I got into a really interesting discussion on Saturday night on Twitter about how the voting system for Holyrood elections worked and many people in the conversation admitted they simply don’t understand how the system actually works especially when it comes to the issue of list votes.

In this article I aim to explain the system in simple terms, examine the factors that led to the SNP losing its majority in the 2016 election and also explore the differences between voting SNP on both ballot papers and splitting the votes between SNP and another pro-indy party.

It’s a long article so get yourself a cuppa (or something stronger) and make yourself comfy 🙂

So let’s start with the very basics. The Scottish Parliament is made up of 129 seats and, unlike UK General Elections, uses what’s known as the Additional Member System (AMS) to allocate MSPs to these seats. 73 of the 129 seats are classed as Constituency seats with the remaining 56 being Regional List seats.

The 73 Constituency seats are fairly straight forward in that they use the first past the post system that we all know from UK general elections. Quite simply you vote for a named candidate and the candidate with the most votes in that constituency wins the seat.

However, when we come to the 56 Regional List seats then things start to become a whole load more complicated. Scotland gets split into 8 Electoral Regions and each of these regions contain between eight and ten of the 73 constituencies. Each of the regions have 7 seats available to them.

This is your second ballot paper which contains a list of Parties rather than individual candidates and you vote for your preferred Party. These Party votes are tallied up and then go through a seven step process to allocate the 7 available seats.

In the first step each party’s total votes are divided by a factor of 1 + the number of constituency seats in the region that that party had won. So essentially if a particular party had not won any constituencies in that region their total number of votes would remain the same. After this calculation is carried out the party with the highest total would be allocated the first seat and their factoral number increased by 1 for the next step.

The process is then repeated six times until all 7 of the seats are allocated. Hopefully you will gain a better understanding of the process as we walk through it for each region using the actual 2016 election results. We’ll go through each of the regions in alphabetical order now.

Central Scotland Region

The Central Scotland region comprises the Airdrie & Shotts, Coatbridge & Chryston, Cumbernauld & Kilsyth, East Kilbride, Falkirk East, Falkirk West, Hamilton Larkhall & Stonehouse, Motherwell & Wishaw and Uddingston & Bellshill Constituencies. All 9 of these constituencies were won in 2016 by the SNP (gaining 3 from Labour).

In the 2011 election the SNP won 3 of the regional seats, Labour also won 3 with the Tories winning 1 seat. In 2016 this changed to 4 for Labour and 3 for the Tories.

The total 2016 votes for each party in this region were as follows:

PartyVotes%
SNP129,08247.7
Labour67,10324.8
Conservative43,60216.1
Green12,7224.7
UKIP6,0882.2
Liberal Democrats5,0151.9
Solidarity2,6841.0
Scottish Christian2,3140.9
RISE1,6360.6
Independant4600.2
Total270,706

So let’s take these figures and walk through all the steps to allocate the 7 seats. I’ll only be including the SNP, Labour, Lib Dems, Tories and Greens as they are the only ones with a chance of winning any of seats given the number of votes they got.

Seat 1

As I said earlier each party’s total vote gets divided by a factor of 1 + the number of constituency seats won in the region. So since the SNP won all 9 of the constituencies their division factor is 10 while the other have a division factor of 1 (so just saying the same as the original votes cast essentially). Thus the result for seat 1 ends up as…

  • Labour – 67,103
  • Conservative – 43,602
  • SNP – 129,082 / 10 = 12,908
  • Green – 12,722
  • Lib Dems – 5,015

So at this stage Labour have the most votes and are awarded seat 1.

Seat 2

Since Labour won seat 1 their division factor is now increased to 2 giving us the following number of votes…

  • Conservative – 43,602
  • Labour – 67,103 / 2 = 33,552
  • SNP – 129,082 / 10 = 12,908
  • Green – 12,722
  • Lib Dems – 5,015

Therefore seat 2 goes to the Conservatives.

Seat 3

Since the Tories won seat 2 their division factor now goes up to 2, giving us…

  • Labour – 67,103 / 2 = 33,552
  • Conservative – 43,602 / 2 = 21,801
  • SNP – 129,082 / 10 = 12,908
  • Green – 12,722
  • Lib Dems – 5,015

So that’s another seat won by Labour.

