Neither mandate nor credibility

While I’m far from convinced that British Labour’s motives in devising Scotland’s electoral system were all that ‘noble’, Eric Joyce’s phrase “a cynical abuse of a system designed for a noble purpose” does seem to perfectly describe the situation that has developed.

This is one of these situations which is personally gratifying n that it allows me to demonstrate how open-minded I am. Like Eric Joyce, I used to be quite content with the list system. While there were obvious issues with it – primarily the risk of having two classes of MSP – I regarded this as having been adequately addressed by parliamentary rules and not enough of a problem to outweigh the advantages of proportionality and diversity.

I’ve changed my mind. Once, I would chastise people for treating list MSPs as inferior. Over time, this insistence on parity grew increasingly forced and false until I reached the point where it became just too much of a denial of reality to be sustained.

That undeniable and unacceptable reality is, perhaps, most starkly illustrated by the now well-publicised case of Murdo Fraser. An individual replete with the smug pomposity and contemptuous audacity that stems from being accountable to nobody other than the sycophants in his own party.

There are others, of course. I wouldn’t pump up Murdo Fraser’s already over-inflated ego by suggesting that he was capable of single-handedly bringing Scotland’s parliament into disrepute. But he serves to illustrate what now has to be recognised as a serious issue.

A large and important part of the legacy of the first independence campaign is a more engaged electorate. The inertia of apathy, that great enemy of democracy, has been at least to some extent overcome by the momentum of the Yes movement. People have been awakened to the power that they hold. They have been given a glimpse of their own potential for political effectiveness. It would be a tragedy if this well of new-found confidence and spirit were to be poisoned by a cynical abuse of the electoral system.

It is no longer possible to pretend that list MSPs such as Murdo Fraser, Anas Sarwar and Adam Tomkins (pictured above in all his clownish British nationalist finery) can enjoy the same status as constituency MSPs. To attempt to continue the pretence is to mock the intelligence of voters who can see for themselves just how much of a charade this is. Something has to change.

But we must be cautious about throwing the bonny baby out with the murky bathwater. However flawed it may be, proportional representation has facilitated the development of Scotland’s distinctive political culture. Any reform of the electoral system must not put this in jeopardy. The aim must be to devise a system which rids us of the Murdo Frasers but allows us to keep the Patrick Harveys.

It’s a phrase which has been rendered an intensely irritating bit of politician-speak by its use as means of suggesting a policy is flawed without offering any alternative solution, but I’m obliged to say it anyway. We need to have a debate.

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16 thoughts on “Neither mandate nor credibility

  1. W Brown

    As I understand the system, one of the main distinctions between FTP and list MSPs is that, if an MSP dies/resigns, a list MSP would be replaced by the next on the list – whereas an FTP MSP replacement would require a bi-election. This is unfair on list MSPs since it means that they cannot resign on principle with the intention of competing in the resultant bi-election.

    This could easily be resolved by making bi-elections compulsory regardless of the standing of the resigning MSP.

  2. C avery

    The worrying thing is that Fraser came close to Swinney in the 2016 constituency vote. The SNP have to watch very carefully the association between rUK migration to Scotland and Tory votes. This is more than apparent in Perthshire, the Borders and Fife. The 2011 census shows that year on year Scotland becomes less Scots and more English.

  3. TheStrach

    One voting system for all Scottish elections would be my favored outcome. I’d advocate STV as it allows voters to rank individuals.

  4. Bill McDermott

    I would go with the STV system as well since it allows the voter to distinguish who he/she wants as well as who he/she doesn’t want.

    But I take all you said about Murdo Fraser. He has become a joke. On his last interview with Andrew Neil he had the audacity to say that the SNP had become a minority party because they lost votes in 2016. Nothing could be further from the truth. SNP gained votes in both constituency and list. It was just the idiosyncracies of the system that meant the Tories gained a whole load of list MSPs that they didn’t deserve compared to the governing party.

    What gets me about the Tories though is the fact you can see the workings in the margin. The latest manifestation is Ruth Davidson and Jackson Carlaw’s attempt to turn the tables on the SNP by suggesting that they use their much vaunted new powers to overturn the latest policy disaster from the DWP without reference to the money purportedly saved by the policy change coming to Scotland to finance their proposal. It truly is the last throw of the dice. It magnifies why Scotland needs to escape this Westminster stupidity.

  5. Vestas

    This is all obviously post-indy as bugger all will change before that….

    Use STV for the main chamber and the d’Hondt list system for a second (revising) chamber.

    STV – with enough seats/ward – seems to work in many other parts of the world as a primary method of election & delivers reasonably stable/representative govts.

    FPTP plus d’Hondt list is reasonably good in terms of not delivering a hegemony so that seems like the best system for a second chamber. Three terms max for list members of that second chamber seems reasonable.

