A lot has happened since I posted my thoughts about the complexities of the system used to select members to the Scottish Parliament and the possibilities of gaming this in favour of independence at the forthcoming elections.
Hitherto the top five most read posts at this blog was a mixed bag. A long way ahead in first and second position were a piece about the first symptoms of prostate cancer and an essay about Trainspotting explaining why this blog is called it’s shite being Scottish. Some way behind these competing for third place were my tale of overcoming a fear of the unknown by walking the Aonach Eagach, an overtly political intervention written on the occasion of Rees-Mogg’s declaration that the DUP was the true expression of Britishness, and a description of my walk up a mountain in the Cairngorms, the Gaelic name of which translates as the Penis of the Demon. In only ten days, the post about the open goal in Scottish politics has leapfrogged these to take up third place.
An Open Goal has been pushed through many newsfeeds; it now resides inside a complex architecture of political processes and has become mixed up with all sorts of narratives. It has been received positively by those who agree with the general position, and apart from a very interesting critical intervention in the comments section (about which more later), I have come across no serious effort to rebut any of the arguments. The substance of the argument is solid, which is both gratifying and unsurprising given that it was built up according to principles of logic and common sense. And yet, despite being advanced in many other places and favoured by many more than this blog, the substance of the argument seems to have gained absolutely no traction whatever in any of the establishment media. Evidently it is threatening.
In certain quarters moreover, it appears that deliberate efforts are being made to conceal the mathematics upon which the argument is based. It has become depressingly obvious that there are many who have absolutely no idea of how the voting system in this country works and many others who have no desire to find out. Despite the plea from those presenting the case for advancing the cause of independence by eschewing party allegiance and ignoring the personalities of those making it, it would seem that for many this is simply impossible. Tempting though it sometimes is to join in and to berate others for stupidity, wilful ignorance and irresponsibility, I will not. I could throw all principle to the wind and examine ideas not on the basis of historical relevance, logical consistency and common sense, but by judging the character of those who espouse them or their party affiliations, but I will not. I can only reiterate that under current circumstances it makes no sense at all for supporters of independence to vote for the dominant party of government on both constituency and regional ballots.
According to opinion polls, support for Scottish independence is now consistently above 50%, and support for the SNP is running at about 50% for the constituency ballot. If this were turned into votes then the opposition parties would also have to share about 50% of the vote. None of the opposition parties is willing to enter into any formal alliance with any of the others in an effort to combine opposition votes so as to win constituency seats, so it is very unlikely that the SNP will not win a substantial number of constituency seats. In certain areas where the SNP is less popular, or in constituencies where there are informal arrangements between opposition parties, these are likely to gain one or two seats. But since the Parliament has 129 seats, 73 of which are elected from constituencies, opposition parties can win up to eight constituency seats and the SNP will continue to have a majority. It does of course depend on the geographical distribution of opinion, but with an average of 50% vote share and a disunited opposition, it is extremely unlikely to the point of mathematical impossibility, that the SNP does not in the constituency ballot already gain enough seats to form a government.
As I believe I demonstrated in An Open Goal, under these circumstances, voting for the SNP on the regional ballot means that the value of each SNP vote will be as little as a tenth of the value of those given to opposition parties. It would in fact be a complete waste of a vote. Anybody who denies this is flying in the face of mathematics. So the mantra coming from SNP electioneers that only by voting for the SNP on both ballots will independence be secured, is patently absurd. Not only is it based on ignorance of mathematics, it is politically very dubious, as if Scottish independence would be assured simply by filling the Scottish Parliament with SNP members, that Westminster would suddenly accede to independence negotiations or even “allow” a second referendum. Mr Peter Bell of Perth is terrier like is his destruction of such nonsense. If you have not encountered his work, here is a link to his blog. Check it out, it is very good.
So. Independence supporters who wish to make their regional vote count towards independence should really find an independence supporting party other than the SNP for their regional vote. As of about a month ago, there were about half a dozen such parties registered for the forthcoming election, which made it difficult to know which would be the best strategic decision for an independence supporter. If we again assume that about 50% of the regional vote is going towards independence and note that there are only three serious opposition parties standing on the regional ballots, then the six independence supporting parties will divide the independence vote more than the three opposition parties will divide the opposition vote. Opposition parties are then likely to win more seats on the regional lists. Only if there are fewer independence supporting parties fielding candidates on the regional lists than opposition parties does the advantage shift.
Slightly less than a month ago, the advantage shifted. A new party emerged, standing candidates only on the regional list and asking all supporters of independence for their votes, irrespective of policy differences and party allegiance, while at the same time advocating voting SNP in the constituencies. Its motivation is to have Parliament contain a greater number of independence supporting members, who would encourage the SNP government to secure independence by whatever means. At the same time all the other smaller independence supporting parties stood down their candidates and recommended voting for this new party, Alba, which, for those who do not know is the Gaelic word for the land where we live and translates into English as Scotland.
The Green Party rightly continues to stand candidates. Hitherto, it has perhaps been the beneficiary of the system, taken independence supporters’ votes because this has been the only way for them not to waste their regional vote. The Green Party does of course receive support in its own right. I am willing to wager however that in the light of the emergence of Alba and the clear sight this has given to those who are willing to look, of how the voting system works, the Green Party will pick up more regional seats than it did at the last election. Nevertheless, despite its stated commitment to independence and its place in the government coalition, it is standing candidates against the SNP in certain constituencies, which will inevitably spilt the independence supporting vote in these places. Which does not make much sense for the cause of independence. It is moreover likely that from the regional vote alone The Green Party will gain seats and will continue to be part of a coalition government, so in fact for Green Party supporters, voting SNP in these constituencies would be a better strategy, for it would add to the SNP constituency pile and divide its regional vote further, thereby increasing the Green Party’s chances of representation on the regional list. Voting SNP on the constituency and Green on the list would be to further establish the coalition of the two as the governing power in at the Scottish Parliament.