Seat 4

Now that Labour won seat 3 their division factor increases to 3, resulting in…

  • Labour – 67,103 / 3 = 22,368
  • Conservative – 43,602 / 2 = 21,801
  • SNP – 129,082 / 10 = 12,908
  • Green – 12,722
  • Lib Dems – 5,015

That gives Labour this seat.

Seat 5

Once again Labour’s division factor increases, this time to 4…

  • Conservative – 43,602 / 2 = 21,801
  • Labour – 67,103 / 4 = 16,776
  • SNP – 129,082 / 10 = 12,908
  • Green – 12,772
  • Lib Dem – 5,015

So that’s seat 5 gone to the Tories.

Seat 6

Since the Tories won the last seat their division factor now increases to 3…

  • Labour – 67,103 / 4 = 16,776
  • Conservatives – 43,602 / 3 = 14,534
  • SNP – 129,082 / 10 = 12,908
  • Green – 12,772
  • Lib Dem – 5,015

There goes another seat to Labour.

Seat 7

Labour’s division factor now rises to 5…

  • Conservatives – 43,602 / 3 = 14,534
  • Labour – 67,103 / 5 = 13,421
  • SNP – 129,082 / 10 = 12,908
  • Green – 12,772
  • Lib Dem – 5,015

So the final seat in the region goes to the Tories.

Summary

We see that out of the seven regional list seats available 4 have gone to Labour and 3 to the Tories.

In order for the SNP to have won even one seat (seat 7) here would have required them to have received a total of 145,350 votes which is 16,268 more than they did.

For the Greens to have won seat 7 they would have needed 1,763 more votes.

Could the SNP have got that many votes? Well let’s look at the total votes each party’s candidate got in the 9 constituencies in this region…

  • SNP – 142,585
  • Labour – 76,096
  • Conservatives – 42,456
  • Lib Dems – 7,241
  • Greens – 1,612

The Greens only fielded a candidate in 1 out of 9 of the constituencies in the region (Coatbridge & Chryston)

If everyone who voted for an SNP candidate in the constituency ballot had voted for the SNP in the regional ballot it would still have left a shortfall of 2,765 votes. Even then though we have to assume that a percentage of SNP candidate voters in the 8 constituencies where the Greens didn’t field a candidate would in fact be Green supporters and therefore be more inclined to have voted Green over SNP in the regional ballot. Given the Greens got 5.7% of the constituency vote in Coatbridge & Chryston and 4.7% of the overall regional vote bears this out.

So in this example I don’t feel that the SNP lost out due to their supporters giving their regional vote to the Greens. Indeed if just 1.37% of the SNP regional voters (or 40.8% of the 4,320 that voted Solidarity or RISE) had voted Green instead it would have seen the Greens gain a seat at the expense of the Tories.

Compared to 2011 the main reasons for the SNP losing 3 list seats here were…

  • They won 3 more constituency seats automatically making it harder to win list seats.
  • The Tory vote growing almost three fold from 14,870 to 43,602 (Incidentally the SNP vote also increased from 108,261 to 129,082 but the massive Tory rise allowed them to gain the seats).

Glasgow Region

The Glasgow region is made up of 9 constituencies, namely Glasgow Anniesland, Glasgow Cathcart, Glasgow Kelvin, Glasgow Maryhill & Springburn, Glasgow Pollock, Glasgow Provan, Glasgow Shettleston, Glasgow Southside and Rutherglen. In 2016 the SNP won all 9 of these constituencies (gaining 4 from Labour).

In the 2011 election the SNP won 2 of the region seats, Labour 3 and the Tories & Greens 1 each. In 2016 this changed to 4 for Labour, 2 for the Tories and 1 for the Greens.

The total 2016 votes for each party in this region were as follows:

PartyVotes%
SNP111,10144.8
Labour59,15123.8
Conservative29,53311.9
Green23,3989.4
Liberal Democrats5,8502.4
UKIP4,8892.0
Solidarity3,5931.4
RISE2,4541.0
A Better Britain -
Unionist Party
2,4531.0
Women's Equality2,0910.8
Animal Welfare1,8190.7
Scottish Christian1,5060.6
Independent2710.1
Total248,109

So again let’s take these figures and walk through all the steps to allocate the 7 seats. I’ll only be including the SNP, Labour, Tories and Greens as they are the only ones with a chance of winning any of seats given the number of votes they got.

