Toni Giugliano, the SNP's unsuccessful constituency candidate in Dumbarton, posted three rather unwise tweets about the Alba party yesterday - including one in which he unwittingly gave the game away about his own lack of knowledge about Scotland's electoral systems.
"Imagine running a council election campaign against one of the most marginalised groups in society. WTF is wrong with these people?"
"Aren’t these the same people who pontificate about Indy being their top priority? Well here’s a wee problem for Abla (sic). This is an STV election. Every vote taken away from the SNP lets pro-union parties in. No gains in this elections and it’s all over."
"What might seem insignificant or “fringe” today could easily become mainstream tomorrow. Always challenge injustice. Never ignore."
Of course I have to start by briefly challenging Toni's appalling cynicism in lying - and it is, without question, an intentional lie - that Alba's campaign against legally-recognised gender self-ID somehow constitutes a campaign against trans people. Alba fully respects the rights of trans people - and that includes, incidentally, their right to identify as they wish in their day-to-day lives. It's the way that the legal enforcement of gender self-identification could infringe the rights of others, especially of women and girls, that Alba are quite rightly concerned about. It also has to be said that if Toni really believes that people who wish to self-ID are "one of the most marginalised groups in society", he ought to be questioning why the apparatus of the state is so full-bloodedly behind them (as indeed are four of Scotland's six largest political parties). Other marginalised communities don't enjoy anything like that kind of protection or support - consider, for example, Scotland's small and vulnerable Russian community, who regularly have to endure dreadful Russophobic comments from senior politicians such as Stewart McDonald. I haven't noticed Fiona Robertson rushing to get round the table with representatives of the Russian community to draw up a working definition of Russophobia that could be used to discipline McDonald if he refuses to reflect on his conduct.
But Toni's quite right about one thing - the fact that Alba are being dismissed as "fringe" today doesn't mean that the party won't be mainstream tomorrow.
This is primarily a blogpost about Toni's quite astonishing ignorance of the STV voting system used for the local council elections, though. We've seen similarly ill-informed tweets from Peter Grant MP a few months ago. Both men have clearly suggested that there is somehow a danger of Alba splitting the pro-independence vote in an STV election in a way that there wasn't in the Scottish Parliament election a few months ago, which was conducted by AMS (the Additional Member System). In fact, the polar opposite is true. Anyone who voted Alba on the Holyrood list ballot in May was voting against the SNP. You could only vote for one party on the list, and whichever party you chose, you were rejecting all of the others and harming their chances of winning list seats. There may have been a strategy behind it, you may have thought with some justification that SNP list votes were highly likely to be wasted, but neverthless there were undoubtedly scenarios in which voting Alba could theoretically have reduced the number of SNP seats.
There is no such scenario in local elections under STV, because STV is a preferential voting system, which means you don't have to reject the SNP to vote Alba. If the Alba candidate is eliminated, your vote will simply transfer to your second preference candidate, and if that person is an SNP candidate, your vote will have exactly the same effect as it would have done if you'd given your first preference vote to the SNP. That's not in any way a figure of speech, it's quite literally true. Votes are not 'diluted' when they're transferred from a first preference candidate to a second preference candidate.
So a few obvious questions for Toni Giugliano and Peter Grant. Why don't you understand all of this? Don't you think senior politicians should educate themselves about a voting system before pontificating on it? And once you do understand the significance of STV being a preferential voting system, will you be urging SNP voters to give their lower preferences to other pro-indy parties, including Alba? If not, do you understand that you will be needlessly reducing the number of pro-indy councillors across Scotland, and increasing the number of unionist councillors? Doesn't that suggest that whatever your agenda is, it's not one that prioritises independence?
Incidentally, just in case anyone wrongly assumes that I've changed my own tune on STV elections since joining Alba, here is the video I made for the 2017 local elections with Phantom Power, in which I explain in detail how the system works, and make precisely the same point that I've made above - that SNP voters should give their lower preferences to other pro-indy parties and candidates (which back then mostly meant the Greens).