The Holyrood voting system is in dire need of reform | Autonomy Scotland

The Holyrood voting system is in dire need of reform

This is a guest post from one of our readers. If you’d like to contribute a post then use the feedback option in the menu above. Feel free to let Jim know what you thought of his ideas about Holyrood voting system reform in the comments below. 

In the early hours of the 6th May 2016, I watched as the Holyrood election results came in for the election of MSPs to the Scottish Parliament.


The North Lanarkshire results were of interest to me, particularly Airdrie and Coatbridge. In Airdrie Alex Neil was defending his seat on the back of some criticism over a number of local issues. Plains Railway Station being one close to home. He was however expected to win comfortably, indeed the SNP were expected to romp home, at least in the early stages. Reports of internal fighting had reached the media though and there was reportedly much tension within the local party as candidates jockeyed for position on the regional list. In neighbouring Coatbridge Labour’s Elaine Smith was the incumbent and had been the constituency MSP there for many years, but locally Labour was in free fall.

It was shaping up to be a very interesting election.

As the results came in it became apparent that while Alex Neil had retained his seat the SNP overall had done rather badly, and some of the list candidates who had expected to merely turn up for the coronation would not actually be going to the party at all. In Coatbridge Fulton McGregor took the seat from Elaine Smith. Ms Smith had other ideas however and had secured a high placing on the party list; in effect, her salary was assured either way. To me, something was clearly rotten with a system that could be played this way. The people had spoken and they had been ignored.

We, the Scottish people, are told that we have a democratic government/parliament.

We are told that if we do not like the government or our elected representative we can vote them out. Clearly, that is not the case. It is entirely undemocratic that 45 MSPs across all parties became MSPs after having been rejected by the voters in their respective constituencies. In some cases, those rejected were the incumbents. The latter circumstances are of course the most insulting to the electorate, for no matter how poorly performing a sitting MSP may be, how out of touch they are with the local area, if they are valued by their respective parties, or know how to work the system, they cannot be gotten rid of by the voters.

In my view, to prevent this from occurring, constituency candidates should not be allowed to be placed on the regional list and should gain office on merit.

The electorate must have the right to reject a candidate and for that rejection to mean something. Furthermore, to prevent manipulation of the list, I’d like to see the ranking system removed. If a party gains, for example, three list places, those three posts should be drawn at random from the list submitted by each party, and not a from an order selected in advance by the party themselves; it should be a pool rather than a determined list. This would, in my opinion, encourage all parties to make sure that they submitted only the very brightest and best to represent their parties, and by extension, the electorate.

In addition to the above, the actual system of regionally allocating members fails to truly represent the percentages of votes cast nationally, creating an imbalance to the detriment of the smaller parties, and this needs to be reviewed to reflect the national balance. For example in the May 2016 election, the Scottish Green Party gained 6.6% of the vote share which equates to around 8 MSPs, and for which they only gained 6 seats. Similarly, in the 2011 election, they received 4.4% of the vote which should mean 5 MSPs, and for which they actually gained 2.

I feel that in the years since 1999 when the first elections to the reconvened Scottish Parliament took place there has been no examination of the system itself to ensure that it is delivering fair and representative results.

Such a review is long overdue. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas though, and it’s unlikely that any MSP will support such reforms. It’s not in their personal interest to do so, which is why any pressure to reform the system must come from us, the electorate.

To this end, I have submitted a petition through the Scottish Parliament petitions system which is now live and will remain so until the 28th August 2017. I hope that it stimulates a debate on how our electoral system works, its strengths and weaknesses, and above all what it needs to improve it.

If you agree that our Scottish electoral system is in need of reform then I would urge you to please sign this petition where you can also add your own comments and suggestions, all of which are welcome.

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Turkey’s in “Not Voting For Christmas” Shocker! | An Independent ScotsmanJames CassidyAngry WeegieElizabeth ThomsonChris Edgar Recent comment authors

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James Kay

I agree that the voting system is in dire need of reform, by why introduce an element of randomness?

One suggestion would be for the list vote to have an order of preference. Those opting for a particular party would rate that party’s candidates 1-2-3 etc.

Dougie Lockhart
Dougie Lockhart

The appearance in government not only of candidates rejected by the electorate but also utterly unknown to the electorate is indeed unacceptable.

It would make most sense to have STV for Holyrood. That way you vote for a person, and the system is the same as for local elections, reducing voter confusion.

d’Hondt may be inescapable for Euro elections but we must probably live with that.

Chris Edgar
Chris Edgar

But this completely ignores the fact that, sure, an individual constituency is rejecting a candidate, but not often by a massive majority. Saying that because a candidate “ONLY” got 20% of the vote in a local constituency and therefore doesn’t deserve a seat by the list is nonsense, if you take that to the extreme we would be giving every seat in parliament to the party with the most votes. Never forget that the SNP have played the same game as the unionists are now, Nicola Sturgeon wouldn’t be in parliament if it wasn’t for the list option. The list… Read more »

Elizabeth Thomson
Elizabeth Thomson

If we must continue with this system which definitely seems to reward failure/lack of competence in office, the constituency and list vote should be separated, ie held at a different time; maybe even two years apart. I’m not at all sure that list MSPs’ votes should carry the same weight as those of constituency MSPs. This does need reviewing as it is also ridiculous having three different voting systems in Scotland. From what I have garnered, most folk just don’t understand the system, especially STV, although it does seem a fairer system that the MSP list.

Angry Weegie
Angry Weegie

I agree that the current system isn’t great, but changes wouldn’t be altogether easy. I don’t like the idea of a random draw, but introducing a voter selection element to the list might not make much difference to the result, as those voting for a particular party are likely to vote for the incumbent if he/she also appears on the list. Most of the annoyance about rejected candidates being recycled via the list comes from those who don’t support the party involved. Perhaps a rule preventing constituency candidates also being on the list or restricting the number of times a… Read more »

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