Monday, March 6, 2017

A bit more on the value of using all (or most) of your preferences in the local elections

I've been having a polite dispute this morning with someone on Twitter who takes issue with my view (a view that is arithmetically indisputable, by the way) that ranking unionist candidates in the local elections cannot possibly do any harm as long as you rank all pro-indy and independent candidates ahead of them.   The objection raised was that SNP strategists have decided that it shouldn't be done, and that they must know what they're talking about.  Well, possibly, but I think it's more likely that we're dealing with a cultural issue here - we're just not used to preferential voting in this country, and as a result we don't know how to talk about it.  Party stalwarts instinctively fear that it's somehow the thin end of the wedge to even concede the possibility of giving a seventh preference to the Lib Dems, but it really isn't.  Indeed, giving a party a seventh preference is arguably more contemptuous than not ranking them at all.

Let's turn the argument around - is there any benefit whatsoever in instructing voters (or recommending to them) to only vote for the SNP and not to rank any other candidate?  I can only think of one - namely that it heads off the risk of voter error.  In other words, there's a danger that an SNP supporter might literally not even notice that there are two or three SNP candidates in the ward, and might jump ahead and accidentally rank other parties ahead of the second or third SNP candidates.  There's no denying that's a genuine issue, but to base your whole strategy around it smacks of being scared of your own shadow.  There's also an element of treating the voters like idiots.  Surely it's much better to properly educate people about how a preferential system works, and to get the message across that some parties have more than one candidate per ward?  If you don't do that, there's just as big a danger at the other extreme - that people will not even realise that it's a preferential system at all, and will simply put a big 'X' against the name of only one SNP candidate.  That's almost as bad an outcome if you're trying to get two or three people elected.

It's highly unlikely that all of the parties will stand in my own ward, but if they did, this is roughly how I would rank them -

1) SNP
2) SNP
3) Green
4) Other pro-indy parties
5) Independent candidates
6) Liberal Democrat
7) Labour
8) Labour
9) Conservative

Having ranked the two SNP candidates first and second, I would be sure - literally certain - that my vote will not budge from the SNP column until both of those candidates are either elected or eliminated.  But if it gets to the point where both have indeed been elected or eliminated, I have no intention of then abstaining in a straight contest between the Greens and Labour, or even between the Tories and Labour, for the final seat in the ward.  Abstaining is exactly what you're doing if you don't use your lower preferences.  More specifically, if you don't rank other parties ahead of the Tories, you're effectively saying you're cool with having a Tory councillor in some circumstances - and why on Earth would you be, when Theresa May is framing these elections as an unofficial vote on the constitution?

The person I clashed with this morning also voiced the worry that lower preferences for unionist candidates would somehow be misinterpreted as "unionist votes", and would be exploited by Theresa May.  That fear is completely baseless.  There is a long-standing convention under the STV voting system that the popular vote is calculated using first preferences only (indeed it's essentially impossible to do it any other way).

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  1. James

    As always, I am impressed with your expertise in these matters, and the amount of careful thought you have given to them.

    I have to say, however, that I am horrified at the idea of putting a vote of mine against Red/Blue/Yellow Tories in any circumstances. There are now only two political sides in Scotland, freedom versus subservience. Whatever fig leaf of individual party affiliation the unionists cloak themselves with, they are all happy for us to remain in perpetuity under Tory rule from Westminster.

    You ask if I would abstain in a vote between Labour and Tory. Why shouldn't I? I remember them in 2014,with their arms around each other, holding hands with the Orange Order (proud of yourself, Jim Murphy, are you?), cheering every piece of negative news about Scotland, and lying in their collective teeth. I remember Labour paying people in England to phone Scottish pensioners and tell them their pensions would end the day after a Yes vote.

    Nye Bevan accurately described the Tories as "lower than vermin". SLab are lower than the fleas on the vermin.

    I can happily rank my preference votes for SNP, Green and any other pro-Independence candidates. After that, I don't see that it matters to me which particular brand of North Briton might get elected.

    In fact, if all unionists elected are Tories, even BBC Scotland (signature tune "Rule, Britannia") would have a hard time lining up three unionists to face one SNP speaker, and claiming it was "fair and balanced".

    1. Fegus, I understand your point. To a large extent I can agree with it, but as James has pointed out in other blogs, we should consider whether in a NoC council with SNP as largest party we would prefer to have to work with LibDem, Lab, or Con? The last few voter preferences might make a difference.

      Personally, I think (despite their recent history) that a LibDem would be a more palatable partner than either Lab or Con. But that's up to you.

    2. Apologies Fergus, I didn't see the mis-spell until after posting.

  2. Thanks for James,

    I followed that Twitter exchange carefully. I'll admit to have been in a dilemma over STV rankings. On the balance, having read this useful piece and listened to the counter-arguments, I have reconsidered. I had planned only to rank only SNP (and Green) candidates in my ward. I intend now to rank all candidates: from SNP candidates, Green etc. Through to Tory last. As the article points out, part of my resistance to ranking all candidates is probably cultural, custom (or lack of), as well as distaste at ranking any Tory, or God forbid, UKIP or worse.

    However, where I do have some sympathy with those arguing 'SNP only' position, is on the simplicity message. I tend to use the example of my Mum as a proxy voter in scenarios like these. I imagine myself explaining the principles of the STV model and vote transfers to my Mum in a meaningful way - an intelligent woman, but one whose interest in politics doesn't extend much beyond polling day and the Herald (front page, crossword and Letters - in that order). However, perhaps, as you suggest, I am guilty hugely underestimating her.

    Anyway, I found your article really helpful- much appreciated.

