Despising First Past the Post
13rd July 2020
Ever since I was a teenager, before even Margaret Thatcher came to power I've hated the first past the post (FPTP) system.
That one party can gain a huge majority of the MPs with under 40% of the national vote, whilst another might get no MPs with 5% of the vote really angered me, even as a youth otherwise little interested in politics. To me having a parliament which fairly represented the views of the nation was the essence of democracy, and Westminster claiming falsely to be democratic and masquerading as 'the Mother of Parliaments' was a hypocritic outrage.
This alone probably pointed me in the direction of supporting Scottish independence.
And the converse is that I've always strongly supported proportional representation (PR).
The PR Holyrood electoral system isn't perfect - none of them are - but it is miles and miles fairer than the FPTP one used at Westminster. It can honestly be said to be democratic unlike Westminster. The aim of a democracy should always be to ensure that its parliament reflects the country as closely as reasonably possible.
Westminster of course fails that test in more ways than just FPTP. Absolutely nobody can claim the House of Lords does, and the stat still stands that you're seven times more likely to be at Westminster if you were privately educated rather than state educated.
So now that we have PR in Scotland, it's something to be cherished and protected. Not the mechanics of it - if someone wants to campaign to tweak the system I'm fine with that and will listen to the arguments. But the principle that it reflects the voting public. That's what needs protected.
And that's why I'm upset at some of the current shenanigans.
The Holyrood system involves two votes - a first FPTP vote for the MSP you want in your constituency and a second vote for a Party in your region. The first vote gets counted and the list of winning MSPs is created. Because the first vote was FPTP, then like the House of Commons, it will almost certainly lead to an unfair distribution of MSPs between the parties.
So the second, list vote is now tallied to resolve that unfairness. If one party gained more MSPs than it should have (in terms of the national/regional vote) then it's less likely to gain MSPs in the list vote. The list vote in itself is no more fair than the FPTP constituency one - it's not meant to be.
But when the two come together to make up Holyrood, then we get a fair result which (roughly) reflects the country and the electorate as a whole.
New independence supporting parties are being mooted or set up. Although I'm a member of the SNP I'm absolutely fine with that - the more parties, the more engagement in politics, the better. I'll continue to vote SNP in both votes, but every voter can decide what they wish to do themselves and I have no more right than anyone to try to tell them what to do.
But the argument is being forcefully made by independence supporters, and even some elected representatives within the SNP that SNP supporters should vote in a tactical way to ensure more independence-minded MSPs. If they vote for the SNP in their constituency vote, but another independence supporting party in the list vote, then (in theory) the new party won't be penalised in the list count in the way the SNP would, and will gain MSPs at the expense of other parties.
I hate this idea. We now have a proportional parliament, but that people on my side of the debate want to abuse the parliament and its rules so that we might get 70% of the MSPs from 55%ish of the vote goes totally against the grain. It's making Holyrood the same as Westminster. It's disenfranchising a part of the electorate in exactly the same way the House of Commons does. It's a horrible corruption of precisely what makes me proud to be an independence supporter - the fight for a fairer, more equal society.
And for what? The SNP is currently on target to gain a majority all by itself. If this scheme were to actually make inroads we'd be throwing away our principles in order to reduce the opposition by a handful of MSPs, who wouldn't have been able to do anything anyway.
We're not going to win independence by 'cheating' our way to it - we'll win independence by demonstrating it's a good idea and that we're capable of handling its challenges. In my opinion the Scottish government's pandemic response has done exactly this, which is why the polls are rising.
By all means, if you have become disillusioned by the SNP and feel the ISP is more suited to your views vote for them. But please think again if you're an SNP member considering this scheme - if anything, 'gaming the system' will only put fair-minded people off voting for what we support in the future.☝