Mythbusting with evidence 1 – “After independence it won’t be any easier to change governments we don’t like”

Posted by Euan Bennet on 14/08/2014

I accidentally came across this video from last month, made by Scottish rapper Loki:

I think it’s worth watching, and listening to what he has to say. There are a few sweary words especially towards the end. He makes some great points about institutional corruption and the fact that if there is any whiff of it continuing after independence then it’s a short trip to Edinburgh to kick the doors in. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

He is also absolutely right about getting our own house in order.

Mythbusting with evidence

With 5 weeks to go I’m hoping to post a few articles to mythbust some common misconceptions that are less frequently spoken about, but need to be addressed. This is the first of them, and is based on the quote in the title of this piece which is a slight paraphrase of what was actually said to me by someone in response to me pointing out we’ll have automatic better democracy on day 1 of independence. I asserted, as I have before, that with 100% control of our government we will instantly be more empowered than with the present 4% (now 3.6% with the recent House of Lords expansion). One of the people present disputed this, saying “I’m sure that it won’t be easy to change”. When I tried to provide evidence the subject was hastily changed.

It’s been well-documented by Wings over Scotland (the source of the above image), among others, that even with 8.6% of the Wesminster Parliament’s MPs, Scotland has not influenced the composition of the UK Government at all for the past 40 years. I’m treating the present ‘coalition’ Government as unchanged by Scottish votes, since although technically the 2010 election would have returned a Tory majority without Scottish seats, I have yet to receive a meaningful answer to the question “and exactly how have the Lib Dems had a positive influence during the coalition?”.

In the UK under first-past-the-post, there are only a relative handful of “swing seats” that ever determine if there is a change in Government. Consider the 2010 election: MPs returned in Scotland were identical to that in the 2005 election, yet the UK Government changed. There are large parts of England where the same applies – the South East of England “swing seats” had the only influence that matters for Westminster.

The problem with Westminster in this case is the first-past-the-post voting system. Don’t like the Government’s policies? Vote for someone else – sure – but unless the “swing seats” also vote with you, it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference. Oh and by the way, all the main parties are now exclusively trying to appeal to the voters living in the swing seats, so you know that “alternative” that you were planning to vote for? Yeah, they’re now promising to do exactly the same as the current Government, only more so. Meanwhile, the Government in power can do whatever the hell they want because they know how difficult it will be to vote them out – and even if they are voted out, they know they’ll probably get another turn in power within 5 or 10 years, so there is no incentive to do what the people want, or what they pledged to do before the last election.

Proportional representation

The single biggest gain of independence is that we will have 100% control of our government elected via a system of proportional representation. I’ve already written about how unlikely a majority government, such as the present SNP Government, is. But in the context of this article, how easy is it to change governments you don’t like?

The Scottish Parliament is elected using a Mixed Member Proportional Representation method. There are 73 Constituencies in Scotland, each individually served by an MSP elected by first-past-the-post in that Constituency.

There are also 56 additional MSPs elected by the Regional List. The 73 Constituencies are grouped into 8 Regions of Scotland (Glasgow, West Scotland, Central Scotland, Mid Scotland and Fife, Highlands and Islands, North East Scotland, South of Scotland, and Lothian). Voters receive a second ballot paper listing political parties standing on the regional list. The list seats are allocated by the D’Hondt system which proportionately decides how many “extra” seats each party gets based on the number of Constituency seats already won in that Region – this normally ensures that out of the total 129 MSPs, the percentage of seats won by each party is roughly equal to the percentage of votes they receive on the Regional List.

I said “normally” in the previous sentence because the present Scottish Government has 51% of the seats but only 44% of the votes. This is an anomaly in the system. How was this possible?

Digging into the numbers, we see that the only way for one party to win a majority is for them to gather overwhelming support in all 8 Regions of the Regional List vote. For example, the SNP gained 5 out of 8 Constituency seats in Glasgow in 2011, but they also gained enough votes on the Regional List (40%) to win another 2 Regional seats, making their total for Glasgow 7 out of 15 seats. Meanwhile, in the North East Region, the SNP gained 10 out of 10 Constituency seats, but their Regional List vote was so high (53%) that they ended up winning an additional List seat, for a total of 11 out of 17 seats for the Region. 

Examining the data for all 8 Regions, even a few percent drop in SNP Regional List vote in just ONE Region would result in the List seats rightly going to other parties, to ensure proportionality. This would result in the SNP being unable to form a majority Government, as they have at the moment. 

So what happens if we don’t like even an anomalous majority Scottish Government? A few percent drop in Regional List vote will remove power from them and spread it to other parties in the Parliament. A pluralist democracy such as this is a very healthy thing, and is normal for nearly all comparable countries. With independence we will absolutely get the government we vote for, every time. And if they make a mess of it, we can absolutely and easily get them booted out and replaced with someone more competent. That is a heck of a motivation for any Government elected to do a good job in the first place and to deliver on their promises.

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5 thoughts on “Mythbusting with evidence 1 – “After independence it won’t be any easier to change governments we don’t like”

  1. Pingback: Think before you vote, Scotland! | a Path Through the Valley

  2. Pingback: Mythbusting with evidence 2 – Why the Scottish Parliament can literally never become as corrupt as Westminster | The Science of Independence

  3. Pingback: The high concept of democracy | The Science of Independence

  4. Pingback: Euan’s Ramblings: collected for reference | The Science of Independence

  5. Pingback: People of Scotland, it’s time to choose: one Union or the other? | The Science of Independence

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