  3. Before giving any preference for independent candidates check their background as many are Tories in disguise

  4. Same problem with this as on the previous thread.

    If enough independence supporters give a preference to a unionist candidate there's a possibility, however remote, that that will put them over the threshold to get elected at which point any excess that candidate will be transferred in proportion to the lower preferences they received. Depending on the state of play prior to that that might be enough to change the totals of even lower placed candidates and thus elect the very candidate you were trying to keep out.

    Assuming it's Labour , LibDem in any order then Conservative. Enough lower preferences are transferred to get one of them elected. If the remaining two are close enough together it's possible that the distribution of the transfers will be enough to swap them round.

    Also, yes first preferences are meant to be the measure of how well parties have done. That won't prevent some capital being made if some are elected due to being over the threshold rather than last man standing after those who can muster enough support to pass the threshold have done so.

    1. You're still not getting it you know. Any preferences ranks as described will only come into play AFTER all independence-supporting (or unknown/independent) candidates have been either elected or elminiated.

      At this point it is literally impossible for one of the unionist candidates NOT to be pushed over the line. The last seat is not going to remain vacant just because a bunch of independence supporters are too squeamish to mark that they'd rather have a LibDem than a Tory at that point.

      Swallow your squeamishness and make sure that you rank absolutely everybody above the candidate you LEAST want to get elected. If every independence supporter does that the Tories will get significantly fewer councillors in May. Why would you not want to help that along?

    2. And no, really, nobody cares or makes any capital over whether someone is last man standing or went over the quota. They just don't. I mean, never. They're elected (or not) and that's it.

      Your plan is, when faced with a vote on a straight choice between Tory and LibDem for the last council seat, to abstain. Where in the name of all that's holy is the sense in that?

    3. My plan is in not risking the "unforeseen" consequence of how vote transfers are calculated resulting in votes being released by the election of a candidate then going to a candidate I'd rather not win. When a candidate is elected any excess votes they have are distributed according to proportions of the next preferences of everybody who voted for them. If you're down to the last three then in some circumstances that may very well be enough to reverse the positions of the last two candidates if the beneficiary of part of your vote is elected. You're assumption about it coming down to a straight choice ignores the fact that sometimes the Lib Dem will have a better chance at being elected if it's a two out of three.

    4. That is so tenuous a point as to be barely worth considering. It's back to trying to guess how everyone else has voted before you decide on your d'Hondt list vote.

      If you'd prefer the LibDem to the Tory, rank the LibDem above the Tory. 99.9 times out of 100, that's the way to influence that outcome the way you want.

      Look at the Nothern Ireland campaign. Parties and voters there are more familiar with the STV system and how it works. Everyone, all the way, is banging on about the importance of ranking all the way down so that your vote is still in play in the final stages. Otherwise it's an abstention, just at the point when things are getting extremely tense.

    5. The last person in class for měď school is called Doctor. The last one thru west point gets to be a colonel or general. The last one elected is elected. You really think if a local council has two snp elected first and second, then a labor, then a lib dem, then a labor, it wont be better than th e same first four with a fifty tory? The tory will be on bbc and elected counc chaos by the other two. With the first scenario, it will at give you a change. Remember, most labor folks WERE your pals. Over time, they will come over.

    6. Iain: bear in mind that those trailing unionist preferences you're worried about will *never* come into play until everyone you prefer has either been elected or eliminated. Your vote "sticks" with your first preference until they're elected or eliminated, then it switches to your next preference until they're elected or eliminated, and so on. So that nasty bottom-of-the-list choice you make between Labour and Tory will never be exercised until that's the only choice left to be made: whether a Labour or a Tory politician gets elected. By the time it gets that far you've nothing left to lose: your preferred candidates are by then all already out of the game, be it for good reasons or ill.

      You can make those final choices in the knowledge that they'll never alter the fortunes of anyone you'd prefer to see elected.

    7. It is kiss poor to not reconize and put forward a former friend when they are battling a permanent and mostly ill motivated enemy. Most labor opponents are ill advised and have been mislead. They have friends and family etc. You get more by publicly acknowledging your ultimáta support while honorably and vehemently supporting your side, remember, if you win, these are the folks you will be with at the dance.

  5. Thank gods someone gets it :)

    I've been banging the drum on this on a couple of sites (indyref2/wings) and people need to understand that with STV you want your vote in play as long as possible.

    As for the people who say "you might put the yoon over the threshold" - by the time the small fraction of your vote is in play for your bottom (yoon) preferences then one of those preferences IS going to get a seat, probably without reaching the quota figure. All you're doing is deciding which one - pick the most incompetent/one most likely to beat the incumbent/whatever.

    Its not a 1 for 1 vote transfer to other preferences, its a fractional system and by the time you get to the last voting rounds your "vote" is a tiny fraction of a vote.

    You can also take the view that you don't give a fuck what yoon gets in & that's fine.

    However you shouldn't think that by not putting them down at all means they have less chance of being elected - in fact they statistically have slightly more chance of winning due to the small number of seats in each constituency. Also yoons will vote 1/2 for their favoured party candidates (where 1 is the preferred candidate of their party). If you vote 2/1 then maybe they get the village idiot who's related to someone elected :)

    1. Have to disagree. If you put the "yoon" over the threshold then you have no control over how and where the excess then goes. Also the percentages and fractions of votes argument is the same angle that we were punted in the run up to the last Holyrood Election.

      If, for example the threshold was 100 and A,B,C had 99, 98 and 97. without any transfers and a fight for the last two seats A and B are elected. With enough transfers A might get say 104. But followers of A might far more favourable to C. So, remote as it may be, the transfers might result in C having a final tally larger than B. Well done, you've just helped elect a Tory.