Seat 1

As I said earlier each party’s total vote gets divided by a factor of 1 + the number of constituency seats won in the region. So since the SNP won all 9 of the constituencies their division factor is 10 while the other have a division factor of 1 (so just staying the same as the original votes cast essentially). Thus the result for seat 1 ends up as…

  • Lab – 59,151
  • Con – 29,533
  • Grn – 23,398
  • SNP – 111,101 / 10 = 11,110

Labour take the first seat.

Seat 2

Labour’s division factor goes up to 2.

  • Lab – 59,151 / 2 = 29,576
  • Con – 29,533
  • Grn – 23,398
  • SNP – 111,101 / 10 = 11,110

Labour win seat 2 by just 43 votes.

Seat 3

Labour’s division factor goes up to 3.

  • Con – 29,533
  • Grn – 23,398
  • Lab – 59,151 / 3 = 19,717
  • SNP – 111,101 / 10 = 11,110

The Tories win seat 3.

Seat 4

The Tories division factor increases by 2.

  • Grn – 23,398
  • Lab – 59,151 / 3 = 19,717
  • Con – 29,533 / 2 = 14,767
  • SNP – 111,101 / 10 = 11,110

The Greens win seat 4.

Seat 5

The Greens division factor increases to 2.

  • Lab – 59,151 / 3 = 19,717
  • Con – 29,533 / 2 = 14,767
  • Grn – 23,398 / 2 = 11,669
  • SNP – 111,101 / 10 = 11,110

Another seat for Labour.

Seat 6

Labour’s division factor increases to 4.

  • Lab – 59,151 / 4 = 14,788
  • Con – 29,533 / 2 = 14,767
  • Grn – 23,398 / 2 = 11,669
  • SNP – 111,101 / 10 = 11,110

Another narrow win for Labour, this time by only 21 votes.

Seat 7

Labour’s division factor goes up to 5.

  • Con – 29,533 / 2 = 14,767
  • Lab – 59,151 / 5 = 11,830
  • Grn – 23,398 / 2 = 11,669
  • SNP – 111,101 / 10 = 11,110

The Tories take the final available seat.

Summary

So that’s 4 seats for Labour, 2 for the Tories and 1 for the Greens.

In order for the SNP to have won even one seat (seat 7) here would have required them to have received a total of 147,680 votes which is 36,579 more than they actually did.

For the Greens to have won seat 7 they would have required 6,138 votes.

Let’s look at the total votes each party’s candidate got in the 9 constituencies in this region…

  • SNP – 128,443
  • Lab – 70,378
  • Con – 28,906
  • LD – 9,568
  • Grn – 6,916
  • Oth – 2,746

The Greens only fielded a candidate, Patrick Harvie, in Glasgow Kelvin.

So like Central Scotland we see that even if every SNP constituency voter also voted SNP in the regional ballot it would still fall well short of being able to win a list seat here.

However if 5.52% of SNP regional ballot voters had voted for the Greens then the Greens would have got a second seat at the expense of the Tories. That particular Tory would have been Annie Wells.

Compared to 2011 we see the same reasons for the SNP losing their 2 list seats namely…

  • They won 4 more constituency seats automatically making it harder to win list seats.
  • The Tory vote more than doubling from 12,749 to 29,533.

Highlands and Islands Region

The Highlands and Islands region is made up of 8 constituencies namely Argyll & Bute, Caithness Sutherland & Ross, Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Inverness & Nairn, Moray, Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands and Skye Lochaber & Badenoch. In 2016 the SNP won 6 of these constituencies and the Lib Dems 2 (no change on 2011).

In the 2011 election the SNP won 3 of the regional list seats, Labour 2 and the Tories 2. In 2016 this changed to the Tories 3, Labour 2 and the SNP & Greens 1 each.

The total 2016 votes for each party in this region were as follows:

PartyVotes%
SNP81,60039.7
Conservative44,69321.8
Liberal Democrats27,22313.3
Labour22,89411.2
Green14,7817.2
UKIP5,3442.6
Independant3,6891.8
Scottish Christian3,4071.7
RISE8890.4
Solidarity7930.4
Total205,313

So again let’s take these figures and walk through all the steps to allocate the 7 seats. I’ll only be including the SNP, Labour, Tories, Lib Dems and Greens as they are the only ones with a chance of winning any of seats given the number of votes they got.