    The only problem is how to combine the systems into a “vote once every 5 years” election that voters can understand. If you can solve that one then posterity awaits you 🙂

  6. Dorothy Bruce

    rUK migration to the Borders may account for some of the Tory vote but there are other reasons. For instance, at a recent meeting held by Tory MSP John Lamont to garner support (and money) for their anti-indyref2 stance, around 200 people attended. When asked who used the internet only about 30 hands were raised. Many of these people receive their news from the BBC and Torygraph and Mail. Ways to counter this need to be found.

    There are also other reasons, for example rural Tories have networks that they use for campaigning, their tentacles reaching out into communities. We need to become wiser to this and more adept in how we campaign.

    1. C avery

      That sounds more like a generational thing which proves my point. rUK migrants tend to be older often forming part of the White flight who are nostalgic for the days when England was not so ethnically diverse.

    2. EJB

      So very true Dorothy, very few silver surfers , but also an ingrained thread of unionism running beyond the elderly

  7. Bibbit

    MSPs elected on the list should only be allowed to serve one term. That would stop the spectacle of un-electables like Murdo Fraser and Jamie Greene being inflicted upon us for too long. Of course another raft of incompetents would fill up the seats, like the gairden weeds.

    STV would trowel out the worst of these deep-rooted weeds, so long as indy voters were educated in the STV system to “vote til you boak”, and list everyone 1, 2, 3, etc, right to the bitter, tory end and voting emphatically AGAINST the Tories by placing them as your LAST candidate, each and every time.

    If you don’t do exactly that, you are giving the Tories a free pass into power in 4th May 2017.

    May the boak be with you.

    It is insane and incompetent or criminally complacent that the SNP high heid yins are not educating their mass support about the win-win reasons to, ‘Vote Til You Boak’.

  8. Robert Graham

    I agree with the sentiments of the article , while in principal and at first glance both systems appear to offer a degree of fairness so everyone gets a voice, but by god in practice it becomes obvious a chimp with a party badge could be sitting in Holyrood , and the perm any eight from ten under the STV system just confuses people , any system that has to go into detail about how it works forgets ordinary people , who just want to vote ,
    I understand it outwith the remit of the Scottish Parliament to change this system and is yet again reserved to our masters in Westminster , the good old Union again .

    1. grizebard

      “…the perm any eight from ten under the STV system just confuses people”? Whit? If you really think that listing a few people in order of preference is beyond the capability of the average Scottish voter, there isn’t much hope for modern democracy here. (Another “too stupid” cringe?)

      What is complicated about STV is the way the votes are tallied. That’s true. But ordinary voters need to know as much about how that’s done as ordinary drivers need to know about the electronic management system of their car’s engine to be able to drive: zero!

      If you think a single order ranking is too hard for folk, be glad you never have to deal with a US election ballot, for example. (But maybe we’re jist “too wee…” etc., etc..)

      1. Me Bungo Pony

        Unfair grizebeard. ALL voting systems are simple at the front end. Its the tallying up that can confuse people.

        With STV, the tallying is nigh on impenetratable for all but seriously dedicated individuals. At least with FPTP it is obvious to all who has won. With d’Hondt, it doesn’t take much to explain the result. With STV, you just have to take someone’s word for it that what came out the other end is right.

        My preference for all elections would be a “multi-member constituency (perhaps 3) elected by an “open-list” d’Hondt system”. It would tie every MSP/Councillor to a particular constituency/ward while requiring every successful candidate to get a reasonable number of personal votes.

  9. grizebard

    The main problem with the present Holyrood voting system is the separate list ballot. No-one has a clue what it is really meant to represent, and that is the main source of the muddle. One person one vote, properly reckoned, should be quite sufficient, and the present system could be adapted to suit if desired.

    However, it still leaves candidate selection in the hands of the parties. That’s why, like others, I prefer STV, because it allows ordinary voters to prioritise and not parties.

    Lastly, we must be prepared to accept that there are still sufficient voters around who will happily elect useless twats like Murdo Fraser. To some extent that’s always true in a democracy based on a fair electoral system. But also in part it’s because we will remain saddled with puppets for the Union while we remain part of it, and in part it’s because the true extent of their utter uselessness is never revealed by their ready collaborators within our media. All that can only hope to change when we are finally independent.

  10. Geejay

    All the above is true (or most of it), but we need to move beyond this emasculated form of representational democracy, which effectively hands power to privileged elites, who too easily are captured by moneyed interests and are subservient to the dictates of Party rather than representative of the electorate.

    We need a participatory democracy where “ordinary” people have a real say and power. “Against Elections…..” is one of a number of books tackling this issue.

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