Fraser Stewart: Why #BothVotesSNP at #sp16 elections won't work

CommonSpace columnist Fraser Stewart warns that giving the SNP both votes at the Holyrood elections in May could be counterproductive

ELECTORAL systems are funny old things.

Some are entirely disproportionate, like that of Westminster; some favour high competition like that of the Netherlands; some can be and have been rigged by those who designed them to favour a certain setup. Some are harder to manipulate, no matter how hard we might like to try.

The Scottish electoral system falls into the latter, and for good reason. Multiparty politics is healthy - for democracy, government and society alike. It is not perfect, but it's a damn sight better than the Westminster model.

Multiparty politics is healthy - for democracy, government and society alike. It is not perfect, but it's a damn sight better than the Westminster model.

It is a system in which mechanisms are instilled to ensure representation is fair and dominance controlled to some degree. When a party wins a seat on the constituency list, their share of second votes is divided by that number plus one, to diminish the potential for tyranny and ensure a plenary that at least loosely resembles the will of the electorate.

Thus, if a party was to win nine constituency seats in Glasgow, say, their second vote share would be reduced to one-tenth of the original figure. Large parties doing well on first votes systematically cannot do anywhere near as well on the list: a simple and effective reality of the d'Hondt method.

Yet many remain defiant to stand by the SNP on both constituency and list votes, in the face of this systemic impenetrability. Spoiler alert: if a pro-independence Holyrood is your ambition, both votes SNP can not and will not work.

There's the truth of it. The electoral system is designed to encourage a more pluralistic landscape - and thankfully so.

Call me romantic, but I'm a firm believer in the need for democratic competition; a lack thereof has given free reign to some of the worst phenomena and most complacent government (see: Scottish Labour) in political history.

I'm a firm believer in the need for democratic competition; a lack thereof has given free reign to some of the worst phenomena and most complacent government (see: Scottish Labour) in political history.

That's not to say that the SNP is a party of anti-democratic fascists in waiting, of course they're not, but accountability is fundamentally crucial in ensuring the best policy outcomes and governmental performance for the people of Scotland.

The encouragement of multiparty politics is one of the main redeeming features of an otherwise convoluted system (despite the SNP's apparent penchant for subversion) and should absolutely be welcomed.

Out and out majorities, unchallenged and unhinged, are invariably bad for any country and we are no different - especially with only the one chamber, and an opposition still struggling to distinguish arses from elbows.

Of course, you could argue that an all-yellow Holyrood with a punching-bag Labour is directly tantamount to a strong government capable of fulfilling electoral promises. Fair enough, if you're satisfied with the entire manifesto and every last detail of every last policy put forward by the governing party. Most of us aren't.

Who is there to ensure such a formidable government takes responsibility? Who is there to offer a coherent alternative? It's been nine years since Labour held power in Scotland: how much longer can we realistically deflect blame on to the failings of an administration consigned to history?

The SNP, as much as it might pain some to admit, is now the undisputed party of the Scottish establishment - not Labour. With that title comes a necessarily enhanced scrutiny.

The SNP, as much as it might pain some to admit, is now the undisputed party of the Scottish establishment - not Labour. With that title comes a necessarily enhanced scrutiny.

It's time to stop playing the part of the downtrodden Scottish resistance, any residual inkling of which was obliterated last May, and accept that the SNP is now a fully paid-up party of government in this country and needs to be challenged - in the media and chamber alike - as any party of government needs to be challenged.

Its newfound microscopic scrutiny is not some mainstream media or yoon conspiracy: it's an essential part of the democratic process. The truth is, we are no longer looking at a band of plucky rogues that would change Scotland for the better given half the chance; we are looking at a party which is in a position to do so, and has been for nine years with another five on the horizon.

Time, however, is a fickle mistress, and one which will expose the SNP to the fatigues of incumbency sooner or later - another inevitable reality of the political system.

The SNP is now a fully paid-up party of government in this country and needs to be challenged - in the media and chamber alike - as any party of government needs to be challenged.

We thus need not an echo chamber or an opposition in disarray ready to be steamrolled until further notice, but a Holyrood in which the SNP is presented with a meaningful challenge, beyond the policy headlines, and forced to discuss alternatives, for its own good as well as ours.

Both votes SNP means more of the same: a lame duck opposition incapable at the present moment of effectively holding government to account, gifted seats by devout SNP supporters too proud to acknowledge the realities of the Scottish electoral system, forcing people like me and other commentators across the board to play the role of bastard and do the job for them. Nobody wins.

It cannot work categorically and systematically for anyone hoping to see a pro-independence Holyrood: it cannot work for anyone seeking a robust, flourishing and progressive democracy either.

Open your mind. Consider your options. That's all I'm saying.

Picture courtesy of Craig Sunter