But the overall result isn't meant to be proportional to both votes, or to an average of both votes - it's meant to be proportional to votes cast on the regional list ballot only. Which is fine, as long as people understand the vital importance of the regional list ballot, and aren't hoodwinked by the likes of Mr Mackenzie into thinking it's some kind of second preference vote.

    I agree that a 50/50 ratio would be at least marginally more proportional, but there's nothing magical about that figure. In the late 90s, the Lib Dems wanted 145 seats (with a 73/72 ratio between constituency and top-up seats), while Labour wanted 113 seats (with a 73/40 split). Eventually they reached what looked like a straight compromise, but in fact John Curtice calculated that 129 seats produced outcomes that were much closer in terms of degree of proportionality to 145 seats than to 113.