Seat 1

Again each party’s total vote gets divided by a factor of 1 + the number of constituency seats won in the region. This time we have the SNP starting on a division factor of 7 and the Lib Dems on a division factor of 3…

  • Con – 44,693
  • Lab – 22,894
  • Grn – 14,781
  • SNP – 81,600 / 7 = 11,657
  • LD – 27,223 / 3 = 9,074

Seat 1 goes to the Tories.

Seat 2

Tories division factor goes up to 2.

  • Lab – 22,894
  • Con – 44,693 / 2 = 22,347
  • Grn – 14,781
  • SNP – 81,600 / 7 = 11,657
  • LD – 27,223 / 3 = 9,074

Seat 2 goes to Labour.

Seat 3

Labour division factor goes up to 2.

  • Con – 44,693 / 2 = 22,347
  • Grn – 14,781
  • SNP – 81,600 / 7 = 11,657
  • Lab – 22,894 / 2 = 11,447
  • LD – 27,223 / 3 = 9,074

Seat 3 goes to the Tories.

Seat 4

The Tories division factor goes up to 3.

  • Con – 44,693 / 3 = 14,898
  • Grn – 14,781
  • SNP – 81,600 / 7 = 11,657
  • Lab – 22,894 / 2 = 11,447
  • LD – 27,223 / 3 = 9,074

Another seat for the Tories.

Seat 5

The Tories division factor goes up to 4.

  • Grn – 14,781
  • SNP – 81,600 / 7 = 11,657
  • Lab – 22,894 / 2 = 11,447
  • Con – 44,693 / 4 = 11,173
  • LD – 27,223 / 3 = 9,074

The Greens take seat 5.

Seat 6

The Greens division factor goes up to 2.

  • SNP – 81,600 / 7 = 11,657
  • Lab – 22,894 / 2 = 11,447
  • Con – 44,693 / 4 = 11,173
  • LD – 27,223 / 3 = 9,074
  • Grn – 14,781 / 2 = 7391

The SNP wins seat 6.

Seat 7

The SNP’s division factor goes up to 8.

  • Lab – 22,894 / 3 = 11,447
  • Con – 44,693 / 4 = 11,173
  • SNP – 81,600 / 8 = 10,200
  • LD – 27,223 / 3 = 9,074
  • Grn – 14,781 / 2 = 7391

So the final seat goes to Labour.

Summary

So that’s 3 seats for the Tories, 2 for Labour and 1 apiece for the SNP & Greens.

In order for the SNP to have taken an additional seat here (seat 7) they would have needed a total of 91,584 votes which is 9,984 more than they actually got.

Again let’s look at the total votes each party’s candidate got in the 8 constituencies in this region…

  • SNP – 91,088
  • LD – 47,465
  • Con – 39,493
  • Lab – 24,246
  • Oth – 2,415

This time if every SNP constituency voter had voted for them in the regional ballot it would have been tantalisingly close but still not enough.

The Greens would have need an extra 8,115 to take seat 7 from Labour which would have needed 9.9% of the SNP’s regional voters but this would likely have prevented the SNP from getting seat 6.

But yet again the main reason for the SNP losing list seats here was the Tory vote more than doubling from 20,843 in 2011 to 44,693 in 2016.

Lothian Region

The Lothian region comprises 9 constituencies namely Almond Valley, Edinburgh Central, Edinburgh Eastern, Edinburgh Northern & Leith, Edinburgh Pentlands, Edinburgh Southern, Edinburgh Western, Linlithgow and Midlothian North & Musselburgh. In 2016 the SNP won 6 of these constituencies with Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems winning 1 each.

In 2011 Labour won 3 of the regional list seats, the Tories 2, Greens 1 and Independent Margo McDonald getting the remaining 1. In 2016 this changed to Tories 3, Labour 2 and Greens 2.

The total 2016 votes for each party in this region were as follows:

PartyVotes%
SNP118,54636.2
Conservative74,97222.9
Labour67,99120.8
Green34,55110.6
Liberal Democrats18,4795.6
UKIP5,8021.8
Women's Equality3,8771.2
RISE1,6410.5
Solidarity1,3190.4
Total327,178

So again let’s take these figures and walk through all the steps to allocate the 7 seats. I’ll only be including the SNP, Labour, Tories, Lib Dems and Greens as they are the only ones with a chance of winning any of seats given the number of votes they got.

Seat 1

Again each party’s total vote gets divided by a factor of 1 + the number of constituency seats won in the region. This time we have the SNP starting on a division factor of 7 and the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems with a division factor of 2.