    2. The system for council elections in Scotland is pretty much un-gameable.

      Its the same system thats been used in NI since 1973, Eire use it for their senate, Australia/NZ use it for just about everything - with slight technical variations. Its used all over the world.

      The only way to tilt the balance on this system is to reduce the number of seats being contested. Five is generally considered a reasonable minimum and is what Eire/NI has/had (seats were removed in NI this time around).

      When you do that it statistically favours the larger parties. As does not listing all preferences BTW :)

      This is NOT d'Hondt which was used last May - and should be changed to STV immediately after indy. This is (believe it or not) just about the most level playing field you can get.

      I suggest you read up on how vote transfers work in this system - I suspect you'll find its not the way you think.

      If you don't want to list all preferences then fine, but don't pretend its for any logical reason because it isn't.

    3. Replying to self but repost from elsewhere. Note its a PDF file :

      Further reading should anyone find it useful :

      Its a PDF written by James Gilmour giving a detailed description of EXACTLY how the STV system in Scotland works.

    4. The way it works is that first a threshold is calculated based on the number of votes cast divided by the number of seats plus one.

      2)In the first round anyone who has enough votes over that threshold is elected.

      The transfer of their votes to the second/subsequent preferences. Instead of trying to spread individual ballot papers about every single ballot is given a value determined by the amount the candidate just elected was over the threshold.

      You go round these two phases until no one new is elected.

      Only then do you start eliminating candidates, one by one, starting with the one with the lowest vote total so far. Every time a candidate has votes transferred a check is made to see if that puts anyone above the candidate. I'm not 100% clear what happens if the transfer is to someone already elected. Hopefully those votes are redistributed until they stop moving.

      You only ever eliminate the candidate with the lowest votes when no other choice is available.

      The thing to be clear about is that there are two ways votes get transferred. Not only when someone drops out due to lack of support but also when they get a seat. There's nothing you can do to prevent that first instance. The second instance is where you can cause a transfer of excess votes from one candidate to another. Obviously you mitigate that by selecting your next favourite candidate. But whilst I acknowledge the odds might be low it's not impossible that a combination of enough votes over the threshold and an unfavourable overall balance of preferences might be more in the favour of the candidates you didn't want elected.

    5. "I'm not 100% clear what happens if the transfer is to someone already elected"

      Heavens above. If you're not clear on a basic point like that, it's hard to understand why you're speaking with such certainty about how people should use STV.

      No vote or portion of a vote can transfer to a candidate who has already been elected - those preferences are disregarded, and the next highest preference is used instead. (If there are no other preferences left, the vote is non-transferable.)

    6. Numerically that can have different outcomes. If they are treated as having transferred to the already elected candidate then that means that they get mixed in with the general pool of lower preferences. If they go directly to the next in line then there's no dilution.

      To illustrate, candidate A has been elected with 10 votes over the threshold. Assuming a fairly simple 50:50 split on second preferences that might be 5 to B and 5 to C. If at a later stage candidate D is eliminated and one of their votes go to A then C if it isn't passed via A it goes to C but, allowing for the change in overall ratios, if it was passed to A and then redistributed down the line only half would go to C and the other half to B.

    7. I've already answered your question. Votes are not transferred to candidates that have already reached the quota.

    8. That's why I was honest enough to admit I couldn't remember that part of the process.

      My point remains though, excess votes are distributed according to how all those cast either directly or via transfer for a given candidate are distributed in proportion to how they were cast. Obviously your strategy moves the distribution of those transfers away from the Tories. The problem is that if it's not enough to majorly sway things then all you do is create a scenario where for every vote above the threshold more might go in their direction than your own next preference.

      It's not just your own vote you keep in play. It's a whole heap of other people's as well.

    9. Sigh. There's no "strategy". You don't need a strategy in STV, or at least this particular variant of it - as someone else has pointed out on this thread, it's almost impossible to game. The only partial exception is that vote management strategies can help get more than one candidate from the same party elected, but other than that, there's no point in trying to second-guess all the various permutations. Just rank the candidates in your genuine order of preference and let the system get on with it. If you don't want to rank certain candidates, that's fine, but accept the fact that you'll be effectively abstaining in certain circumstances. It really is that simple.

  6. The way I look at it, if you don't rank everyone else ahead of them so you can put the Tory last, you're giving up your shot at saying "Angleterre nul points".

    1. Beautifully expressed. I am SO stealing that.

      *Wanders off to condense that into 140 characters...*

    2. You're very welcome, Rolfe! I'm feeling all smug now.

  7. One thing the SNP trainers do understand is getting lower preferences for the SNP candidates from voters who are committed to another party as first choice. We're trained to respect that choice politely, and then point out to the voters that they have multiple rankings to bestow, and that the SNP candidate is an all-round good egg and will fill in the potholes or keep the post office open or whatever.

    That strategy is geared to getting these voters to put SNP over their non-preferred unionist party. It's really effective.

    What we're trying to do here is to explain to independence supporters how to defeat their least-preferred unionist party. It can be done. Anyone watching the Northern Ireland counts would realise how, and how important it is. We were biting our nails at three in the morning as results came in like "Democratic Unionist elected at stage 8". These seats were decisive in the final outcome.

    In the end, in Ireland, the people elected were simply elected. The seats were the seats. Certainly it was reported who got most first preferences, that is "won the popular vote", but after that there was nothing at all about "well these candidates sort of failed because they were only the last man standing after nine rounds of transfers". On the contrary, these were the results everyone was holding their breath waiting for.

    And yet some people want to throw their hand in and abstain at this stage.

    1. I seriously don't think you're thinking this through. Whenever a candidate gets enough votes to be elected then any excess is transferred in proportion to the ballots they received. If the circumstances are right that might be of more benefit on balance to the Tory than any other candidate. Rather than preventing said Tory getting elected all you will have done is ensure they do get elected.

