Discussion of a ‘Wings Party’ standing for regional seats in the 2021 Scottish Parliament election is, of course, entirely an academic exercise. And a bit of a distraction.
There are far more pressing concerns; such as whether there will actually be any Scottish Parliament elections in 2021. Losing the pro-independence majority at Holyrood is a worrying prospect. But it pales into insignificance next to the possibility (probability?) that we may have lost the entire Scottish Parliament by 2021.
On first reading Stuart Campbell’s article outlining his thinking, I thought it sounded very plausible. But long experience has taught me to be wary of plausible-sounding schemes. The whole RISE/’rainbow parliament’ thing that so nearly lost us the pro-independence majority in 2016 was dangerous mainly because it was made to sound so plausible. The difference – and it is an important one – is that RISE had no support base at all, while a Wings Party would, on paper at least, come with a substantial level of support built in.
There’s also the fact that RISE was promoted by persons of what we shall generously term ‘limited credibility’. Certainly far less credibility than Stuart Campbell has acquired over years of offering analysis which manages to be coldly forensic despite his evident passion for Scotland’s cause.
That passion is evident in causes other than independence. Some of which are bitterly controversial within the independence movement. I don’t see this as detracting from Stuart Campbell’s credibility in any way. Whether or not one agrees with his views, there can be no doubt that they are sincerely held, and strongly argued. Many critics focus, not on those views or his arguments in defence of them, but on the manner in which he expresses himself. This is a familiar evasive tactic commonly deployed by those who have come to the debate ill-equipped to deal with the content of opposing arguments and are, therefore, reduced to attacking the superficial aspects of presentation.
As much as I will say about the Wings Party proposal at this time is that it is somewhat more persuasive than the RISE fantasy. What we must bear in mind is that you cannot game the voting system for the Scottish Parliament elections. All you can do is gamble with it. The RISE thing asked us to take a ridiculous gamble where we stood to lose something of incalculable worth with a chance of winning that was as close to zero as makes no difference. Many took that gamble because they were so dazzled by the magnificence of the prize as to be unable to see how unattainable it was.
The best that can be said of Stuart Campbell’s idea is that it constitutes less of a gamble than the RISE folly. How much less nobody can say as there are too many factors which cannot be clearly discerned at this distance from the 2021 Holyrood election. And, in any case, there are matters which demand our immediate attention. Matters of vastly greater importance than some tactical voting ploy in an election that is more than 18 months away for a Parliament this may well have been ‘suspended’ by the British state as the ‘One Nation’ project is rolled out.
British political elite
Which brings me to a concern that has been growing in my mind since the publication of Stuart Campbell’s interview in The Times. Being ever mindful of the real and imminent threat to Scotland posed by juggernaut of rabid British Nationalism, I am ever watchful for signs of the British political elite’s devious doings. They no longer try to conceal their efforts to delegitimise the Scottish Parliament; marginalise the Scottish Government and demonise the SNP. It is no longer possible to sensibly deny the British state’s intention to dismantle Scotland’s democratic institutions and destroy Scotland’s distinctive political culture. Although some seem intent on dumbly disregarding this purpose.
I have always considered the fourth component of the independence campaign – the Yes movement – to be impervious to attack by the forces of anti-democratic British Nationalism. There is no formal structure; no hierarchy, no leadership that can be targeted. But suppose a target could be created. Suppose the power of the British media could be deployed to associate a particular personality with the Yes movement. Suppose an association between some ‘celebrity’ figure and the Yes movement could be contrived that was so strong as to make it possible to implant in the public consciousness the notion of this figure being the ‘official’ representative of the Yes movement.
When I see Stuart Campbell being interviewed by The Times and making appearances on British TV and radio, I ask myself why. Why is this happening? Why him? Why now? And I don’t like the answers I come up with.
I do not for one second suppose that Stuart Campbell thinks of himself as the figurehead of the entire Yes movement. I don’t think he seeks such greatness. But he may well have this greatness thrust upon him.