  • Con – 74,972 / 2 = 37,486
  • Grn – 34,551
  • Lab – 67,991 / 2 = 33,996
  • SNP – 118,546 / 7 = 16,935
  • LD – 18,479 / 2 = 9,240

So the Tories win seat 1.

Seat 2

The Tories divisional factor increases to 3.

  • Grn – 34,551
  • Lab – 67,991 / 2 = 33,996
  • Con – 74,972 / 3 = 24,991
  • SNP – 118,546 / 7 = 16,935
  • LD – 18,479 / 2 = 9,240

The Greens win seat 2.

Seat 3

The Greens divisional factor rises to 2.

  • Lab – 67,991 / 2 = 33,996
  • Con – 74,972 / 3 = 24,991
  • Grn – 34,551 / 2 = 17,276
  • SNP – 118,546 / 7 = 16,935
  • LD – 18,479 / 2 = 9,240

Labour win seat 3.

Seat 4

Labour’s division factor rises to 3.

  • Con – 74,972 / 3 = 24,991
  • Lab – 67,991 / 3 = 22,664
  • Grn – 34,551 / 2 = 17,276
  • SNP – 118,546 / 7 = 16,935
  • LD – 18,479 / 2 = 9,240

The Tories win seat 4.

Seat 5

The Tories division factor increases to 4.

  • Lab – 67,991 / 3 = 22,664
  • Con – 74,972 / 4 = 18,743
  • Grn – 34,551 / 2 = 17,276
  • SNP – 118,546 / 7 = 16,935
  • LD – 18,479 / 2 = 9,240

Seat 5 goes to Labour.

Seat 6

Labour’s division factor goes up to 4.

  • Con – 74,972 / 4 = 18,743
  • Grn – 34,551 / 2 = 17,276
  • Lab – 67,991 / 4 = 16,998
  • SNP – 118,546 / 7 = 16,935
  • LD – 18,479 / 2 = 9,240

Seat 6 goes to the Tories.

Seat 7

The Tories division factor goes up to 5.

  • Grn – 34,551 / 2 = 17,276
  • Lab – 67,991 / 4 = 16,998
  • SNP – 118,546 / 7 = 16,935
  • Con – 74,972 / 5 = 14,994
  • LD – 18,479 / 2 = 9,240

So the Greens take seat 7.

Summary

So that’s 3 seats for the Tories and 2 each for Labour and the Greens.

The SNP would have needed 120,939 votes to win seat 7, a difference of just 2,393.

As before let’s look at the total votes each party’s candidate got in the 9 constituencies in this region…

  • SNP – 137,996
  • Lab – 84,975
  • Con – 67,837
  • LD – 29,095
  • Grn – 4,644
  • Oth – 1,463

The Greens only stood in 1 constituency – Edinburgh Central.

There are a few points to note here. For the first time we have the situation where there are more SNP constituency voters than the required number needed for the SNP to take a regional list seat but we must be cautious with our conclusions here. Lothian, especially Edinburgh, has a higher proportion of Green supporters than elsewhere in the country. The 13.6% vote share that their candidate got in Edinburgh Central is proof of that. Given the Greens only stood a candidate in 1 out of the 9 constituencies in the region we have no accurate way to tell how many of the SNP constituency voters were in fact Green supporters and would have voted Green anyway in the regional ballot.

Perhaps more significant is the fact that a combined 2,960 people voted for RISE and Solidarity in the regional ballot. Had they instead voted for the SNP it would have been enough to give the SNP seat 7 ahead of the Greens.

Another interesting thing here is the total swap around of places for Labour and the Tories between the constituency and regional list votes which would point to a very large Con/Lab & Lab/Con vote going on.

And yet again we have the Tory vote more than doubling. This time from 33,019 in 2011 to 74,972 in 2016.

Mid Scotland and Fife Region

The Mid Scotland and Fife region is made up of 9 constituencies namely Clackmannanshire & Dunblane, Cowdenbeath, Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy, Mid Fife & Glenrothes, North East Fife, Perthshire North, Perthshire South & Kinrossshire and Stirling. In 2016 the SNP won 8 of these constituencies with the Lib Dems winning the other one.

In 2011 Labour won 3 of the list seats, the Tories 2 and the SNP and Lib Dems 1 each. In 2016 this changed to 4 for the Tories, 2 for Labour and 1 for the Greens.

