There’s a meme going about just now that I don’t like. It isn’t about the choice of which party you vote for – I’ve made my opinion on this matter clear, and welcome the knowledge that people across the pro-independence movement will have different ideas about how best to achieve independence. Nor is it the notion that #BothVotesSNP is an attempt to reduce the number of Unionist MSPs – the only way to do that is to convince voters not to vote for those parties, not divvying up our existing support. #BothVotesSNP is just a drive to ensure an SNP majority, because the SNP think the best way to ensure a future referendum is through an SNP majority.
No, it’s about this idea that some votes are “wasted.”
The notion goes that if you vote for one party or another that doesn’t have a realistic chance of getting in, and it fails to get the result you desired, then it was useless. Alternatively, there’s the idea that one party or another already has “enough” votes and doesn’t need any more, therefore rendering your vote wasted on a party that doesn’t “need” them. I don’t agree with either sentiment. I know people love to quote George Carlin or Russell Brand on the subject of voting, but it’s something I just can’t subscribe to – not least because Scotland is not America, nor even England.*
There’s a great quote attributed to professional wrestler, actor, Minnesota governor and orator extraordinaire Jesse Ventura:
Remember something, if you will, about voting: Voting is not a horse race, you’re not going there thinking “Gee, I gotta pick the winner so I can brag to my friends ‘Oh, I picked so-and-so and he or she won'”. Voting is voting your heart and voting your conscience and when you’ve done that, don’t ever, EVER let a Democrat or Republican tell you that you’ve wasted your vote because the fact is, if you DON’T vote your heart and conscience then you HAVE wasted your vote.
Voting Red, or Yellow, or Orange, or whoever purely to keep Blue out was always doomed to failure in the long run, because it’s voting against something rather than for something. How many times have we seen articles advocating voting for the lesser of two evils? We saw it happen in Scotland for decades, where various colours were voted in as a reaction to the unpopular UK government of the time, culminating in the Blues being wiped from the electoral map in 1997… only the Reds’ rightward shift in England meant the gulf between Red and Blue was small. In 2015, we weren’t voting against Blue or Red or anyone – we voted for something.
So it is with this election. I’m not voting SNP on both constituency and regional ballots to keep a Unionist politician out, but to get Stuart McMillan in – to consolidate and solidify the SNP’s existing support, in the hope that the enthusiasm of the General Election carries on. And if anything, it’s even more important for people to turn out to this vote than for the General Election.
Why? Because 2015 is a heck of an act to follow. Even though we aren’t comparing like for like, as AMS is not FPTP, the overall percentages and seat numbers will be appraised by the media and other parties with the following in mind: “how can we use this to damage the SNP, and by extension, the independence movement?” And here’s the scary thing – even if the SNP gains more seats than it did in 2011, a greater proportion of the vote, and a good number of list seats, the establishment will still seek a way to undermine that victory, if not give the opposite impression entirely.
This is hardly wild speculation, for it has already happened.
Cast your mind back to May 2012. It is the year after the paradigm-shifting SNP majority at Holyrood. A mandate for an independence referendum, blocked by the three main UK parties during the minority Scottish Government, was achieved. The results for the local elections were as follows:
- The SNP gained 425 seats (62 more than in 2007) on 32.33% of the vote (a 4.48% swing), and achieved total or partial control of 9 local authorities (4 more than 2007)
- The Other Party gained 394 seats (46 more than in 2007) on 31.39% of the vote (3.26% swing), an achieved total or partial control of 16 local authorities (2 more than 2007)
In other words, the SNP gained 14.6% more councillors, 13.8% more votes, and 44% more council control compared to their position in 2007. By nearly every measure save total number of local authorities controlled, it was a great result for the SNP… but you wouldn’t know that from reading the papers after the election:
Local council elections 2012: Johann Lamont hails wins as proof that tide is turning
SCOTTISH (Other Party) leader Johann Lamont was celebrating last night after a surprise fightback against the SNP in the council elections
– Daily Record
(The Other Party) frustrates SNP with significant gains in Scotland
Alex Salmond’s party fails to win in Glasgow but takes councils elsewhere meeting goal to overtake (the Other Party) by share of vote
– The Guardian
Scottish council elections: (The Other Party) set to tighten grip on Scotland’s big cities
(The Other Party) group leader Andrew Burns revealed his preference would be to lead a minority administration.
(The Other Party) was last night hoping to form a minority administration in Edinburgh as part of its strategy to tighten its grip on three out of four of Scotland’s major cities.
With control over Glasgow already ensured after last week’s local elections, (the Other Party) was locked in talks with the other parties in Edinburgh and Aberdeen as its negotiators attempted to capitalise on a result that put the brakes on the SNP bandwagon.
– The Scotsman
Cameron’s Judgment Day: Ed Miliband Secure as (The Other Party) Leader after Local Elections Thrashing
Ed Miliband’s leadership of the (Other) Party has been bolstered by a string of victories in English, Scottish and Welsh local elections, as the coalition government is left battered and bruised by the loss of hundreds of councillors across the UK.
(The Other Party) won several hundred council seats and took political control of more of the UK’s cities, such as Birmingham, Norwich, and Southampton, as well as staving off a strong challenge from the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) in Scotland and grabbing hold of Welsh councils.
