I've watched the setting up and positioning of the Independence for Scotland Party (ISP) with some interest, and fully sympathise with their ultimate aim of Independence for Scotland. As an SNP supporter and voter for the best part of 40 years this is of course what I wish to see more than anything, but have also watched, with some horror, the diversion of the SNP's energy and momentum by an entryist claque of Student Union types, a devotion to identity politics and a growing deafness to its own supporters, voters and even its own members as they try to avert an electoral disaster.
But the SNP's woes are for another time, what's on my mind today is the discussion playing out around the Holyrood parliament's electoral system. I see lots of exhortations to use my '2nd vote' wisely, rather than waste it on the SNP for no list seats, or waste it on the Unionists by giving them list seats. This is based on the SNP's predicted success on the '1st vote', in the constituencies, and has some roots in the "2nd vote Green" campaign of 2003 which led to our Rainbow Parliament of that year. The idea that some might call gaming the system but which is anyway creatively using both our votes to produce a particular desired outcome... kinda like normal voting, but doing it with a wink.
But what if we have the votes the wrong way round? What if we look at the 'list vote' as the 1st vote, and the constituency vote as the '2nd vote'? What if we *first vote* for the party we want to form the government, or be represented in the government, and *second vote* for which individual candidate on offer we want to represent us in the parliament. I don't think it says '1st vote' and '2nd vote' on the polling forms.
Then, when counting, we look at the parliament in terms of numbers of MSPs elected first, then which constituency candidates fill which seats before allocating the top-ups from the list. I'm not talking about how we actually count the actual votes cast, we still do that as today, but in terms of how we think about our votes. Instead of thinking all those SNP 'list votes' are wasted after electing the constituency candidates, think of those votes as justifying the constituency candidates their seats (perhaps because individually they don't justify their own election, but that's another story) and the remaining seats allocated at top-up are justified by the aim of the system which is to deliver a proportional parliament.
This may not sound like good news to the ISP (or Greens/SSPetc) because given the choice between a minority or majority SNP government, I think many of those parties' supporters would opt for a majority, it is certainly in reach as 2011 showed. Digression, it rips my knitting to hear that the AMS was designed to prevent the SNP ever getting a majority, when that was never true, but it is a system designed to prevent any party getting a majority *without a majority of votes*, it's a proportional system ffs, it says it on the box!
But, designed to prevent it or not, majority government IS possible (cf 2011) and a government with the energy of the one Alex Salmond led is an attractive thought. The idea of a minority government similar to the present one with a smaller party 'pushing them on' while simultaneously opposing them on fundamental policy issues less so...
I fear we undermine the proportional system we have in Holyrood when we talk of MSPs elected on the list having any less right to be there, and I fear we do that when we talk of them being elected on our '2nd vote', so what if that's our '1st vote'..?