The total 2016 votes for each party in this region were as follows:

PartyVote%
SNP120,12841.3
Conservative79,29325.2
Labour51,37317.6
Liberal Democrats20,4017.0
Green17,8606.1
UKIP5,3451.8
RISE1,0730.4
Solidarity1,0490.4
Libertarian6500.2
Total291,172

So again let’s take these figures and walk through all the steps to allocate the 7 seats. I’ll only be including the SNP, Labour, Tories, Lib Dems and Greens as they are the only ones with a chance of winning any of seats given the number of votes they got.

Seat 1

Again each party’s total vote gets divided by a factor of 1 + the number of constituency seats won in the region. This time we have the SNP starting on a division factor of 9 and the Lib Dems with a division factor of 2.

  • Con – 73,293
  • Lab – 51,373
  • Grn – 17,860
  • SNP – 120,128 / 9 = 13,348
  • LD – 20,401 / 2 = 10,201

So seat 1 goes to the Tories.

Seat 2

The Tories division factor increases to 2.

  • Lab – 51,373
  • Con – 73,293 / 2 = 36,647
  • Grn – 17,860
  • SNP – 120,128 / 9 = 13,348
  • LD – 20,401 / 2 = 10,201

Seat 2 goes to Labour

Seat 3

Labour’s division factor moves up to 2.

  • Con – 73,293 / 2 = 36,647
  • Lab – 51,373 / 2 = 25,687
  • Grn – 17,860
  • SNP – 120,128 / 9 = 13,348
  • LD – 20,401 / 2 = 10,201

The Tories take seat 3.

Seat 4

The Tories division factor increases to 3.

  • Lab – 51,373 / 2 = 25,687
  • Con – 73,293 / 3 = 24,431
  • Grn – 17,860
  • SNP – 120,128 / 9 = 13,348
  • LD – 20,401 / 2 = 10,201

Seat 4 goes to Labour.

Seat 5

Labour’s division factor increases to 3.

  • Con – 73,293 / 3 = 24,431
  • Grn – 17,860
  • Lab – 51,373 / 3 = 17,124
  • SNP – 120,128 / 9 = 13,348
  • LD – 20,401 / 2 = 10,201

Seat 5 goes to the Tories.

Seat 6

The Tories division factor increases to 4.

  • Con – 73,293 / 4 = 18,323
  • Grn – 17,860
  • Lab – 51,373 / 3 = 17,124
  • SNP – 120,218 / 9 = 13,348
  • LD – 20,401 / 2 = 10,201

Yet another seat for the Tories.

Seat 7

The Tories division factor is 5.

  • Grn – 17,860
  • Lab – 51,373 / 3 = 17,124
  • Con – 73,293 / 5 = 14,659
  • SNP – 120,218 / 9 = 13,348
  • LD – 20,241 / 2 = 10,201

So seat 7 goes to the Greens.

Summary

So that’s 4 seats for the Tories, 2 for Labour and 1 for the Greens.

In this case the SNP would have needed 160,749 votes to win seat 7, a difference of 40,531.

As before let’s look at the total votes each party’s candidate got in the 9 constituencies in this region…

  • SNP – 133,639
  • Con – 68,272
  • Lab – 58,945
  • LD – 29,070
  • Oth – 544

You can clearly see here that if every SNP constituency voter had also voted SNP in the regional vote, the SNP would still be 27,110 short of the number required to win a list seat.

This region is probably one of the best examples of how hard it is to win a list seat when you have won so many of the constituency seats in the region.

The trend of the Tories doubling their vote continues in this region too with an increase from 36,458 in 2011 to 73,293 in 2016.

North East Scotland Region

The North East Scotland Region is made up of 10 constituencies namely Aberdeen Central, Aberdeen Donside, Aberdeen South & North Kincardine, Aberdeenshire East, Aberdeenshire West, Angus North & Mearns, Angus South, Banffshire & Buchan Coast, Dundee City East and Dundee City West. In 2016 the SNP won 9 of these constituencies with the Tories winning the remaining 1.

In 2011 Labour won 3 of the list seats, the Tories 2 and the SNP & Lib Dems 1 each. In 2016 this changed to the Tories 4, Labour 2 and the Lib Dems 1.