– International Business Times
Or, indeed, from watching the television:
So. The SNP got the most councillors of any party in Scotland. The SNP got the greatest percentage of votes in Scotland. The SNP almost doubled the number of councils in which it was in overall or partial control. Yet this was spun as the SNP bandwagon grinding “to a halt” after being “battered at the polls,” and the Other Party enjoying a “surprise fightback” making “significant gains” to help them “tighten their grip.” Talk about “victory from the jaws of defeat…”
Consider the SNP merely replicate their 2011 performance this May. If you’re like me, you can already imagine the repeat headlines: “SNP bandwagon grinds to a halt,” “SNP surge melts away as support stagnates,” “Sturgeon fails to improve on Salmond,” and so forth. Even if the SNP do better compared to 2011, you can bet the accentuation will be on the negative: “SNP disappointment as they fail to gain every constituency,” “Sturgeon frustrated that her One Party State has other parties,” “Can we still moan about Alex Salmond even though he’s in the other parliament now.”
But imagine, for a moment, if the nightmare scenario for SNP supporters happens and we lose our majority. This defeat will not be ascribed purely to the SNP as a party, but the cause of independence itself. Even if there is enough for a plurality and thus a possibility for indyref2 within the next parliament should the people of Scotland seek it, it won’t just be the SNP which will be seen as defeated – it will be those of other parties and none who seek an independent Scotland.
Anything which can be spun, or interpreted, or twisted into an attack on the SNP and their cause will be done. The ultimate goal is to undermine the party and the wider movement by de-legitimising the SNP’s victories and even the basic democratic principles of representation, where people democratically voting in a majority of SNP MSPs is viewed as “bad for democracy,” even when it is broadly reflective of the electorate. Then it becomes more than an attack on the SNP – but an attack on the electorate for daring to vote for the “wrong” party.
Inverclyde is a perfect example. Only a month after the 2011 Holyrood election, Inverclyde became a microcosm of the Other Party’s plight: since the SNP had taken Holyrood and Stuart McMillan only barely missed out winning Greenock & Inverclyde, it was imperative that the SNP were not allowed to take Inverclyde. They didn’t – but even though the SNP received a +15.5 gain and the Other Party actually lost 2.2 points of their majority – an 8.9% swing from the Other Party to the SNP – it was spun as a Great and Glorious Victory over the tyrannical Alex Salmond.
With a result like this I think we can safely say the SNP bandwagon has ground to a halt. (The Other Party) won this election because we listened hard and took nothing for granted.
This is the start of (The Other Party’s) fightback and there will be a lot more listening to do over the coming months and years.
Remember, only weeks ago the SNP came within 511 votes of winning here, but tonight the voters of Inverclyde have rejected them – this time giving myself and the Scottish (Other) Party not a 500 majority, but over 5,000 of a majority.
Everything changed after the referendum. Mr McKenzie’s 5,838 majority for the Other Party was transformed into Ronnie Cowan’s 11,063 majority for the SNP. Yet Stuart McMillan was only 511 votes away from winning Greenock & Inverclyde – the direction of travel was already with the SNP even before half of Inverclyde voted Yes. It probably wasn’t helped by a deeply graceless, triumphalist, and (as it turned out) wildly overconfident victory speech from Mr McKenzie:
On a basic binary level, elections need not be won by majorities of hundreds or thousands – only a single vote is needed to decide. One vote. Not one thousand, not one hundred, not one dozen – one. But all that decides is the winner: as a representation of the will of the electorate, it is deeply flawed, as it technically means a candidate could win based on a third or even a quarter of the vote. This is one of the many reasons the SNP continues to support electoral reform.
It is not enough for Stuart to win one vote over the second most popular candidate. It is not even enough to replicate the General Election result. No, Stuart has to build upon the amazing General Election result on top of his own gains since he first stood in 2007. Because this isn’t a vote against the Other Party, or a vote against the UK government – it is a vote for a man who has worked tirelessly for 9 years putting his constituency’s interests first, and a party which will not stop building up Scotland’s success and confidence in itself until independence seems a foregone conclusion. The more people who vote for Stuart, and for the SNP – for Scotland itself – the healthier, happier, and more determined the people of Scotland will be in themselves. And that vote for the regional ballot definitely counts.
That is why not a single vote for the SNP in the 2015 election was wasted in Inverclyde: even the 11,062 over the 13,523 threshold were a vote that proved beyond doubt that the people of Inverclyde were resolutely voting for something, not against. It is why not a single vote for Stuart McMillan and the SNP will be wasted – as long as it is with heart and conscience. There are no wasted votes, and there are no “superfluous,” “excess,” or “unnecessary” votes either. We knew that in 2014, where 86 votes meant the difference between how Inverclyde’s vote was recorded for posterity. And we knew it the following year, where the thousands of thousands of SNP votes made the difference between a win, and a resounding win.
Whichever way you vote, do it with your heart and conscience. That way, every vote counts.
Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.
– John Quincy Adams
*I am not speaking of any writers previously linked: I merely think that if your only goal in voting is tactical, then anything except achieving the desired result would be considered a “waste.” If your only reason for voting for one party or another is keeping someone out, and you would have changed a vote with hindsight, then yes, I guess it would be a waste. But I’m not interested in keeping Unionists out – I want to get SNP in. Other pro-independence MSPs would be a happy bonus, but it is up to them and their activists to make that happen. I wish them the best.