Tuesday 17 November 2015

d'Hondt and its intrigues

There's been a bit of a disagreement here and there about how Yes supporters should vote on the regional list in May.  A rare wee argument about how the AMS system works is always delightful if you're as much of an anorak as I am - even though some say it's d'Hondt when it's the Additional Member System using d'Hondt for the second part of the process - but it's a terrible thing to see folk thinking the debate is about the numbers and the arithmetic when it should be about the electors.

Here's how the problem looks - some folk think that SNP constituency voters should be told to switch to another pro-independence party for the regional (or list) vote and some that they should stay with the SNP and there's all kinds of fancy calculations about whether an SNP vote in the second ballot would be a wasted vote and how many switchers from the SNP to other 'Yes' parties would be needed to increase the number of pro-independence MSPs in the next Parliament.  These are interesting theories and great for pub discussions; they could excite the mortal coils of half-dead pub bore activists and auld fellas remembering the glory days.  There's a problem, though; they don't matter for some very good reasons:

Firstly, the regional vote only comes into play after the constituency contests have been decided and, contrary to some speculation, none of them have been won yet, nothing is guaranteed.  In fact, no-one has cast a single vote in those elections yet - we're about five months away from the postal ballots going out and anything can happen in that time.  No-one's vote is in the bag yet and we have no idea what might happen between now and then.  There's an outside chance; a very outside chance; a ridiculously unlikely chance that Nicola Sturgeon will change her mind in that time - she might even decide to join Labour because she likes a challenge - or she might just lose the magic touch she's had so far and turn into the kind of lemon who's been leading Labour in Scotland and the UK since 2007.  She might also retire to a cottage on an island to do macrame the rest of her life - or she might lead the SNP into the Scottish Parliament election with skill, dedication, a dash of panache and a strawberry smoothie.  That doesn't mean that no-one else in the SNP will mess up, though - we've got some new MPs and a wheenge of MSPs as well as all the councillors even before we get to the candidates and a whole load of them have never tasted opposition, hardly know electoral defeat, and have no idea how a discussion which seems entirely reasonable when it's oral can become something entirely different when it's written down.  There are plenty opportunities for it all to go terribly wrong.  So no-one knows how the constituency vote will pan out even before we get to the regional vote.

So, anyway, not a single vote has been cast and won't be for a long time yet, but that's not the only thing.  The other thing is that the votes don't belong to a political party; far from all the guff that gets talked about safe seats (disproven, surely, in May of this year), core votes, tribal voters and supporter blocks (I give you 'the Catholic vote', 'the pensioner vote' and the 'aspirational working class vote' as examples), votes belong to individuals, they belong to people who can use them however the heck they like.  Political parties can't tell people how to vote (ask Labour how that theory worked in the long run) or what the issues are; we can only suggest, argue and seek to persuade.  The SNP can't tell its first vote supporters how to vote on the second vote; it can suggest but not insist.  That leads to the next thing.

Even if the SNP took a wild-eyed stab at creating a massive pro-Yes majority in May and tried to direct enough voters to RISE and to the Greens, there are a few hurdles along the way.  I haven't seen any canvass stats since the election of 2011 so none of my information is up to date but, back in the olden days, not all SNP voters were independence supporters (a chunk were opposed) and not all of the supporters of unionist parties were opposed to independence (about a third of Labour voters and a quarter of Tory voters were pro-Yes) - that, of course, suffers the indignity of the caveats of canvassing and the biases that come from that method of gathering information.  The upshot, though, is that we really can't be sure that a message that says "vote this way for a better chance of independence" will fall on fertile ground - it might persuade people to vote in a different way.

Then there's party preference - SNP activists ask more in-depth questions than other parties' activists and four and a half years ago most SNP voters had no second choice party, of those who expressed a second choice the biggest chunk were Labour, followed by SSP, Tory, Green and Lib Dem.  I have no idea whether the elections and referendum since then have changed that but, if they haven't, would the SNP saying that it doesn't need the second preference votes (ahead of knowing whether or not it does) encourage electors to head to their second preference party, thereby giving Labour more 'gifted' regional votes than any other party?  Whether that would gift seats to Labour I'll leave to those with crystal balls who can predict the constituency vote and the relative strengths of the parties six months from now.

Here's another thing - I've tried winning and I've tried losing and I prefer winning but I still look at the SNP's utter dominance of Scottish politics now and think it's unhealthy.  I know that it's come about because the opposition is unbearably awful and we're much better than they have been for decades but I still think politics is better with a decent opposition and maybe there are other Scottish voters with a similar opinion.  Maybe the SNP can lose votes through people thinking too much weight on one side is a really bad thing.

So, all-in-all, maybe all of Scotland's political parties should treat Scotland's voters with respect and lay out a case for votes?  Maybe we should remember that the votes belong to the people who cast them and not to parties and we should be going all out to persuade voters of our wonderfulness and why they should vote for us?  Personally, I'm uncomfortable with the SNP's dominance and I'd be even more uncomfortable if any of us felt we had the right to tell people what to do with their votes.

A plague on all your houses - and a blessing, too.  Let's remember the differences between elections and referendums.  When we stop treating the electors as numbers we'll all be better off.

Sunday 1 November 2015

Mundell and the Money Problem

The Herald has reported that Scottish Secretary, David 'Fluffy' Mundell, accepted donations worth £10,000 in this year from a property company that has a single source of income which brings in about £6,000 in a year.  The report also notes £10,000 to the central Tory party in the run-up to the election in May.  In there is a quote worth picking up on - 
In 2013, Gillies relocated to Singapore where he is now a “private wealth manager”.
Although he lives overseas, he is still able to donate via his companies, as they are registered and do business in the UK.
The problem is that he isn't able to "donate via his companies" at all.  A quick look at section 54 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 shows that individuals who are on the electoral roll can donate, as can companies carrying on business in the UK (and a few other entities).  What you can't do is use a company carrying on business in the UK as an illicit channel for a donation from an individual who isn't allowed to donate in their own name.  That's covered in section 61 which basically says that if you try to find a way round the rules you're committing an offence.

So, you can believe that a company where the turnover is only £6k a year happened to have £20k hanging around for political donations this year (that'll be three years and four months worth of income just sitting waiting - you can see why a company would just have that sitting about) or possibly, just possibly, someone thought a wee sleight-of-hand with a donation or two was in order.  In any case, someone should ask the Electoral Commission to have a quick look.