In my former blogging life under the SNP Tactical Voting banner, I thoroughly enjoyed considering counter-intuitive votes that would ultimately lead to a preferred result for the voter. For example, voting Lib Dem in a constituency to try getting an extra SNP MSP in on the regional vote, all to Labour’s detriment. Real high brow stuff.
Looking down the psephological line we have European elections (straight PR, boringly worthy) and an independence referendum (simple Yes/No), so there’s no scope for any tactical voting.
Or is there?
My thoughts on this were pricked into life when a friend stated quite decidedly that independence would be a bad thing for Scotland, but he was going to vote Yes anyway. I know, my gast was at a flabber too. What is he thinking? Well, hear him out.
His view is that, because Yes Scotland are going to lose so convincingly (his words, not mine), he thought that a narrow win for the No camp was in Scotland’s best interests rather than a good old fashioned humping. So, he will do his best to get it as close to 45%/55% as he can, with his one vote. Scots, and the SNP, can still hold their heads up high and not be the laughing stock of the country.
It’s an interesting theory and it makes one realise that there are really five distinct results from this coming referendum, with five distinct outcomes:
A clear No win (say, 57%+):
Forget the hanging chads and missing ballot boxes in Glenrothes, this is a referendum result that isn’t too close to call. The SNP would have to conclude that it has made its best independence arguments and failed, pushing back any subsequent referendum for a generation.
The constitutional debate in the run up to the Holyrood election would turn to Devo Max vs the Status Quo and the various permutations in between and outwith. There would also be a decade where devolved issues can be focussed on and flexed within the current powers of the Scottish Parliament. There is no way of knowing whether the SNP or Labour would be the dominant party over this decade with Scots already confirming that they are impressed with how the SNP manages devolved Scotland, so the referendum could be quickly forgotten to Nationalist benefit.
A narrow No win (say 51%-57%):
The No’s have it by a nose. Despite the agreement reached between Cameron and Salmond, the scope for objection, obfuscation and obstinacy would be considerable with turnout, polling station issues and minor legal transgressions all coming under the spotlight and being challenged either directly or indirectly by the SNP. Stormy calls for a rerun would be made but would largely hinge on the result of the 2016 election. There would be a high risk of a crushing Holyrood defeat for the SNP if they were seen to be sore losers by a public who wanted to move on.
An effective draw (say 49%-51%):
In many ways the nightmare scenario. Significant pressure would be on Salmond or Cameron to publicly and clearly concede defeat if they had just missed out. However, realistically neither side would truly accept the result if they lost by such an excruciatingly narrow margin.
If 49% of Scots want to be part of the UK or independent, then that is too sizeable a bloc to ignore going into either new future. The risk would be an unsettled period for Scotland stretching into the decades and a further referendum, be it to rejoin the UK or on independence, would be inevitable.
The Scottish economy would suffer from the political instability and even a descent towards, if not fully into, Irish style factionalism could be possible. The public may decide to vote a strong majority into Holyrood to manage these downside risks, be it SNP/Green or Labour/Lib Dem, with stability emanating from that mandate. There would, of course, be further complications if Lab/Lib were the first Government of an independent Scotland after such a wafer thin margin or SNP/Green the next Government of devolved Scotland.
A narrow Yes win (say 51%-57%):
This would probably cause more consternation than a narrow No win by simple dint of the establishment being more UK-focussed. The negotiations for an independent Scotland would go ahead but would be a difficult, truculent affair, with impasses likely and legal challenges as to the settlement of assets/liabilities unavoidable. It would be a trying time for public and politicians alike and gaining outside assistance from friendly allies – the European Union or the United Nations – couldn’t be ruled out.
A clear Yes win (say, 57%+):
Negotiations would still be testy but the margin of victory would hasten Cameron and Salmond’s desire to get to a position where rUK has moved on and Scotland is getting on with creating its new future. A compromise settlement would be reached eventually and even former staunch unionist parties would adapt to the new landscape and amend their policies and vision accordingly. Scotland would have more politicians, domestically and, soon enough, at the European Parliament. The standard would take time to improve and plateau with the more established and experienced SNP personalities likely to have a clear run at laying the foundations of the new country.
So they are the possible outcomes, where does the tactical voting come into it? Well, probably only if the polling doesn’t change dramatically between now and 2014.
If the polls in the lead up to the referendum suggest a close run thing then all Scots, my friend included, will simply vote the way they truly believe, be it Yes or No. It’d be the same, one would think, for narrow victories either way.
Similarly, if the Yes vote is considerably outnumbering the No vote, it is difficult to imagine the Yes camp wishing to ensure that the victory is only a narrow one.
However, as outlined at the start of this post, the converse could be true. Some latent national pride within would-be No voters might rise up to give a sizeable consolation Yes tranche that makes the final scoreline look more generous for Yes Scotland, if ultimately still a losing one.
Despite there just being one question, not only is there more than two potential outcomes at this referendum, there are also more than two ways to use your vote.