There’s been a moderate amount of mumping and moaning from the wilder fringes of Nat-dom online about the Greens’ candidacy in Edinburgh Central. Those were our 4,644 votes, they say, and we’d have held Central if the Greens hadn’t stood the wonderful Alison Johnstone. From the other side, we can point to the 751,770 SNP list votes that, as predicted, didn’t elect a single SNP MSP across six regions: Central, Glasgow, Lothian, Mid Scotland & Fife, the North East, and West. Those should have been our votes! Waaah! Where are our other MSPs?
Well, no. In both cases they’re the public’s votes, for one thing, and personally I’ve come round to the idea that as many people as possible should have the chance to vote Green on every ballot. Also, while some Green votes will have been begrudging SNP supporters who knew their list votes would be wasted, some of their votes will be Green supporters holding their nose at the SNP’s pro-oil and tax-cautious agenda. It’s impossible to say what the balance is, although Edinburgh Central (and Glasgow Kelvin) show a higher core Green vote in our strong areas than the rockets would like you to believe.
One thing the Labour, Lib Dem and Tory constituency victories in the capital did, though, was ensure the Lothian constituency results were a bit closer to proportional, especially the Labour and Tory wins. And that, in turn, ensured the Lothian list didn’t have to do more of the work needed to give Labour and the Tories the seats they, let’s admit it, deserved based on their votes. And so Andy Wightman got that final Lothian seat.
If Daniel Johnson hadn’t won Edinburgh South, with everything else the same, Labour would have picked up the last list seat. If Alex Cole-Hamilton hadn’t won Edinburgh West, the Lib Dems would have got it. And if Ruth Davidson hadn’t won Edinburgh Central, the Tories would have got it. The net effect on the numbers of Yoonyonishts of one of those seats going the other way would have been precisely zero.
But let’s accept the zoomers’ frame for a second. If Edinburgh Central had stayed SNP, Green voters wouldn’t have elected Andy Wightman. And that was pretty much my top objective for this election. So the correct tactical vote for a diehard Green in each seat was an anti-SNP one, especially as swapping a Green for a Nat can’t reduce the overall vote for independence-supporting parties at Holyrood.
And I have – confession time! – played this game before. In 1999, when the first Scottish Parliament election loomed, I lived in Edinburgh Pentland. And the maths were obvious even then. If David McLetchie won that seat, there would be just the same number of Tories in Parliament (so this would be guilt-free) but more space on the list to elect Robin Harper. So I held my nose and voted tactical Tory. It didn’t matter: Iain Gray won for Labour, and Robin still got in on the list. Those tactical decisions are the preserve of the
complete anorak like me high-information voter, which is also pretty exclusionary.
This maths certainly doesn’t deter me from supporting Green constituency runs next time, though. Personally I strongly hope Holyrood picks a fully preferential and more proportional system next time: that way an argument that Greens shouldn’t stand can’t ever be made again. SNP voters for whom we are a second preference can just mark 2 against the Greens, knowing they’ll get as many SNP reps elected as possible, but that their vote may still tip later results towards the Greens rather than letting in one of the anti-independence parties in. And vice versa.
Or whatever your preferences are. Maybe you just want higher taxes on the rich. So you’d have been splitting your top preferences between the Greens and Labour. Or lower taxes on the rich: that would be Tory 1, SNP 2. Whatever. The people decide, rather than having to second-guess the vagaries of d’Hondt.
But if that doesn’t happen and we’re using AMS again in 2021, the tactically correct choice for the Greens in another election that looks like this would be to stand in a few key SNP marginals in each region. So how’s about we talk about how to switch to STV, SNP friends?