    2. Basically your argument is as follows : An athlete in third place shouldn't try to run faster and get into second place, because there's a chance that might prevent the first-place and second-place athletes from colliding and falling over.

    3. Nope. It's that if you help the athlete in third place over the line then that might inadvertently help the athlete in fith place overtake the one in fourth. Yes it relies on you and others giving enough preferences to actually start a transfer of votes rather than the effective FPTP that STV turns into when there's one candidate more than seats left to be allocated. Doesn't mean it couldn't happen.

    4. I would seriously like to see a worked example of a particular combination of votes that mean that someone's later preferences helped someone they really detested to get elected above someone they only moderately loathed.

      Because I think you're citing an objection that is either a fantasy, or is so unlikely as to be best ignored. Remember, it's the cumulative effect of as many independence supporters as possible doing this that will really hurt the Tories, not just one or two clued-up anoraks.

    5. You do realise that part of the Tory strategy in these elections will be to encourage any union leaning voter whether LibDem or Labour to put Conservatives down once they've run out of candidates for their party of choice. Labour party supporters might resent the LibDems just enough to put the Conservatives ahead. The same might also be true of the LibDems and Labour.

      Suppose it's down to the final two seats and it's 100 for a seat LD on 95 , Lab on 94 and 93. Along comes a hefty 10 more votes directed at the LD. There might be some going to the other two but we'll assume it doesn't much matter. Now the LD is elected with 5 votes surplus. Hallelujah and praise the lord. However those 5 votes need to go somewhere. In this case a 3:2 split in favour of the Conservatives will put them level with Labour. Any more in their favour and they'll win that last seat.

    6. Sorry you're making no sense. If it's down to the final two seats then only one or two candidates have been elected. Do you mean down to the final seat? Can I assume that so we can make some progress here?

      Suppose it's down to the final seat and there are Lab, LibDem and Tory candidates still in contention. If you have already bowed out and not ranked any of them, then you have no say at all and you're leaving it to everyone who has slogged that far through their ballot papers.

      If your vote (or it may by now be a fraction of a vote, hopefully it is after the rest of it got an SNP candidate elected earlier) is still in play, then it will go to the candidate you ranked highest of these three. Is this not what you want? How can that go wrong for you? It may not succeed, but it can't possibly favour either of the two you didn't rank above the one your paper is currently showing top.

    7. I would also point out that while the unionists are certainly trying to get their voters to push the SNP down to the bottom (and we're saying no, vote Labour if you like but Jimmy SNP there will get the potholes fixed how about ranking him next), we have to play the same game.

      Unless there's really some way you'd be as happy or happier to see Tory councillors rather than LibDem ir Labour, you really need to concentrate on pushing the Tories down your own ranking.

    8. My example was what you asked for. Your intervention in a contest between unionists can under the right set of circumstances result in the result you were trying to avoid. I meant down to the final 2 seats, or any point where there's one more candidate than seats. When that happens either the candidate with the most votes gets elected with no knock on effect or if they have an excess of votes the subsequent transfers might reverse the order of those two remaining candidates. In all the many STV elections there has to be at least one where precisely that has happened. Probably more.

      The Conservatives will be adopting the same tactic you claim the SNP employs. Persuade supporters of other "unionist" parties to place them just after their party of choice. If they succeed then expect a higher than expected transfer to them.

    9. Respectfully, looking for hypotheticals when you live on the same kingdom and a small raft ride as a country NI that just had one is silly. You vote all the way down in order of your preference. You put the person you gear most at the bottom . if you skip anything it is the tory in last. Then you can say that a majority rejected them thats it.

    10. Reality check,

      Average number of votes cast is 3 per ballot. In some cases it goes as high as 5 though. From page 25,

      "Very few Protestant respondents gave any ranking to a nationalist
      party (only 6 per cent of preferences expressed by Protestant voters
      went to nationalist parties); and few Catholics passed a lower
      preference on to a unionist party (the corresponding figure here is
      8 per cent)"

      If I were to take on board your claim that I should follow the lead of voters in NI then I'll just follow their example. I'll vote As many SNP as are on the ballot. Then Green unless I know their candidate is a knob. I'll probably give any independent a miss unless I know for a fact they're a good guy.

      If it's vote till you boak then Labour, LibDems and Conservatives can all take a hike.

  8. Why no mention of latest BMG Poll?

    1. Because the datasets haven't been released yet. I strongly suspect that a leading question was used (the poll was commissioned by a "pro-Brexit campaigner"), but until I know what that question was, there's not much I can meaningfully say about it. The reporting of the poll yesterday was woefully vague.

