In this article, I attempt to explain, in simple terms how our voting system works using the region of Mid Scotland and Fife.
There are 9 constituencies of Clackmannanshire and Dunblane, Cowdenbeath, Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy, Mid Fife and Glenrothes, North East Fife, Perthshire North, Perthshire South and Kinross-shire, and Stirling. These constituencies come together to form Mid-Scotland and Fife Region.
In each of these constituencies you vote for a person, even though they are a member of a party. In Mid-Scotland and Fife the Scottish National Party candidates take 8 out of 9 of the seats. This is using first past the post, so the most votes wins.
Then you have the region, which is done under a proportional system.
So. The day comes when voting has finished and the ballots are being counted, all of the constituencies have been done first. In 2016, that was 8 out of 9 seats going to the SNP and 1 seat going to Willie Rennie of the Lib Dems.
Now remember the figure 8, because this is extremely important.
Next comes the count for the region, which will see an additional 7 MSP’s elected to Holyrood.
In 2016, the SNP got 120,000 votes, The Tories got 73000 votes and Labour got 50,000 votes. To make this simple I am not bothering with the few hundred either way, it doesn’t change the example, and I am also not bothering with the lib dems because they don’t have any regional seats in this area and this article focuses on the regional list.
So, the count of the regional ballot starts by first working out what is called the “divisor”. This number is based on the number of seats a party already has from the constituency vote. In Mid-Scotland and Fife, the SNP already have 8 seats, so their divisor is worked out by taking the number 8 (the number of seats they have) and adding 1 to it. This gives us the divisor of 9! (8+1=9).
What about labour and the tories? Well! The Tories didn’t get any seats, so their divisor is 0 (0 seats) plus the number 1 which gives us 1 (0+1=1). Labour also didn’t get any seats so their divisor is also 1 (0+1=1).
So we have the SNP with a divisor of 9, Labour with a divisor of 1 and the Tories with a divisor of 1.
Pretty simple so far.
Next we have to establish who gets the first seat and thats done by taking the number of votes a party got in the regional list and dividing it by the divisor. So in this case, the SNP got 120,000 votes, so they start with 120000 divided by 9 = 13,333. Labour got 50000 votes and their divisor is 1, so for them, it’s still 50000 because 50000 divided by 1 is still 50000. As for the tories, the same again because they have 73000 votes, their divisor is one and 73000 divided by 1 is still 73000.
So at the first count the table stands as:
Tories 73000, Labour 50000 and SNP 13333
Now you will note straight away the link between how well the SNP did in the constituency ballot and how badly they got penalised (divided) in the first round of the count in the regional ballot. Despite having 120000 votes, at the first stage, they got so badly hammered they were penalised down to 13333. Labour and the Tories, however, because they got no seats in the constituency ballot, their totals didn’t get divided.
Now that this first stage division has been done, it’s clear that the Tories have the most votes after the division – so they get the first seat.
Now the tories have a seat. Which means their divisor must change. 1 seat + 1 = 2. So we take the tories votes of 73000 and divide it by 2 which gives us 36500 votes.
Now the table looks like this; Labour 50000, Tories 36500, SNP 13333
Labour now have the most votes and guess what? They get the second seat!
Now labour have a seat as well, so their divisor must be recalculated: 1 seat + 1 = 2
So now we divide labours seats by 2. 50000 divided by 2 equals 25000.
So now the table looks like this: Tories 36500, Labour 25000, SNP 13333. The tories are back in the lead and so they get the next seat – and so it continues.
Now there are obviously other parties etc standing on the regional list and I have only provided three just to show you how the division works, but the fact is that in mid-scotland and fife, the SNP get no votes because they are penalised 9 times more than Labour or the Tories because they do so well in the constituency ballot, this is just a fact.
What is also a fact is that an independent or a party which does not stand on the constituency ballot and therefore does not get any seats on the constituency ballot, ends up in the same scenario as Labour and the Tories with respect to votes. Their regional votes do not get divided in the first stages because they have no seats to start with when the count begins on the regional ballot.
In Mid-Scotland and Fife, the SNP would require a minimum of 46000 additional votes on top of their 120,000 votes they currently get, just to get one seat. This will simply not happen. However, if they also take Willie Rennie’s constituency seat then their divisor goes up. It would no longer be 8 seats + 1 at the initial stage of the regional count, it would now be 9 + 1. That means they’d be 10 times more penalised, rather than 9. That would mean the SNP require an additional 80,000 votes over and above the 120000 they already get.
This is just an example.
There are only two regions in Scotland where SNP 1/2 will work. The first is Highlands and Islands and the Second is south of Scotland.
This is due to the fact that the SNP do not sweep the board in the constituencies in these regions, therefore they are not as heavily penalised when it comes time to count the regional ballot.
Mid-Scotland and Fife is probably the most polarised region in Scotland between Yes and No. Here the choice is pretty clear cut, the SNP simply can’t get any seats in the regional ballot which means a vote for the SNP here is wasted. By comparison, the SNP 1/2 strategy would work in South of Scotland and Highlands and Islands because the SNP are much less popular in the constituency ballot.