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Shuffling the deckchairs

Every few years the political boundaries for elections are redrawn in an effort to ensure the voting pools are mostly equal. This ensures the grid of people you goto vote with is approximately the same size as everyone else.

Political parties dislike it as it will favour one or other opponent. MP’s dislike it because they like the stability. People dislike it because it often comes as an attack to their sense of place.

However much bureaucracy is spent on consistently updating the lines drawn on the ground.

The 2018 reviews of boundaries were ignored.

The 2013 reviews of boundaries were ignored.

It was around 2004 we last bothered to follow them. Amusingly we actually have two quangos, or commissions, who specifically look at Scotland. (Arguably there is a third when you include councils).

The Boundary Commission for Scotland

Scottish Boundary Commission

I am not kidding. There is plenty overlap between the people involved. The websites. The formats. It’s all very similar. One handles Westminster and one handles Holyrood.

However the real star of the boundary show is Allan from BallotBox Scotland who actually makes sense of it and produces wonderful graphics. Sadly his work is not funded by government, so donate if you can.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you, but here is the point. The perceived inequality of variance in population density of each seat is of absolutely no significance compared to the inadequacy of our voting system.

‘Linlithgow and East Falkirk’ is our largest capita constituency at 88,506 and will therefore have the lowest ‘strength per person’ vs ‘Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross’ at 46,924 which is our smallest capita constituency. A full 41,582 difference. The mean difference between all the non protected constituencies is about 12,000 people.

However have you ever heard anyone arguing about the disparity in power of vote? Probably not.

Let’s look though at how many people voted in each constituency but got no Westminster representation.

In Linlithgow and Falkirk East – 32,224 people did not get a representative they voted for despite being the majority of voters.

In Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross – 19,752 people did not get a representative they voted for despite being the majority of voters.

Even with the most extreme example of difference in voter attribution between areas. More people, who actually went and voted, are lost – 51,976. Or rather their vote was then useless after the result.

This is remedied in the Scottish Parliament with the Additional Member System equalising out those who voted for parties that did not win a constituency, so that representation is correct.

Now, this blog doesn’t call for the abolition of the boundary commissions, as they carry out essential and good work, even if they could really be one unit.

It does however point out, it is somewhat pointless to do the boundary reviews without considering whether the voting system isn’t actually a bigger elephant in the room when it comes to a fair electoral system. First Past The Post has had its day and needs replaced.

It isn’t a horse race, its democracy.

The myth of ‘strong, stable government’ from FPTP has been busted.

Usefully Allan at BallotBox Scotland has considered replacement in much more depth than I’d ever do.

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All hail the winners but then…

‘SNP held Glasgow’ was trumpeted after the local council count by a Scottish media with very little to work with from a pretty non eventful election.

The ‘hold’ was true but the ‘grip’ is fragile. The previous shockwave win of SNP from the long incumbent Labour stronghold in 2017 was seen by many as a seismic democratic change for Scotland’s largest city. The reality though from pals from my home City and visits to friends and family is that not much changed and many of the changes are not largely positive.

This is disappointing as Scotland’s ‘Dear Green Place’ has so much going for it in both its architecture, green spaces, vibrant culture and of course it’s indomitable people.

The fragility of last week’s results is that a slim majority leaves open the very real possibility of losing control from by-elections, where those is power tend to be at a disadvantage when constituents are angry. The machinations of forming administrations is not always straightforward but it can be telling as to who is willing to work with who and why!

A fragile majority on any administration puts pressure on those who were elected to demonstrably deliver! Given the need for serious work from our local authorities at anytime never mind a cost of living crisis, stability and focus is key.

The last Glasgow SNP administration was beset with early bad press from the Lady Provosts’s spending, leading to her stepping down from role, to a series of resignations from SNP councillors, claiming issues with group leader and overall discipline within the group.

One week on from the election we saw front page of Glasgow Evening times with a splash story on a recently re-elected SNP councillor who they have now ‘fact checked’ statements he made at recent election hustings as evidently ‘untrue’. This relates to excuses he made when attempting to explain his 84th of 85 position on council meeting attendance – not ideal when seeking re-election. He was re-elected, so, where does that leave his voters? 

It’s interesting this story broke a week after his constituents cast their votes so it’s a moot point as to whether it would have made any impact if voters had been made aware before the vote but it does raise a wider, serious issue. 

How do voters know what’s true? I’ll explore this in next part of this blog:  How do voters know what’s true?

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In defence of democracy

Let us begin by looking at the what the election for local government was, how the results stacked up, and how some people have chosen to respond – and ultimately why our defence of democracy is needed.

To quote the Electoral Reform Society

“STV (single transferable vote) is a preferential voting system which produces results that are approximately proportional to votes cast.”

https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/publications/the-power-of-preferences-stv-in-scottish-local-elections/#sub-section-3

Wikipedia offers this as an explainer, this is what will show if you search what is an STV election is.

Single transferable vote (STV) is a multi-winner ranked-choice voting method, an electoral system in which voters rank candidates according to their preferences, with their single vote transferred to other candidates based on these rankings if their preferred candidate is eliminated, so that their vote still counts.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_transferable_vote

What we establish here – is that coming ‘first’ or being ‘largest party’ isn’t the aim of the system.

The aim is to get any many people elected that share the views of the electorate.