  9. There were other objections cited in that conversation James
    A central counter argument is one you touched on and that relates to voter confusion.
    You argue that “Surely it's much better to properly educate people about how a preferential system works”
    How did that fare with the D’Hondt system and List voting? I think that is ambitious, and instead would hark back to classic marketing. Simple messages that are clear to understand may be a better route for broadcast and overall outcome; and in that vein, we might consider simply saying; vote SNP or pro Indy alone.
    The potential complexity in making a good stab at sharing all your preferences optimally may be easy for you and other political geeks (pardon me) but how does the average voter cope with something like this, when in my experience most don’t seem to realise what will confront them on a ballot and how preferences really work? There are so many highly localised and more global details which impinge on “best” order. Look at Independent candidates. Your voting example ranks them just below the notional parties in favour of independence, whereas their political character is often unknown……In the conversation you cited initially, I gave the example of Kieron Green who won a seat in Argyll and Bute council as an Independent candidate (now he is part of a mostly Independent ruling administration). He ran as a Labour candidate for the two years before that and admits to being a Labour member. I also spoke about Moray council ruling administration being made up of 11 Independent councillors and 3 Tories…Remember they publicly threatened the ScotGov on council tax. So, voting for Independent candidates as an upper preference as a logical kind of knee jerk assumption that they must be above named unionist parties is not always a “best” result or recommendation? Another example in Glasgow. Should Labour be above or below the Tories? Labour has a much higher chance of gaining a seat surely whereas messaging against Tories as a voting panacea might go against “best” practice there. There is also the matter of SNP voters splitting their own vote by ploughing all their first preferences onto the alphabetically first SNP candidate on a ballot paper which has more than one council position and SNP candidate. There is also the understanding that the unionist parties will often collaborate in administration. So essentially best practice is to know the local scene, candidates and council administration probabilities and mechanics extremely well. Not impossible to do or to estimate well. But returning to the central point. Given these complexities in finding “best” preference order and the fact that voters will likely have to be literally directed on SNP candidate order to avoid self-splitting; a simpler message for most, in effect, may be the most pragmatic one for broadcasting purposes over actual constituencies to real world voters?

    1. I would say to people, as general advice.

      1. Put your preferred candidate first. If your preferred party is standing two (or more) candidates, rank these 1, 2 (and 3 if applicable) in the order you're asked to put them in the leaflet I am giving you.

      2. If you have a second-preference party, rank that candidate next. Rinse and repeat until you get to "can't stand any of these buggers" territory. Probably most voters don't have active preferences beyond a couple of choices.

      3. Decide who you would least like to see elected. Then go through the paper ranking all the other candidates higher than your pet hate.

      Job done. And I haven't pushed any party at all there. If would work equally well as general advice for unionists, maybe we better keep it under wraps.

    2. "How did that fare with the D’Hondt system and List voting?"

      In that instance the problem was the opposite one, because the tactical voting lobby were putting forward a very complicated (and highly misleading) message, and yet people still seemed to find it intuitively attractive. As I pointed out in the blogpost, there are dangers of voter error under STV regardless of the message put forward - if you don't at least make a good stab at explaining the preferential nature of the voting system, you'll end up with people only voting for one SNP candidate when there are two or three SNP candidates trying to get elected.

      "Your voting example ranks them [independent candidates] just below the notional parties in favour of independence"

      'Just' below is a red herring. There's no 'just' below in STV - if you rank one candidate ahead of another, your vote is not going to slip to the lower-ranked candidate until the higher-ranked one is either elected or eliminated. It's not a points system like the Eurovision Song Contest, where your fifth preference gets 6 points, your sixth preference gets 5, etc, etc.

      "whereas their political character is often unknown"

      I did say I was just giving a rough idea of how I would rank the candidates - I didn't say it was a bible to cover absolutely every scenario. Obviously if an independent candidate was an out-and-out fascist I would rank him or her bottom of the pile (and that's another argument for using all your preferences, because you can't express total disapproval of a fascist unless you rank every other candidate ahead of them). But in most cases I would rank independent candidates higher than unionist parties, simply because of the psychology of our current situation - the media will not treat independent councillors as unionists, regardless of their private views.

      "Another example in Glasgow. Should Labour be above or below the Tories?"

      I live in North Lanarkshire, which is very similar to Glasgow, and I said the other day that the arguments on whether to rank Labour higher than the Tories were finely balanced, because Labour are the SNP's main local competitors. I've come to the conclusion that I should give the Tories my bottom ranking, because Theresa May has framed these elections as an unofficial vote on the constitution, with the Tories posing as the unionist ultras. The fewer Tory councillors there are across Scotland, the better (in my humble opinion).

      "There is also the matter of SNP voters splitting their own vote by ploughing all their first preferences onto the alphabetically first SNP candidate on a ballot paper which has more than one council position and SNP candidate"

      That's a genuine problem, but it is completely (and I do mean completely) irrelevant to the issue of whether lower preferences should be used on other parties.

  10. Point 1
    D’Hondt was intrinsically complex regardless of wrangling between parties and the obfuscation that ensued. Dangers of voter error you mentioned were singular and still remain so…I explained a number of them. In order to counter the danger of voter error, in simply not noticing another preferred candidate (SNP say) are much more easily resolved in simple messaging than the more expansive “stab” at explanation you propose.

    Point 2
    If this were the case then we simply wouldn’t need to have this discussion or for you to have written two articles on this recently. It is a point system in effect. That is exactly why self-splitting by overweight of votes onto one of two preferred candidates can let an unpreferred one in.

    Point 3
    I didn’t argue that your particular set of ranking was to be taken as gospel but that it was erroneous in the manner I described… it exemplified the weaknesses in presenting ranking suggestions in any general way. E.G…placing Indy candidates in a certain way and Tories another etc….All erroneous in relation to my central point, which was about how to message an electorate about this matter due to the many localised details involved in choosing optimally. This is not a criticism of your particular choice in fact.

    Point 4
    Indeed….My main point is not the Glasgow thing….or the Fake Indy thing…..nor any specific naivety of any voter facing a complex ballot sheet….It is the general point on messaging….how to inform a variegated voter block given these multivarious considerations…..

    Point 5
    Not at all….It is completely relevant as another weight for the messaging system and the actual voter to consider…Please note James….that my almost, only point, is about how to best message the voting populace given the various complexities involved in deciding preference order…..”best practice” as I may have put it….

  11. After the council by election in the Leith ward last year where there were two seats available I was disappointed that the greens didn't get the second seat. I voted SNP first and Greens second (I can't remember if there were multiple candidates) - this time I'll be ranking the Greens higher as they're far more likely to be eliminated and pass to the SNP candidates. I'm also slightly more aligned to the Greens politically so I don't feel it's really being too tactical.