Alba on the other hand is not standing against the SNP anywhere. In fact it supports voting SNP on the constituency ballot. At its inception it asked all independence supporters irrespective of party allegiance, policy difference and personal feud to join together and adopt a strategy that would return a much greater number of independence supporting candidates to Parliament. This would have several effects: to shut down petulant Unionists wasting parliamentary time; to investigate as many ways as possible of disengaging from this benighted kingdom; and to support the Scottish government in its continuing efforts to introduce policies that are of benefit to the Scottish people. None of this, as the aforementioned Mr Bell is also keen to demonstrate, represents a coherent strategy towards independence, but it would stick the thorn of Scottishness a little more deeply into the side of the British state, more autonomously assert the sovereign power of the Scots, by filling Parliament with sovereign Scots, sidelining the anachronism of Unionism. In any case, it will not be through parliamentary means alone that Scotland regains her independence.
From where I am sitting a vote for the SNP in the constituency ballot and for Alba on the list is the most sensible strategy for anybody who wants to use the voting system, working together with other independence supporters to assert the autonomy of Scotland against the encroachment of British/English nationalism. This is an historical opportunity for the people of Scotland to work together, for the independence movement to seize political power and to make a difference. But of course …. politics. The SNP continues to repeat the same old mantra, which is repeated by its followers without any thought for what it means, nor any apparent willingness to understand how the voting system works. Privately, many individual members of the party have declared they are certainly not going to waste their regional vote on the SNP; some have even defected to Alba. There are several weeks before the election, several weeks for the SNP to discontinue this disingenuous shite, to be honest and to act with a little maturity and intellectual integrity, to stop patronising the population and attempting to defy mathematical principle. To suggest in short that it would appreciate constituency votes but would respectfully suggest voting for another independence supporting party on the regional list.
There is nevertheless a paradox to Alba that I cannot deny seems to be putting people off. Alba’s popularity derives in part from the character and political experience of its leader, Mr Alex Salmond. Without his presence, it is unlikely that others would have stood down or crossed over from the SNP. Without Mr Salmond, Alba is just another fringe party disgruntled with governments at both Westminster and Hollyrood; with Mr Salmond at the helm, Alba is a threat to the British state, a clear and present danger to the intricate assemblages of sinecure and patronage that perpetuate the dominance of the United Kingdom. Mr Salmond is without doubt the most adept politician of our times. His persistent presentation of the case for Scottish independence personifies the aspirations of very many people in this country. He is a powerful leader. And yet, the party he leads is asking voters to forget personalities and party allegiance and to vote for his party. For many, this seems paradoxical or contradictory or just plain hypocritical. And as Radio Jammor pointed out with great precision in the comments of An Open Goal, many people simply cannot thole the man for whatever reason, arguing that his presence might be considered as a bit of a strategic blunder, that his leadership might be a political liability rather than an asset. No matter his innocence in law, the charges laid against him will never go away, particularly when the unionist media and certain elements of the SNP continue to bring them up all the time. So perhaps it might be a good idea for Mr Salmond to be more of a figurehead, to return to the backroom to work on strategy and to allow somebody else to act as the public face of the party.
I can understand the point, but I can also resolve the alleged contradiction. I am perfectly prepared to disregard personality or party allegiance in favour of leaping forward on the wave of history. The only bit of Mr Salmond’s character I am interested in is his tactical experience and the fact that he is a thorn in the side of the British state. I see Alba purely as a vehicle and I do not see a vote for Alba as a vote against either the SNP or independence. On the contrary, a vote for Alba presupposes a vote for the SNP. Far from splitting the independence vote, in advocating a vote for the SNP in the constituencies and itself in the regions, Alba is augmenting, complementing, increasing the power of the independence movement. If everybody joined in with the game, the independence vote would be doubled. Here is the obvious strategy before every Scot who seeks to affirm the autonomy of Scotland; SNP on the constituency ballot to reestablish a competent and experienced independence supporting government; Alba on the regional list to ensure that independence supporting votes are not wasted.
It has been suggested that the SNP was handed a highly motivated and organised independence movement on a plate after the referendum of 2014. 45% of voters had chosen independence despite a vicious campaign of unionist shite dominating all newsfeeds. And yet no advantage was sought further, the SNP concerned itself with other things, with internal politics and the consequences of Brexit, and forgot the goal of independence, squandering a rare opportunity to take forward the case for independence into parliamentary business and to sharpen the thorn in the side of the British state. Some say this prevarication was a betrayal of history. There have always been sections of the independence movement highly suspicious of the SNP; recent events, not to mention the absurd both votes SNP mantra, have reinforced this suspicion. Alba perhaps represents this tendency, but it also issues it with a challenge, to hold its nose and vote SNP on the constituency ballot despite its distaste and suspicion.
Alba has thrown something different into the cauldron of Scottish politics, shown a way of navigating the shiteness of being Scottish, reminded us of who we can be, that we are perfectly able to sink our differences in the face of enemies who seek to impose their values upon us, that we can use logic and common sense to come to our own conclusions if allowed to think things through properly, and that we have a basic understanding of mathematics. More importantly, Alba has touched on something very powerful, a more general, almost metaphysical challenge, to look at the world without allowing ego or prejudice to obscure the view, to perceive the movements of history and see here an opportunity to incorporate a much fuller spectrum and diversity of independent opinion into the Scottish Parliament. It would be a pity to waste this. The alternative would be just more of the same.
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