Archive for category Elections

Tactical standing

Alison Johnstone MSP.

Alison, earlier

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?

Why independence requires the SNP to lose their majority

Green v LabourIt’s been a long year since I voted to set up a new country more or less from scratch, and unsurprisingly there’s a lot of chat about having another go.

What are the triggers? Who gets to decide when we decide? What, in great detail, does Nicola think about it? All good questions.

But let’s admit what underlay many of the weaknesses last time: the SNP’s one-party majority at Holyrood, the very thing which led to a referendum in the first place.

Yes Scotland was seen as just a rebranded part of the SNP, and on policy issue after policy issue, the media (disingenuously but understandably) treated the SNP’s specific independence prospectus as a gospel summary of how independence would look.

The broader Yes campaign diverged from the SNP on many issues, of course. Greens (and RIC, and the SSP) had, for example, probably a less popular position on the monarchy, one which I am proud of still.

Conversely, Greens had a more robust and defensible position on the currency issue, and just today the party announced sensible plans for more research on what I call “actual independence”. As Peat Worrier memorably put it:

Take one example. You can understand the thinking behind the White Paper’s currency policy. Folk wanted to keep the pound. The focus groups urged it. So the Scottish Government decided to back it. But in practice, the policy amounted to giving your deadliest enemy a loaded revolver and saying, “please don’t shoot me with this”. The rest is history. Osborne pulled the trigger. Salmond foundered in the first debate with Darling. Credibility was never demonstrated or gained. We lost. I could go on.

Over and over the SNP’s position got confused with the reality – i.e. that the Scottish people would make those key decisions in the first election to an independent Parliament, and at subsequent elections. Neither the currency nor the monarchy would or could have been settled by a Yes vote: both would be decisions to be made later, questions about what kind of independence we want, which would no doubt evolve. This confusion is still happening today: for just one example, the thoughtful Sunder Katwala blurs the two here.

Now it’s entirely up to the SNP to offer a monarchist Scotland, and to say they’ll seek to negotiate a shared currency with Westminster. Both are respectable positions – although I think the latter of those helped sink us. But as long as they have a majority all their own that position will be seen as what Yes2 is all about. A Scottish Government where they are the largest partner but share power with the only other party at Holyrood which supports independence would be entirely different. Such a coalition wouldn’t be able to produce a White Paper2 which just set out SNP policy, nor one which promoted Green policy. Such a document would instead have to say “those decisions will be made by the Scottish people in subsequent votes, if we vote Yes this time”, and simply to list the options. It’s stronger, it’s more winnable, and it’s more honest too.

So, if what you most want is for the SNP to continue to govern alone, and you would rather one or two more SNP MSPs plus eight to ten Labour MSPs instead of a dozen Green MSPs, please do vote SNP with both ballots. But if you’d rather both a Greener government and a more realistic prospect of independence, whenever those triggers are met, I’d urge a Green list vote.

We can’t do it without them, clearly. But they can’t do it without us either.

The Deputy Squatter

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 11.35.14There’s a lot of feverish chat about Dave Cameron just staying on in Number 10 even if there’s an anti-Tory majority, especially if the Tories alone happen to outnumber Labour (like that matters). We are reminded of the way the Tory press hounded Brown as a squatter for (quite rightly) remaining as PM five years ago until it was clear he couldn’t command a majority.

But there’s one crucial difference between 2015 and 2010 that seems to have been completely forgotten about. Dave’s legitimacy as Prime Minister is based on the Tory coalition with the Lib Dems. If he decides to try to cling to office past any point when it’s clear the numbers don’t work for him, would Nick Clegg try to stay on with him as Deputy Prime Minister? It seems unlikely to say the least.

Clegg knows that if Tory and Lib Dem seats together don’t get them to 323 (or near enough with the DUP), it’s over: he’s a pragmatist in the way his boss isn’t. And either way it seems inevitable that the Lib Dems will have just taken a major kicking, delivered in part by the Tories in the south-west of England. This might make cooperation harder even if they could inch over the line, let alone if they’ve lost their collective majority.

If Cameron tries to cling on through some unconstitutional definition of “largest minority” as legitimate, it couldn’t be sustained  if Clegg resigned (and if the Lib Dems abandon the Coalition). If the Tories can’t assemble an absolute majority from somewhere, including with the Lib Dems, I’d say they wouldn’t even be able to cling on through a single news cycle without Clegg. And of course, there’s more than one way for Clegg not to stay as DPM to potentially help them. If I were Labour I’d have thrown absolutely everything at Sheffield Hallam with that in mind.

SNP Tactical Voting … by Labour?