    It's always important to remember that if your vote is used to elect someone, it doesn't give any lower preferences to anyone else.

    If everyone votes SNP candidates first and they're elected then none of those votes transfer to anyone else

    1. I should also say I prefer the d'Hondt method over Single Transferable Vote

    2. If you rank the Greens higher than second that means you will be voting Green in the first instance....

      If there are two SNP or more then the preferences take on more complexity....

    3. Don't do what you're thinking Mike.

      The system here uses WIGM (see other posts) which will make your Green vote passing to SNP worth less than the other way around.

      WIGM is specifically designed to stop people voting for no-hopers as first pref in the hope their subsequent prefs have more effect. Its a (current) problem in Australia where states are looking/moving to WIGM.

      Bit technical I know, but what you intend to do won't have your intended result ;)

    4. They do transfer up until you don't express a preference. So does everyone elses. The tricky part is that each individual ballot passes on to their next preferences and that keeps happening.

      For example say the threshold is 900 but a candidate has 1000. They're 100 votes over so they're spread over the next available preferences. One way to do that would be selecting representative ballots making up that total. The way chosen in our system is that those ballots are now worth a tenth of what they were before.

      If this was the first time your vote helped elect someone then nine tenth is used up.

      The point is that STV is a method of spreading everyone's vote over more than one candidate. If there were three SNP candidates in with a shout then it shouldn't really matter how people vote as long as they keep voting. If every vote was cast for candidate A then to B then C they all get elected if every vote is completely filled in and there's a combined total of three times the threshold.

      However if some voters just mark a cross in the one box then that's a potentially wasted vote. That's why some people are advocating voting in reverse order to counteract the natural inclination of other voters. It's also why being over ambitious could result in fever seats if voters don't express enough preferences. For instance part of the advice to vote in a given order is heeded so enough votes to win two seats are spread amongst three candidates. Unfortunately not enough of those get transferred when the transfers take place so only one seat is won.

    5. "It's always important to remember that if your vote is used to elect someone, it doesn't give any lower preferences to anyone else."

      NO, that is entirely wrong. I admit I thought that at one time, but it's not true. If the person who is elected has far MORE votes than he needs, the surplus votes are redistributed in proportion to the next choices down. This is why computerised counting is essential, and why if you look at the official results most candidates have fractions of votes as well as whole votes.

      So even if your first choice candidate is elected, your vote can still cascade down the system to have a franction-of-a-vote influence in the later stages. Don't reject this opportunity, the Northern Ireland election outcome was decided by just such votes.

  12. I think its important to note the main difference between d'Hondt and STV-WIGM (the system being used in May).

    STV-WIGM is designed to produce the fairest outcome based on people's votes. Its designed to be hard/impossible to game (tactical voting) and has been in use for a long time in lots of places.

    d'Hondt is designed to ensure that no hegemony can develop (think SLAB in the past) and it does that very well.

    STV-WIGM, given enough seats per constituency does a LOT more than d'Hondt in terms of representing the vote for small parties, plus it is far more likely to deliver a working majority for a single party/coalition than d'Hondt while still representing the voters intentions.

    Oh and the "constituency link" (which some think matters) stays with STV, unlike d'Hondt's list system.

    I rather suspect that if (AIUI) four is the maximum number of seats in the Scottish council elections then there's been a fair bit of "fiddling" when it was set-up. That makes it even more important you use ALL your preferences.

  13. Surely the clearer way to understand it is to consider what happens if you *don't* rank everyone. All it means is, at some point, instead of carrying on using your vote to slightly nudge your preferred candidates instead of your least preferred one, you simply walk away from the process in the latter stages and say "well, I'm out, you decide". How does that make any sense, people?
    (Is the second spelling more common here than across the sea?)

    1. Yes, it's "boke" in Ireland apparently (I read that as "bloke", need new glasses) and "boak" in Scotland.

  14. What if a much simpler message.....broadcast and repeated.....(simpler messaged being more deliverable this way) were to create a higher probability of more indy councillors and administrations?

    1. You can't get more indy councillors by doing anything other than ranking all the pro-indy candidates as high as you can. It's just that this isn't all you can do.

      Many councils will be coalition administrations in the end. The SNP have said they won't go into coalition with the Tories. So more Tory councillors reduces the chances of getting the SNP into shared administration, and increases the chances of Tories in power and the SNP in opposition.

      So use all your preferences to put other parties above the Tories.

  15. Walking away also implies that you were able to exert some control other than quite random control, via the latter preferences....Are we to believe that the majority of voters in this position could understand what the optimum unionist party voting sequence would be?

    1. It really really isn't random. Simply, put the vilest hard-right Tory last.

      The chance of inadvertently helping the guy instead of hindering him is, well, zero really. It may only be a fraction of a vote for one paper, but if all independence supporters did this there would be a significantly smaller number of Tory councillors elected across the board.

  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

  17. Do we ask folk to take on a simple message of " Do this easy thing" or a would the more complex tailored message achieve better results?

    1. Do this easy thing here.

      1. Vote for your favourite candidate as no 1. If your preferred party has more than one candidate, vote for all of them (1, 2 and 3 if it goes that far) in the order the party asks you to in the leaflet you receive.

      2. If you have a second-preference party or candidate, put them next. Rinse and repeat until you run out of candidates you have any positive feelings for.

      3. Decide who you least want to get a seat, and make sure you rank everyone else above that candidate, no matter how much you dislike any of the others.

      It's not that hard. You don't need to explain how it works, just that it keeps your vote in play as long as possible and gives you some influence on WHICH unionist gets the last seat if it comes to that. It won't prevent an indy candidate getting the last seat.