I rather think Stuart Campbell may not be the sort of person who welcomes advice. I recognise, too, that he is not a stupid man and that the advice may be entirely redundant. Nonetheless, I would counsel him to beware Brits bearing the gift of recognition. They will use you if they can. They will set you up as the ‘poster-boy’ of the Yes movement in the hope that, when they bring you down in a welter of vicious smear stories, the Yes movement will also be damaged.
Sean Swan comments:
Hi my name is Sean Swan and I’m Irish. I hold a doctorate in politics from the University of Ulster and currently live in the US. I teach or have taught British Politics at both Gonzaga University and Whitworth University. I mention the fact that I’m a professor of politics only to indicate that I might just know how the AMS electoral system works.
AMS elections have two parts. First the constituency vote is counted and seats allocated, then the regional (aka ‘list’ or ‘second’) votes are counted. A party’s EFFECTIVE (as in what counts) vote in the regional vote is the number of votes it received divided by the number of seats it won plus one (usually expressed as Votes/Seats+1). If a party won no constituency seats and got 100,000 regional votes, its effective vote is 100,000 divided by the number of seats it already has (zero) plus one = 100,000. If a party won 9 constituency seats and got a regional vote of 100,000, its effective vote is 100,000 divided by the number of seats it won (nine) plus one = 10,000, So success at the constituency level is a handicap at regional level.
Take an example from the Glasgow region:
In the 2016 election in the Glasgow region, the SNP took all nine constituency seats. The results for the regional vote were:
SNP 111,101 – effective vote (111,101/10) = 11,110
Lab 59,151 – effective vote (59,151/1) = 59,151
Con 29,533 – effective vote (29,533/1) = 29,533
Green 23, 398 – effective vote (23,398/1) = 23, 398
Labour, with the largest effective vote, took the first seat, reducing its effective vote to 59, 151 divided by two = 29, 575. Labour still has the highest effective vote and takes the second seat, reducing its effective vote to 59,151 divided by three = 19,717. This leaves the Conservatives with the largest effective vote at this stage and they take the third seat, reducing their effective vote to 29, 553 divided by two = 14, 766. Labour now has the highest effective vote and takes the fourth seat, reducing their effective vote to 59, 151 divided by four = 14, 788. The Greens now have the highest effective vote and take the fifth seat, reducing their effective vote to 23,398 divided by two = 11,699. The sixth seat goes to Labour, reducing their effective vote to 59,151 divided by five = 11, 830. The final seat goes to the Conservatives on an effective vote of 14, 766.
Thus the final tally was SNP 0, Labour 4, Conservatives 2 and Greens 1. Despite the SNP having gained 44.8% of the vote, they end up with no seats, while the Greens, on 9,4% of the vote, receive 1 seat. The 44.8% of the regional vote that went to the SNP at the regional level in Glasgow did not elect a single MSP because the SNP had won so many Constituency seats. It was, in effect, a wasted vote. Had the 44.8% gone instead to a party that had no constituency seats, call it the Indy List, it would have won 4 regional seats, labour would have won only 2 seats and the Tories only 1.
A credible ‘list only’ pro-indy party could do very well – especially if, as I half suspect might happen, a heavyweight like Salmond joined.
A Party does NOT need to stand any candidates at constituency level to take part in the regional election. The idea that a party must compete at both constituency and regional level is a total fallacy. The AMS system can be hard for the ordinary voter to understand – so they need to take it on faith from people who DO understand it that giving the ‘second’ (regional) vote to a pro-indy party besides the SNP is likely to lead to more pro-indy MSPs getting elected.
I see some people have been moaning about the AMS system, but the reality is that, like it or lump it, it is the system you have to work with.
Sorry for jumping into this debate, but there were a lot of people commenting on here who just don’t understand how the AMS system works. Stuart Campbell’s idea is totally practical.
First written and published by Peter A Bell on his site
Do we need another pro-independence party? asks Gerry Hassan, Scottish Review, August 1§4 2019