Candidate Priorities under List Systems

A BBC Article (Looking ahead to the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections 4 January 2016) contains this revealing snippet about Scottish Labour:

Consider Kezia Dugdale, first up in the Hume programme. Right now, her Labour comrades are understandably expending energy in getting themselves as high up their party’s Holyrood regional lists as possible.

Ms Dugdale decided to reopen the lists, removing the special status accorded to sitting MSPs. In addition to those, there are one or two eager ex MPs who rather fancy an early return to elected politics.

But why on the list and not a first-past-the-post seat? Why seek regional election and not a constituency? Because, of course, Labour stands to win relatively few Holyrood constituencies if current opinion poll indications are borne out. And of course, they won just one seat at last May’s general election.

This says so much about why list and hybrid systems are inappropriate if you want candidates to focus on the electorate rather than their selectorate!

expending energy in getting themselves as high up their party’s Holyrood regional lists as possible

This is important to career politicians because the regional lists enables the party to appoint its place-men to the Holyrood Parliament.

The number of such politicians that can be appointed is determined by the regional list vote where voters vote for a party list and not for individuals. (see: The Scottish Parliament: The Electoral System for the Scottish Parliament for more detail).

So to get elected you need to get as high up the list as possible – and for some arguably this is more important than appealing to the actual electorate. For a party like Labour it is (almost) inconceivable that those at the top of the list will not be appointed to the Parliament. The eight regions elect 7 regional MSPs each. If your party has about 25% long-term support, the top two on the list are virtually certain of appointment, the third on the list might, but the others are virtually certain not to be appointed. Your position on the list is a greater determinant of your chances of success that the electors’ votes!

This can provide voters with a quandary. If you “like” (or can at least tolerate) the first two candidates on the list you can probably see them appointed. But what do you do if you are convinced that number three on the list is a complete pillock (or otherwise unworthy of appointment) and should not be appointed under any circumstances? By voting “the list” you risk the pillock riding into Parliament on the coat-tails of the two candidates that you like.

Do you support the list and risk this outcome – or do you with-hold your support and risk letting candidates of other parties in? In the old days of slavish electoral party loyalty, voters would always “vote the list” – and to hell with the consequences. But party loyalty – in the wider electorate – is no longer that strong and cannot be presumed.

So the lists are vital to candidates’ own prospects and to parties trying to ensure that “their” voters “vote the list”.

Ms Dugdale decided to reopen the lists, removing the special status accorded to sitting MSPs.

Having been through all these shenanigans, the party leader now has the opportunity to restart the whole operation. This illustrates how list systems can be manipulated by parties to get their in-people elected. So constituency MSPs who have fallen out with their constituency can be given positions high on the party list. So constituents may be prepared to eject them as constituency MSPs, but the party effectively gives two fingers to the electorate by appointing them as regional MSPs.

That shows a particular contempt for the electorate. And that contempt is enabled by allowing parties to manipulate party lists. But giving a political system an electoral system involving lists and parties will seek to manipulate them – just as certainly as putting a drink in front of an alcoholic will ensure that the drink is drunk.

In addition to those, there are one or two eager ex MPs who rather fancy an early return to elected politics.

In a multi-parliament system, it is actually reasonable that career politicians ejected from one parliament should seek re-employment as a member of another parliament. However this still suffers from the two-fingering of the electorate described above. The electorate has chosen to eject these MPs; if they wish to return they should stand in a process that allows the electorate to choose them. To be selected to a position sufficiently high on a party list to virtually guarantee appointment as a regional MSP just seems wrong.

Proportional Representation should be better than Disproportional Representation, but I seriously doubt whether the Additional Member System as seen in Scotland is very much better. It has so much wrong with it!

  • First Past the Post survives in the constituency vote – with all the problems of split votes, tactical votes and wasted votes. You have to accept the parties’ nominations for candidates or lump it.
  • The list system is heavily dependent on candidates’ popularity with their selectorates (as described above).
  • You end up with 2 types of MSP.
  • The combined result is only a bit less Disproportional.
  • Diversity of opinion within the electorate will not be effectively represented within the resulting Parliament. Pointing to a few Green MSPs does not mean that you have effective diversity if, say, all the Conservatives are “mainstream” Eurosceptics or all the Labour members are “mainstream” New Labour (or even “mainstream” Corbynistas). The electorate need to be able to choose between different flavours of the parties: Europhile or Eurosceptic Tory, Blairite or Corbynite Labour, etc.. Usurping that choice to the parties’ selection processes reduces diversity.

Scotland currently elects 129 MSPs. If each of the 8 regions were to elect 16 MSPs (128 in all) – possibly dividing each region into 3 or 4 multi-member constituencies (electing 4, 5, or 6 MSPs), you could elect them all under a single electoral system; The Single Transferable Vote.

  • Split Votes, Tactical Votes and Wasted Votes are virtually eliminated due to the transferability of preference voting (voters vote 1, 2, 3 etc indicating their preference)
  • It is the Electorate that matters, not the Selectorate.
    • If an MSP falls out with their party they can stand as independents; if the electorate support them they are re-elected; if they don’t the transfer of preferences (usually back to “party candidates”) ensures that “no harm is done”. So De-selection and Re-selection are no longer the awful blood-letting processes that they are under First Past the Post.
    • The shenanigans behind list systems are eliminated.
    • Ex MPs seeking election to Holyrood can just be nominated and take their chances amongst other candidates – with equal standing. Again transfer of preferences ensures that the party’s overall vote does not suffer.
  • Because a party can offer different flavours of candidate to the electorate, they can both maximise their chances of seeing the election of members of their party and of getting the diversity of opinion in the electorate represented in the parliament. Proportional Representation should be about proportions of opinions not proportions of parties.
  • All MPs are elected under the same system
  • Boundary Commissions are not the huge issue that they are under First Past the Post.
    • Minor discrepancies can be tolerated.
    • Major discrepancies can be accommodated by increasing or decreasing the number of members elected by a particular multi-members constituency. (For instance, a 4 member constituency can become a 5 member constituency and vice versa.)
    • Redrawing of boundaries is only needed rarely to accommodate very significant changes in regional populations.
    • Constituencies can represent “Natural Communities” and this constituency link can be maintained over a significant number of elections.

The Additional Member System seem to be a compromise made by the parties to try to retain control whilst appearing to be a bit more proportional.


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