      Someone on twitter said, think of it as a way of saying "nul points" to the Tories.

  18. Glasgow Working Class 2March 6, 2017 at 7:25 PM

    Watching paint drying is entertaining.

    Vote Labour or if you are a bit more on the left vote CP but ignore the Yellow Tartan Tories, Blue Tories and Liberals.If you are e a tree hugger then you have a sexual problem.

    1. Glasgow Working Class 2March 6, 2017 at 8:33 PM

      Reforms such as OMOV (one member one vote) had the aim of limiting the influence of the trades union block vote.

      It was John Smith who had initiated a culture of business donations. Labour millionaires like Lord Salisbury have given millions of pounds to the Party. Firms such as MacDonald's, even private health insurance companies, pay thousands of pounds for stalls at annual party conferences, whilst some campaigning groups cannot get a foot in the door.

      Many of the rich Labour backers are a minority of self-made millionaires. They do not represent the British establishment as a whole. Their support is conditional on Blair and his clique maintaining overall control over the party and also keeping the trades unions at bay. In spite of the huge sums provided to the Blair leadership of the Labour Party, the bosses of Britain are still on course to provide much more funding to the Conservative Party. Also, in spite of these donations, the Labour Party remains financially in a mess. Blair's last years in office were mired in corruption scandals about ‘loans for lordships'. Trades union subscriptions have been the main source of revenue. Thus Blair's attempts to turn the Party into one of big business have failed.

      What Blair did was to make Labour in office virtually indistinguishable from the Tories. Labour has been in government for more than ten years. Core working class voters are deeply disappointed and apathetic. Blair's real legacy is only part of the long right wing ascendancy inside the Party. He has done his utmost to destroy the best traditions of Labour of crusading for the poor and downtrodden. It is time to reclaim those traditions.

    2. Glasgow Working Class 2March 6, 2017 at 9:32 PM

      Impersonator, the Scottish Nat si Tories are only crusading for independence not the poor.

    3. The troll calls scottish people "jocks", advocates arming Leave campaigners, claimed Jo Cox's husband was a fascist, uses racial and ethnic slurs, pretends to be Labour (badly) while espousing far-right racist hate-speech, praises Theresa May and the tories and displays a perverted poisonous obsession with Scotland's First Minister & her predecessor

  19. James said:

    I live in North Lanarkshire, which is very similar to Glasgow, and I said the other day that the arguments on whether to rank Labour higher than the Tories were finely balanced, because Labour are the SNP's main local competitors. I've come to the conclusion that I should give the Tories my bottom ranking, because Theresa May has framed these elections as an unofficial vote on the constitution, with the Tories posing as the unionist ultras. The fewer Tory councillors there are across Scotland, the better (in my humble opinion).

    I read that with interest as I was born and brought up in north Lanarkshire and my vote was there (Motherwell and Wishaw) until exactly ten years ago this month. I have never voted Labour despite being pretty left-wing because of the notorious corruption and nepotism endemic in the Labour council. It was a fact of life I was aware of from my early childhood, with people being denied council houses because of their religion, councillors' relatives being preferred for council jobs and bribery as a way of life.

    I have heard others from that region suggest that putting up with the odd extra Tory in order to whitewash Labour as much as possible is worth it in that region. (Maybe in Glasgow too but I don't think that's so arguable.) I have a huge natural sympathy with this point of view.

    But on the other hand, intellectually I totally agree with your assessment of May having chosen to make this a surrogate independence referendum therefore Tories should be punished to the fullest extent possible. Even in Lanarksire. I'm certainly going that route when I am now, in Borders. (It's not even an issue - we don't have ANY Labour councillors at the moment and there isn't a snowball's chance in hell of Labour getting one of the seats in my ward.) Tories last - even to ranking the OK-Tory above the hard-line Tory. Realistically, we could get the LibDem in that way and we'd rather have more of them and fewer Tories on the council.

    But if I was back in Wishaw? What would I do? Damned if I know. I might go and talk to some local councillors and get an idea. It's a tricky one. The idea of treating Labour with extreme prejudice there certainly has its attractions.

    I do think that in North Lanarkshire, and also in Glasgow, some consensus needs to be reached about which way to go. We're talking fractions of a vote here and if people split both ways you might as well toss a coin.

  20. This is difficult. When I'm on my deathbed, I want to be able to say I have never, ever, under any circumstances voted Tory.

    There may be no Tory candidates in my ward - I can't remember if there were last time, but the result was 2 SNP, 2 Labour. One of the Labour incumbents is standing again; the other (who at one time, long before he stood for the council, was the chairman of the local Conservative Association!) has been deselected and is standing as an independent. They're both eejits.

    The SNP are currently only one seat ahead of Labour. They're reliant on Tory support. If they've pledged not to do that after the election, Labour needs to lose some seats. Of course, the Tories might change their availability too.

    I'm hoping that there will be some other candidates, but I think my boak threshold could be reached quite rapidly.

    1. Giving a Tory a low preference in an STV election isn't "voting for a Tory". But it's likely that there will be only one Tory candidate in your ward so it's simple. Just give every other candidate a preference except the Tory. Job done.

    2. Oh I see what you mean. You don't feel well-disposed to Labour. Understandable. A lot depends on the makeup of your council. It's possible that Labour is the lesser evil in that context.

      Think of your final rankings in that sense - you're choosing the lesser evil. In most councils, in fact if James is correct all councils, Labour will be the lesser evil.

  21. Surely though, James, if you place your preferences 1-8 (as your example) there is no need to place the Tory at all as he is last by virtue of you having placed all other candidates above him/her. No need then to actually place '9' against the Tory candidate. Just saying because I truly balk at the idea of giving the Tories ANY preference/support (however remote that is) whatsoever.