The STV voting system is the preferred voting system of the party of government in Scotland, which at this time is the SNP.

So it surprised us today to see a Scottish Government minister say ‘a sad day for democracy’, following a council administration forming.

https://twitter.com/MairiMcAllan/status/1526875308586041344

Let’s take a look at how the result stacked up, thanks to the incredible work of BallotBox Scotland and its license we can bring you this visual

https://ballotbox.scot/le22/south-lanarkshire

The ‘issue’ seems to be the pro-Indy councillors seemed to get 28 councillors, the pro-Union councillors got 34 – and subsequently have chosen to form an administration.

This is exactly what STV is designed to do. Force people to seek coalition and understanding from likeminded others.

The SNP even decided to put forward itself for administration in minority.

67% of the vote, the majority, went to non SNP councillors, and thus democracy in action – the elected representatives rejected the SNP minority, favouring a broader represented coalition.

Much hysteria follows by politically engaged people, who know and understand voting systems and result sets compounded by the realities of coalitions. Which makes it all the more ridiculous.

This is incredible. One government minister called it a ‘sad day for democracy’. Another government minister decries the result as a ‘disgrace’.

While its always a bit horrible to see your political opponents form administration and work together against you. It is neither disgraceful or sad for democracy. This is what is supposed to happen.

Stories like this are occurring all over Scotland as administrations form and individual supporters or activists may be angry and vent.

However government ministers must hold themselves to a higher standard. We have a proportional representation system in Scotland and it has delivered its verdict. To suggest otherwise in an attempt to discredit the democratic system we sit on is callous, naive and dangerous.

We must have respect for our political opponents and the mandate they carry from their electorate. We must defend the democratic systems and institutions we are fortunate to have. You cannot rail against Scotland having governments in Westminster it did not elect if you utterly disrespect the result of the democratic elections held under proportional systems in our own councils.

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The Problem With Winning…

A week, they say is a long time in politics so where are we a week on from Scottish Local Council Elections?

Election agents will have filed their papers, campaign teams packed away polling boards and recycled (hopefully not too many) unused leaflets. Celebrations and commiseration, both genuine and not so much, will have largely concluded. Gravy buses parked up until next time the carnival is in town and lights have been switched off at campaign hubs.

….but what of the candidates? Those who lost may be reflecting on what went wrong and what they’ve learned from the experience.

Would they stand again? What would they do differently? Is politics for them? Are they in the right party if a paid, elected role is their goal?

Yet they have the luxury of some time to reflect, replan, rebuild or even realign politically. Those elected however are straight to work, under a spotlight of expectation to deliver.

Now, realistically, for a local election most voters haven’t read much from candidates and even less from national or local manifestos but that doesn’t mean constituents don’t have demands. Life is really tough out there for many folk.

The newly elected/re-elected councillors may soon find that gravy isn’t always slick, rich and shiny, it can also be dull, grainy and lumpy.

So whether a winning candidate stood to:

  • show willing, on the promise of more lucrative future opportunities within their party
  • to make up numbers for their party from loyalty, even if being a councillor isn’t really for them
  • personal political profile
  • nice wee earner, where attending 1 meeting every 6 months is the minimum expectation…

OR

  • a genuine desire to work hard to make the lives of those in their communities better, by listening to them and working collegiately across council to be ambitious and drive real change

…the constituents will be expecting the latter so you better get your collective sleeves rolled up councillors!

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Genesis

“The origin or coming into being of something

~ the genesis of a new political movement” 

What turns ALBA into a campaign force to be reckoned with? What transforms it into a daily news item? What is the way forward? What gets us independence?

The way I see it, the following routes emerge:

1 – Indyref 2023 is not delivered and SNP declines.

Nicola Sturgeon does not deliver an independence referendum in 2023. Following the failure there will be a flock to ALBA following the decline of the SNP. 

2 – Indyref 2023 is not delivered and a reverse Winnie Ewing. 

In the dissatisfaction of not getting an Indyref in 2023 that the SNP will be punished in the first by-election after, by an ALBA candidate. 

3 – ALBA continues establishing itself as is.

ALBA continues to contest as many elections as it can, from local government, Westminster and Holyrood including occasional by-elections to continue to establish itself as a better potential government.

4 – ALBA commits for the regional list only.

ALBA focuses its entire effort on its policy agenda and on the supermajority strategy. Aiming to be the independence guarantor in 2026. 

Important note

If the SNP do not deliver an independence referendum in 2023, which is likely to be the case, and more eloquently explained by Robin McAlpine. 

Robin McAlpine: Am I missing something?

There is only one moment the ALBA party can change that – Holyrood 2026. That’s it. 

Options 1, 2, 3 present an increased risk for losing independence representatives (on paper). 

Options 1, 2, 3 present a dependency requirement, things must happen and in turn create a chain reaction. 

Remember in probability – simplicity always wins. Chain reactions are not guaranteed. 

We’re left with this;

ALBA can guarantee not removing a single councillor, MP or MSP – other than the 2 SNP MSPs on the list, while adding 33 ALBA. 

97 nationalist MSPs to 32 unionists.

ALBA can guarantee an immediate referendum. 

ALBA can guarantee invoking the status of the supermajority defined in the Scotland Act.

2026 is the only point ALBA can deliver. Our best chance to do so, is to remove all risk, and in doing so, create our own genesis