Monthly Archives: June 2019

In Defence of Murdo Fraser

I must point out that this post is not about Murdo Fraser as a person. I have never had the good or misfortune to have met the man personally. So I have nothing to say about him. Nor am I about to defend his political positions as I oppose just about everything he and other conservatives stand for.

No, this post is a defence of Mr Fraser’s right to be a MSP. I regularly on twitter come across comments to the effect that Mr Fraser has never “won” an election, has repeatedly been “rejected” by the voters and therefore has no right to be in Parliament at all.

I find this argument not just unconvincing, but a serious misrepresentation and attack on the voting system we have for elections to Holyrood. It is also potentially dangerous as it could lead to a change is this system.

Our electoral system for the Scottish Parliament is a hybrid one, a mixture of First Past the Post(FPTP)  and Proportional Representation(PR). It is similar to the system used in Germany. There are 73 constituencies, each of which elects one MSP by FPTP. The other 56 MSPs are elected  in eight regional constituencies, each of which elects seven MSPs. These Additional Members are elected using a form of PR.

The system is deliberately designed to ensure that the total representation from each of the eight regions, including those MSPs elected by FPTP, corresponds more closely to the share of the votes cast for each political party in that region.

The key word here is representation. The system as a whole is not about winning, but about ensuring fair representation in Parliament for the parties that the electors have voted for.

In this sense Mr Fraser has as much right to be in Parliament as any other MSP, irrespective of whether elected by FPTP or PR.  Mr Fraser was elected by the voters in the Mid-Scotland Fife regional constituency. Or more precisely, by the 25% of the voters in the region who voted Conservative in the 2016 election.

These conservative voters have the same right to be fairly represented in Parliament as do the 6% who voted for the Green party, or the 7% who voted for the LibDems, or the 18% who voted Labour, or the 41% who voted SNP.  All these voters are entitled to be as fairly as possible represented in Parliament.

The hybrid system we use in Scotland is not a fully proportional system. This is due to the larger number of MSPs elected by FPTP. In Germany their version of the Additional Member System is fully proportional. This means that there can always be some small anomalies.

As happened in the 2016 election in Mid-Scotland and Fife region. However the anomaly did not affect the number of MSPs elected for the Greens, the LidDems, nor for the Conservatives. It did though affect the number of MSPs elected for the SNP and Labour. The SNP vote share of 41% should have resulted in seven MSPs. However as the SNP won eight of the single member constituencies, elected by FPTP, they were able to retain all of these eight MSPs. To the detriment of Labour, whose 18% share of the vote should have given them three MSPs instead of the two they were allocated.

So, if anybody wants to reconsider the justness of the results in 2016 in Mid-Scotland it would not be about the Conservatives, but about how an unfair system resulted in the SNP winning a seat that should have gone to Labour. Any takers?

As a complement to the above, I did a bit of research into the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections, using the House of Commons Briefing Paper CBP7599. This Briefing Papers gives all the details about that election. I was particularly interested in the share of the vote for the “winning” candidates in the 73 single member constituencies.

It transpires that only 29 of the “winning” candidates won over 50% of the votes in their constituency. This represents just 40% of the 73 constituency MSPs. Or just over 22% of all 129 MSPs. Or to put is another way,  44 constituency MSPs were rejected by a majority of the voters in their constituency. This amounts to 60% of all constituency MSPs.

In this context it is worth noting that eight constituency MSPs “won” their seat with less than 40% of the votes cast. Quite how this is regarded as legitimate while Mr Fraser and the other regional MSPs can be held to be illegitimate is a bit beyond me.

Out of interest the MSP with the lowest “winning” share of the vote is none other than Ruth Davidson. She was elected in Edinburgh Central with just 30.4%  of the votes cast. Of these eight MSPs elected with less than 40% of the votes cast, four are Conservative, two are Labour and two are SNP.

None of the previous paragraph should be interpreted as denying these eight MSPs their right to be in Parliament. What it should do is to raise some serious questions about the legitimacy of retaining FPTP as part of our electoral system.

I would much prefer a fully PR system. Parliament is where our representatives sit. As such the terms winning and losing should be used much less often. What matters is fair representation for the way voters cast their votes.  For those interested in this I would recommend a look at the systems used in Denmark and Sweden.

 

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