    1. That is exactly correct. Putting a 9 against the last candidate is EXACTLY the same in practice as numbering the others 1 to 8 and leaving the last one blank. By all means do it that way.

      There are two Tory candidates in my ward and for reasons of my own I intend to rank one of them above the other, but it probably won't make any difference when it comes to the count.

  22. I remember in both 2007 and 2012, marking SNP-1 and then giving a couple of independents whom I didn't know much about the next rankings. I felt a positively visceral reluctance to rank any of the unionist parties. So I know how people feel. But I do feel we have to reassess how we look at this and get used to putting ranking numbers on unionist candidates.

    In both 2007 and 2012 the SNP candidate in this ward was elected as the last of the three councillors, which means that on neither occasion did my vote transfer at all. It didn't matter whether I recorded any other preferences or not, the full value went on the SNP candidate.

    In 2013 there was a by-election caused by the resignation of the Tory councillor. I knew that the SNP candidate was not going to be elected and that it was in fact a straight fight between the Tory and the LibDem. So really, my choice between Tory and LibDem for the lower rankings would be my real vote.

    The balance of the council was interesting. The Tories were in opposition, and replacing the resigned Tory with another Tory wouldn't make any difference. (That is what actually happened.) However, replacing the resigned Tory with a LibDem would weaken the opposition and strengthen the LibDem group which was in coalition administration with the SNP. I thought about it, and was unsure what our councillors would prefer. I went to our branch convener (who doesn't live in this ward) and said, should I put the Tory ahead of the LibDem or vice versa. Because I thought on balance the SNP group might prefer things to stay the same, with the SNP the largest party in the coalition, rather than have the LibDems strengthened. I was told, you're SNP, just vote for the SNP candidate.

    I thought, and still think, this was wrong. It was a council by-election with a low turnout probable, and one vote can make a difference. But I genuinely didn't know which our councillors would prefer and did as I was told. In the end it was transfers from the SNP candidate that got the Tory elected but at that point he needed so few transfers that it was almost inevitable. Most SNP voters had actually put the LibDem second.

    I suspect the councillors weren't unhappy about this. It wouldn't have made much difference if the Tory opposition were one down, and coping with a stronger LibDem group in administration might have been more problematic. But I really don't know. The main thing is, I asked the wrong person. I should have asked the leader of the SNP group on the council. Silly me.

    Because a lot of SNP old-timers are still hung up on this "never vote for anyone else" thing. It applies in FPTP, obviously, and it applies in d'Hondt, but it does NOT apply with STV.

  23. It helps to have a fairly detailed understanding of your own ward. Here we have a three-councillor ward and all bullshit aside I know what is going to happen. The first seat is likely to go to a Tory. The second seat is likely to go SNP. These two may be the other way round, but that the first two woll go Tory/SNP is a dead cert.

    The third seat is going to be between the LibDem and the other Tory. So in order to keep the second Tory out and the number of Tory councillors to a minimum I have to rank the LibDem above both Tories.

    It's actually that simple. Vote SNP-1, then make sure that the LibDem is above both Tories on my final paper. That's the only bit of it that will actually affect the result of the election.

    I indend to rank any Green candidate second, but it's a gesture, they won't get in. I'll put independents next unless they're closet Tories. I kind of count the Borders Party in there too, as they're in much the same category. I'll probably put the LibDem above Labour but it won't matter because the Labour candidate hasn't a hope in hell.

    I will rank the Tories. One of them is a local tradesman who isn't political but just wants to be a councillor. He asked the Tories if he could stand for them and they agreed. (He asked the SNP first but he'd never have got through candidate vetting even if a newly-joined member would have been considered.) I don't know what the Tory vote management strategy is, but as it would give me great pleasure to see the tradesman get in rather than the real Tory I'll rank the tradesman above the real Tory. It won't make any difference as my vote won't been in play at the point when the first Tory is elected (it'll either still be on the SNP candidate or have slipped down to the LibDem), but there's no harm in doing it because I have a genuine preference.

    I will then rank the hard-Tory second-bottom, because we will have a UKIP candidate. I can manage to rank even a hard Tory in order to put UKIP firmly last. Again it won't matter because the UKIP candidate doesn't have a hope, but it's the priciple of the thing.

    Having worked this out in advance will make it a lot easier to go into the polling station and do it right. I'm not voting FOR the Tories at all, I'm just thumbing my nose at UKIP, and expressing my preference for a Tory who isn't really a Tory over the actual Tory.

    So it will go.

    1 SNP
    2 Green (if standing)
    3 independent 1
    4 independent 2
    5 Borders Party
    6 LibDem
    7 Labour
    8 Tory (the tradesman)
    9 Tory (the real thing)
    10 UKIP

    The only two things that really matter there are putting SNP first and putting the LibDem ahead of both Tories. Nothing else matters in practical terms as regards getting councillors elected. But I'm getting to grips with using STV properly and I intend to do it.

    1. The problem is that you're starting in a system which is already "tilted" because of the low number of seats per ward.

      The way the Droop quota is calculated means that the fewer seats there are then the greater chance all of them will go to major parties.

      Five seats is considered a minimum so if you're at three then any STV system is somewhat "compromised" IMHO. I note the number of seats in NI constituencies was reduced this year too.

      If there aren't a sufficient number of seats then the way that TV for votes is calculated is unlikely to matter much.

      People DO need to remember that voting for a no-hoper as first preference doesn't work under this system (STV-WIGM). I suspect yoons will be suggesting it does and pointing at recent Australian elections - which don't use WIGM.