Saturday, April 15, 2017

A guide to the local election voting system

Just a quick note to let you know that I have a new article in The National, about the Single Transferable Vote system that will be used to elect our local councils next month, and in particular about why it's so important for pro-independence voters to rank all or most of the candidates in their ward.  You can read the article HERE.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Local Election Misinformation

I'm getting to the point where I almost despair of our chances of clearing up the misunderstandings about how the STV voting system works in time for polling day on 4th May, because people are so wedded to what intuitively (but wrongly) seems 'obvious'.  This morning, I posted a link on Facebook to my blogpost about how I planned to rank the eight candidates in my own ward, and within no time at all several indignant comments had been posted telling me that I was wrong to use my lower preferences on the unionist candidates.  Apparently if we all just leave the unionist boxes blank, we'll help to "drive the unionist parties out of our councils" and prevent unionist councillors getting in "via the back door".

Now, listen.  There is no requirement to rank all or most of the candidates, and in some circumstances (if you're lucky) you may not cause much harm if you decide not to do so.  But if you think you are doing any actual good by leaving several boxes blank, you're deluding yourself.  A pro-indy vote is not somehow more "emphatic" if you don't rank the unionists.

As long as you make sure that you rank every single pro-indy and non-unionist candidate ahead of every single unionist candidate, your preferences for the unionist parties will only be taken into account in one very specific circumstance - namely when only unionist candidates are left in contention for a particular seat.  If a seat has to be filled, and only unionist candidates are in the running for it, how do you think you're going to stop a unionist from being elected by effectively abstaining?  You can't - it's physically impossible.  But what you can do is influence the outcome, and and help prevent the most objectionable unionist candidate from winning.  It's possible you genuinely may not have any view at all on which unionist party is the most objectionable, and that's fine - but I do have a view, and deep down I think most of us do.  If it's a straight choice between a Lib Dem councillor and a Labour councillor, I would prefer Lib Dem.  If it's a straight choice between a Labour councillor and a Tory councillor, I would - just about - prefer Labour.

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There's also an anonymous commenter on this blog who has been putting out false information about how votes are transferred when candidates are eliminated - he or she is saying that if you rank the Greens first and the SNP second, only a portion of your second preference vote will transfer to the SNP if the Green candidate is eliminated.  That's simply untrue - your whole vote will transfer.  I don't think this is malicious misinformation - the commenter seems to be getting the procedure for eliminated candidates mixed up with what happens to 'surplus votes' from candidates who reach the quota early on and are declared elected.

Ranking the rank outsiders

I've been having a belated look at the full candidate list for my own ward in the May local elections.  One thing I'd forgotten about until I checked is that the ward is being expanded from three seats to four, which will make the STV process more interesting, and in theory should produce a slightly more proportional result.  The SNP are putting up three candidates and Labour are putting up two, which would often be a sign that both parties think the SNP are certain of winning two seats and Labour are locked in for one, leaving the final seat up for grabs.  However, given the political history of this area (it was a mini-stronghold for the SNP even in the days when the party was hardly winning anywhere else in the central belt) and bearing in mind the current circumstances, I struggle to imagine Labour coming out of this one with 2-2 parity.  It's probably more a case of Labour thinking their single seat is safe enough, and that there's no great harm in putting up a no-hoper second candidate for the sheer hell of it.

Two notable absences from the candidate list have made my life as a voter considerably easier - there are no independent candidates, which means I don't have to fight a losing battle against a search engine trying to work out the stance taken on the constitutional question by relatively obscure individuals, and there's also no UKIP candidate, which means I'm not faced with the nasty dilemma of whether I can bear to rank the Conservatives higher than one other party.  However, the SSP are making an intervention, having seemingly abandoned the RISE brand for the time being (I can't say I'm sorry to have a little rest from it), meaning I'm going to have to make a straight choice between two pro-independence parties for my highest non-SNP ranking.  In past years, I would have been strongly inclined to rank the SSP one place higher than the Greens, simply because the Greens have always been known to have a sizeable anti-independence minority faction.  However, at least for now, the Greens seem to have collectively reinvented themselves as the new indy fundamentalists (almost as the true heirs of Jim Sillars' former self!) so it's not quite such a clear-cut decision anymore.

Here's how I provisionally think I might fill in my ballot paper...

1 - SNP
2 - SNP
3 - SNP
4 - Greens
5 - SSP
6 - Labour
7 - Labour
8 - Conservatives

Any party putting up more than one candidate will generally have a 'vote management strategy', meaning they will put out leaflets setting out the desired order in which their own candidates should be ranked, with a view to maximising their tally of elected councillors.  I'll be following the advice in the SNP leaflet, but I'm not going to be too bothered about Labour's preferred order, because it won't make any practical difference on such low rankings anyway.  (I originally had a tongue-in-cheek comment here about messing with Labour's heads by doing the complete opposite of what they want, but I thought I'd better remove it in case it's taken too seriously!)

When I first thought about all this a few months ago, I was leaning towards the theory that it might be tactically wiser to rank Labour at the absolute bottom, just below the Tories, simply because Labour are the SNP's main rivals for power in North Lanarkshire.  But I've completely changed my mind since Theresa May framed these elections as a chance to send a message about an independence referendum, which has ensured that any Tory councillor elected anywhere in Scotland will be viewed as an outright endorsement of her stance.  Even in places like North Lanarkshire and Glasgow, if there's a straight fight between Labour and the Tories for a seat, I now think a Labour win would be the lesser of the two evils.