This election has become even more tiresome than most for tactical squeezes. SNP: “don’t vote Green and split the Yes vote“. Labour: “don’t vote Green or SNP and let the Tories back in“. Tories: “don’t vote UKIP or you’ll let Labour in“. Lib Dems: “Only we can stop both Labour and the Tories“. It’s predictable and it’s alienating. I admit that one reason Greens don’t do it is there’s no tactical way to support the Greens, apart from this kind of swap site that never really catches on. It’s vote Green or nothing if you want to support the party. One key reason for that is even if we keep Brighton Pavilion and add Bristol West, Norwich South, plus Holborn and St Pancras, holding the balance of power remains a long shot. I should say that I personally remain against it, for these reasons.

But if you’re a Tory Coalition fan in a Lib Dem/Labour marginal, your tactical vote is clear. If you’re a diehard Yoonyonisht Lib Dem in a Tory/SNP marginal, again, you know what to do. The same applies for junior parties, too. If you’re a residual Lib Dem in a Labour/Tory marginal, well, which party would you rather your MPs worked with?

Some of the maths is here on Political Betting. And it brings a tantalising thought. If you’re a Labour voter in a SNP/Lib Dem marginal (i.e. any of the Lib Dem-held seats, perhaps even including Orkney and Shetland), who do you back? You might think the Yoonyon, if you’re so inclined, comes first. And maybe it should. But if you really want Ed Miliband to be Prime Minister, you’re choosing between an SNP MP who will definitely vote for Ed to be PM and a Lib Dem MP who put Dave Cameron into office last time – and probably would again, given half a chance.

The naive assumption is that tactical voting in Scotland will be along partisan indyref lines, and therefore to the SNP’s detriment, given their far larger position within the Yes side. The ubiquitious John Curtice makes this mistake today. But if I lived in Argyll and Bute, or Gordon, or East Dunbartonshire, or the Northern Isles, or any other Scottish Lib Dem seat, and I wanted Ed Miliband for PM above all, I’d be voting SNP.

(apologies to Jeff for the title)salmiliband

Sweden’s far right a glimpse of UKIP’s potential

farageflagAt half past four yesterday afternoon Mattias Karlsson, the temporary leader of Sweden’s far right Sweden Democrats, caused a political shockwave as he revealed to the press that he and his colleagues would block the sitting left-wing government’s budget.Just months after winning a record 12.9 per cent of the vote, the populist party have found themselves kingmakers in high-stakes game of political roulette by backing the  opposition Conservative-Liberal Alliance for Sweden against the minority Social Democrat and Green coalition. By doing what nobody thought they would ever dare they have gone from being a maligned outsider party to populist crusaders intent on wreaking as much havoc as possible.

Although UKIP have their roots in euroscepticism and the Sweden Democrats in far-right ethnic nationalism, the two parties are riding the same wave of discontent with the political establishment across Europe. Sharing a European Parliament group and with a series of skeletons in their respective cupboards, the Sweden Democrats have succeeded in doing what UKIP have long aspired to – to reach a point at which they can topple governments and push their agenda of reduced immigration and an end to the perceived domination of political correctness and a liberal urban elite.

What happens now in Sweden is hard to say, but it provides a window into what might await the UK after next May. Sweden’s eight party system is a result of the country’s proportional voting system, but even in Westminster it is foreseeable that Labour could win a minority of seats and yet remain the biggest party, facing off against the remaining Liberal Democrats, UKIP, a reduced Conservative party and however many MPs they Greens might muster as they continue their slow march upward.

The idea that liberal Sweden would come to a point where a openly xenophobic party could be in a position of relative power was until now almost unthinkable. Even after the right-wing surge in September’s elections, there was an assumption that the traditional parties of the right would cooperate with the government rather than turn towards the Sweden Democrats.

Although there is no official partnership, the Alliance for Sweden has used the Sweden Democrats to put pressure on the progressive coalition without lifting a finger.The idea that the Conservatives, undone by UKIP at the polls but still unable to cooperate with Labour, should act similarly is not a completely unrealistic prospect. Carl Bildt, the former Swedish foreign minister, was quick to welcome the Sweden Democrat’s decision, immediately tweeting that it would allow a budget that was best for the country.

One of the potential outcomes of the far-right’s power play in Sweden is that a new minority centre-right government is formed and none of the policies produced by the Red-Green coalition to tackle the welfare and public spending cuts made by the Alliance for Sweden come to fruition. As yet nobody is talking about new elections, but Nigel Farage will be looking at his European partners’ very closely and dreaming about what might be possible come next summer.