What’s going on?
There’s a Scottish Parliament election taking place on 5th May 2016.
Didn’t we just have an election?
That was for the UK Parliament.
What’s the difference?
Some matters are reserved to the UK Parliament, while others are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) represent one of the many Scottish Holyrood constituencies in the Scottish Parliament. They have direct jurisdiction on most issues devolved to the Scottish Parliament or which have always been controlled in Scotland, such as health, education, justice, police, fire services, housing, and the environment. Here’s a wee guide.
There will be two ballot papers for you to put your cross in. One is for the constituency you live in, and the other is for the region your constituency is in. You vote for a candidate in the constituency, and for a party in the region.
Thanks. So, who do I vote for?
Well, let’s narrow it down: do you think Scotland should be an independent country?
First of all, I love you.
Second of all, easy answer – vote for Stuart McMillan in the constituency ballot. He is the only candidate contesting Greenock & Inverclyde who supports Scottish independence. If independence is a priority, then Stuart McMillan is the one to vote for. Stuart McMillan’s party is the SNP: if you want to support them, then vote for SNP on the regional ballot too.
Who are the other candidates?
They’ll be on the ballot. If you really want to know more, then a quick search will help: it’s definitely worthwhile reading all the campaign literature if you aren’t sure. I’m not going to advertise them, they have their own campaign teams.
What if I don’t support independence?
Well, Stuart is also the only candidate who has already been working as an MSP for the past nine years: Duncan McNeil, the constituency MSP for Greenock & Inverclyde since 1999, has retired. Stuart has a record of representing and promoting the constituency as a West Scotland regional MSP, and has been a member of the Scottish Government since 2007. Before that, he worked in SNP’s Central Office in Westminster, worked as office manager for Bruce McFee in our fellow West Scotland constituency of Paisley, and stood for the Inverclyde constituency in 2005 – that makes well over a decade of experience working with all levels of Scottish government.
Even if you don’t support Stuart’s ultimate goal, he has done plenty of great things for the constituency that are well worthy of your vote: he has proven to be a competent, trustworthy and very hard working MSP for West Scotland, just like his party. Even if you’re absolutely, resolutely opposed to Scottish independence, I’d still recommend you vote for Stuart on the basis of his abilities. He’s just that good.
So what’s this regional ballot about?
The regional ballot is a way to make the parliament more representative of the voters. Remember how the SNP won 56 out of 59 seats on 50% of the vote? That’s because Westminster runs on First Past the Post, which basically means the candidate with the largest number of votes wins – even if they only have a quarter. The regional ballot is a way to make sure the voters not represented in constituencies still have representatives in Parliament. In this case, you aren’t voting for an individual, but a party. Greenock & Inverclyde is part of the West Scotland region.
Do I have to vote for another party on the list?
On the contrary, you can vote for the same party on both ballots. Stuart himself is standing both the Greenock & Inverclyde Constituency and the West Scotland Regional List – because he isn’t taking the voters for granted, and isn’t going to simply assume he’ll win Greenock & Inverclyde. Both times previously he came up short in the constituency, but because of the strong list votes for the SNP in West Scotland, he was elected. Voting for the same party on constituency and list is a good way to maximise the number of votes for that party, as votes for the constituency do not transfer to the list.
How are the votes calculated?
Very carefully. Imagine it like we’re making cakes. Let’s say we have five cake recipes: chocolate, strawberry, coconut, carrot, and vanilla. Votes represent grams (1 gram = 1,000 votes) of cake mixture, resulting in a bigger cake. When each party ends up with the most cake mixture, they get to make cakes from them. In the constituencies, there’s only one round: in the region, there are seven.
Let’s imagine the Chocolate party won every competition in West Cakeland, and on the regional list we ended up with 117g chocolate mix, 92g strawberry, 35g coconut, 9g carrot, and 8g vanilla. (They’re very light and fluffy cakes.) According to the system, the threshold for making a cake would be around 10.6g of cake mixture. Therefore, we would end up with 10 chocolate cakes from the constituencies, plus 5 strawberry and 2 coconut from the region, with no carrot or vanilla. The chocolate party would need a base of at least 161g (a 28% increase) to possibly get a regional cake, while the carrot & vanilla parties would need to double their mixture volume.
Of course, this is based on cake tastes from 2011: a lot of strawberry fans have taken a fancy to chocolate since then, while a few shy coconut fans have come out too, claiming they only pretended to like strawberry to be popular. It is also dependent entirely on every constituency plumping for chocolate – if even one constituency chooses strawberry or vanilla, then it’s difficult to predict the outcome without the full numbers.
Basically, if you want lots of chocolate cake, then you need lots of chocolate cake mix.
What about another pro-independence party?
I’m an SNP member, campaigner, and activist, so I’m going to promote Stuart McMillan & the SNP, because why would I even join the party if I didn’t think they were the best? Other pro-independence candidates are standing in the West of Scotland, but I’m promoting Both Votes SNP because I think it’s the best, fastest, surest way to independence, as well as because the SNP are the most competent and trusted party in Scotland by a wide margin. Others disagree on some or all of those points. It’s fine. That’s what elections are all about.
Is it possible the SNP could get every cake… eh, constituency?
You never know how things go: few predicted the SNP gaining 56 seats even in their wildest dreams, and there’s no guarantees that surprises on election night would necessarily benefit the SNP.
Even so, I’d say it’s quite doable in West Scotland. The SNP won 6 of the 10 constituencies in 2011, ranging from 0.9% to 20.7% majorities, and swings from 5 to 21.9. Even the 4 which weren’t SNP only need a 10 point shift – well below the average shift cited in polls, and of last year’s General Election.
So it doesn’t really matter if I vote?
Of course it matters if you vote! Every single vote on the regional list is added up: the more votes a party has, the more additional members. The SNP are in a position where they absolutely could pick up a list member even if they have all the constituencies. It happened in North East Scotland, because they got 52% of the list vote while the next largest party got only 16%. The SNP got a respectable 41.5% of the West Scotland list vote in 2011 – middle of the range in itself, but the third largest swing at 13 points since 2007.
It’s also a matter of legitimacy and democratic pride. Not too long ago, Scotland had some of the lowest election turnouts in the UK, disillusioned after years of neglect and neoliberalism. But there has been a change: now, Scotland has the highest average turnout for any constituent UK nation, and we can claim that not only do we get the government we vote for, but that our electorate has engaged with the democratic process. No longer would the Apathy Party reign in Scotland – here, our democratic choice is clear.
So one cross on each ballot paper?
One cross on each ballot paper. If you’re voting for Stuart McMillan and the SNP, put it in the box next to entry with an SNP logo. It looks like this.
If you have further questions, drop in at the Campaign Hub on Grey Place in Greenock (just across from Aldi), or just ask in the comments.