The Alliance for Unity Con
15th November 2020
I've tweeted a few times on the utterly ridiculous Alliance for Unity (name to be confirmed), the campaign/party for the promotion of George Galloway.
GG's powers of oration are well known, but even so the fact that he's seemingly persuaded a substantial chunk of Unionist Twitter that he is their saviour despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary is Qanonesque in it's inexplicability.
How can some apparently intelligent (and many other) supporters of the Union have fallen for it? Put aside the many failings of Galloway himself, failings which should disqualify him from an elected position. How can people fall for the plan Alliance for Unity is based on, given how completely it falls apart under the slightest scrutiny?
There are two tactical ideas underpinning A4U's approach to next year's Holyrood election.
The first is an overt part of their campaign, that they'll stand on the list across the country giving Union supporters an alternative party to vote for thereby increasing the number of anti-independence MSPs in the parliament.
The second, a bandwagon they've jumped on on social media, is to campaign to force the 3 main Unionist parties (Conservatives, Labour and LibDems) to stand candidates down in constituencies in favour of whichever is most likely to win, again to increase the number of anti-independence MSPs in the parliament.
The problem is the first tactic won't work and the second tactic can't work. Galloway knows this, and yet he's happy to con union supporters into backing him.
To understand why his plans are fake you need to understand the Scottish Parliament's voting system, so here's a short primer for those who aren't aware of the intricacies. The parliament is made up of 73 constituency MSPs and 56 additional list MSPs. The constituency MSPs are elected under first-past-the-post (like Westminster MPs are). Crucially though the list MSPs are elected to one of eight Scottish regions using a system designed to balance out the unfairness of the FPTP system by allocating MSPs to parties who didn't get the MSPs that their overall vote numbers would deserve.
It's not a perfect system but it's a lot fairer than the straightforward Westminster FPTP system.
So here's my explanation of why this just won't work. Note that I'm basing this on the votes that the SNP won at the last election, whereas all recent polls have them doing substantially better.
George Galloway's party's first tactic is to stand on the list in all the eight regions of Scotland, providing anti-independence voters with another option. The Alliance for Unity website whilst looking professional at first glance is totally threadbare in terms of any content and gives no explanation of how this would work. And if you don't think about it too much, or are wishfully desperate for anything to prevent another SNP government then maybe it sounds good. But there are massive (and obvious) reasons why it won't work. The most blatant is that in six of the eight regions, the SNP do not have any list seats for anyone to take away from them. They have one in Highland which they gained mainly because the LibDems won both Orkney and Shetland, and which they'll almost certainly take again.
The other region where the SNP have list MSPs is South of Scotland where they have three. In the South of Scotland region parties other than the SNP did far better in terms of constituency seats than in other parts of the country - the Conservatives won 4 seats and Labour 1. This meant that the SNP benefitted from the 'top-up' list system because they hadn't received the number of constituency seats their vote deserved. List seats are worked out using the D'Hondt system which ranks the list MSPs. In the last election in the South of Scotland the SNP were ranked 1, 2 and 5, the Conservatives 3 and 6 and Labour 4 and 7. So if Alliance for Unity stand, and if they pass the threshold they need then it looks almost certain they'd take one or if they're very lucky two seats, but not from the SNP, they'll come from the Conservatives or Labour. These numbers are all up in the air if the SNP do better in constituency wins, but the simple fact is if the SNP lose one list MSP because they gained one constituency MSP it makes no overall difference.
A4U's second tactic, which you won't find on their website but which they (Galloway?) have endorsed through their Twitter account is to press the other unionist parties to make constituency agreements where they will only stand a single candidate between them - the one who in theory has the best chance to defeat the SNP. So for example the Conservatives and LibDems would stand down in Edinburgh Eastern (where Labour are strong) in exchange for Labour standing down elsewhere. In theory there are a significant number of constituency seats where the SNP MSP would be vulnerable to a single 'Unionist' candidate who can amass all the anti-SNP voters. There are two major problems with this, even assuming you could persuade the three parties to do this (which you almost certainly can't).
The first problem is that there is no certainty that all Labour voters from 2016 would vote for the single Tory candidate or vice versa. In fact there is clear evidence they wouldn't. In council elections in Scotland we use Single Transferrable Vote (STV) which means votes get transferred from people's first preference to their second preference etc as candidates are counted out. This allows us to see exactly what voters of one party do when presented with having to choose between two others. In the 2020 Ellon Byelection Labour voters were twice as likely to vote for the SNP as they were Conservative, and LibDem voters were about 50:50 Con:SNP. So the idea that all 'unionist' voters will vote for the single chosen candidate is complete nonsense.
And the second problem is even worse for Alliance for Unity's supporters. Simply put, even if they were successful in unseating an SNP MSP, what would happen? Under the D'Hondt system the SNP would almost certainly get an extra list MSP. So again, this makes no overall difference in the result.
Unionist voters are being conned - here's a handy TL;DR.
- You can't beat the SNP by taking away their list seats because (with the exception of the South of Scotland) they don't have any.
- You can't beat the SNP by uniting behind a single pro-Union constituency candidate because for every constituency MSP they lose they'll gain a list one.
In the end a vote for A4U does nothing but stroke George Galloway's ego. At best you'll replace a Conservative or Labour list MSP with a narcissist.
If you want to prevent an SNP majority at the next election you need to persuade people not to vote for them, and to do that you'll need to show that the Union is good for Scotland. Given the current state of the UK, that's a hard ask, but there aren't any electoral shortcuts.☝