I've been dipping into some of the discussion on Facebook about whether voters should use their lower rankings in the local elections, and I have to say it's thoroughly depressing to see so many people (including some who really should know better) trot out a silly red herring about the use of lower preferences supposedly being similar to vote-splitting in the Holyrood election. The implication is that voters who rank parties other than the SNP are making the same mistake that cost Nicola Sturgeon an overall majority last year.
Let me point something out. Long-term readers of this blog will not need me to remind them that both myself and Morag Kerr (aka Rolfe) spent an inordinate amount of time last year warning SNP supporters that they were taking a terrible risk if they split their Holyrood vote. I don't know about Morag, but I took a fair bit of nasty personal abuse for doing that from people associated with the Greens and RISE. And yet both of us have spent almost as much time over the last few weeks urging SNP supporters to use all or most of their preferences at the local elections. We haven't had a Damascene conversion, or changed our minds in the slightest - we've simply noticed that the local election voting system is completely different from the Holyrood voting system, and works in a completely different way.
The difference can be explained very simply. Any SNP supporter who split their Holyrood vote last year by voting SNP on the constituency ballot and Green/RISE/Solidarity on the list ballot was actively voting against the SNP on the list. There was always a chance that it was going to cost the SNP a list seat. Those 'tactical voters' may have convinced themselves the risk was minimal and justified, or they may have been hoodwinked into wrongly thinking there was no risk at all, but in the real world there was always a possibility that the SNP were going to be harmed. By contrast, anyone who uses their highest preferences in the local elections on the SNP's candidates, and then uses their next-highest preference on the Greens, or on Solidarity, or on the Scottish Socialist Party, is not voting against the SNP. That lower preference will not even be taken into account until and unless all of the SNP candidates have been either elected or eliminated.
There is no risk. People are being scared by imaginary monsters - and the daft thing is that the people doing the scaring have nothing to gain from it, and everything to lose. They're just caught in a mindset that isn't appropriate for this particular voting system, and they can't seem to break out of it.