The total 2016 votes for each party in this region were as follows:

PartyVote%
SNP137,08644.7
Conservative85,84828.0
Labour38,79112.6
Liberal Democrats18,4446.0
Green15,1234.9
UKIP6,3762.1
Scottish Christian2,0680.7
Solidarity9920.3
National Front6170.2
RISE5990.2
Libertarian5520.2
Communist5100.2
Total307,006

So again let’s take these figures and walk through all the steps to allocate the 7 seats. I’ll only be including the SNP, Labour, Tories, Lib Dems and Greens as they are the only ones with a chance of winning any of seats given the number of votes they got.

Seat 1

Again each party’s total vote gets divided by a factor of 1 + the number of constituency seats won in the region. This time we have the SNP starting on a division factor of 10 and the Tories with a division factor of 2.

  • Con – 85,848 / 2 = 42,924
  • Lab – 38,791
  • LD – 18,444
  • Grn – 15,123
  • SNP – 137,086 / 10 = 13,709

The Tories take seat 1.

Seat 2

The Tories division factor increases to 3.

  • Lab – 38,791
  • Con – 85,848 / 3 = 28,616
  • LD – 18,444
  • Grn – 15,123
  • SNP – 137,086 / 10 = 13,709

Labour take seat 2.

Seat 3

Labour’s division factor increases to 2.

  • Con – 85,848 / 3 = 28,616
  • Lab – 38,791 / 2 = 19,396
  • LD – 18,444
  • Grn – 15,123
  • SNP – 137,086 / 10 = 13,709

Seat 3 goes to the Tories.

Seat 4

The Tories division Factor increases to 4.

  • Con – 85,848 / 4 = 21,462
  • Lab – 38,791 / 2 = 19,396
  • LD – 18,444
  • GRN – 15,123
  • SNP – 137,086 / 10 = 13,709

Seat 4 also goes to the Tories.

Seat 5

The Tories division factor increases to 5.

  • Lab – 38,791 / 2 = 19,396
  • LD – 18,444
  • Con – 85,848 / 5 = 17,170
  • Grn – 15,123
  • SNP – 137,086 / 10 = 13,709

Seat 5 goes to Labour.

Seat 6

Labour’s divison factor increases to 3.

  • LD – 18,444
  • Con – 85,848 / 5 = 17,170
  • Grn – 15,123
  • SNP – 137,086 / 10 = 13,709
  • Lab – 38,791 / 3 = 12,930

The Lib Dems take seat 6.

Seat 7

The Lib Dems division factor increases to 2.

  • Con – 85,848 / 5 = 17,170
  • Grn – 15,123
  • SNP – 137,086 / 10 = 13,709
  • Lab – 38,791 / 3 = 12,930
  • LD – 18,444 / 2 = 9,222

The Tories take the final seat.

Summary

So that’s 4 seats for the Tories, 2 for Labour and 1 for the Lib Dems.

Here the SNP would have needed 171,710 votes to steal seat 7 from the Tories, that’s 34,624 more than they actually got.

As before let’s look at the total votes each party’s candidate got in the 9 constituencies in this region…

  • SNP – 148,423
  • Con – 85,332
  • Lab – 44,145
  • LD – 26,843
  • Oth – 1,079

So we have yet another example where even if every SNP constituency voter then voted for them on the regional list vote as well it would still have been well short of the number needed for the SNP to gain a list seat.

However it would only have needed 2,048, or 1.49%, of those SNP list voters to have voted Green instead to allow the Greens to have taken seat 7 instead of the Tories.

If you’ve been following along with me all the way you’ll not be surprised to learn that once again we see the Tory vote more than doubling. This time from 37,681 in 2011 to 85,848.

South Scotland Region

The South Scotland Region is made up of 9 Constituencies namely Ayr, Carrick Cumnock & Doon Valley, Clydesdale, Dumfriesshire, East Lothian, Ettrick Roxburgh & Berwickshire, Galloway & West Dumfries, Kilmarnock & Irvine Valley and Midlothian South, Tweeddale & Lauderdale. In 2016 the SNP & Tories both won 4 of these constituencies with Labour winning the remaining 1.

In 2011 the SNP won 4 of the regional list seats, Labour 2 and the Lib Dems 1. This changed in 2016 to SNP 3 and Labour and Tories 2 each.

The total 2016 votes for each party in this region were as follows:

PartyVote%
SNP120,21738.3
Conservative100,75332.1
Labour56,07217.8
Green14,7734.7
Liberal Democrats11,7753.7
UKIP6,7262.1
Independent1,4850.5
Solidarity1,2940.4
RISE1,0970.3
Total314,192

So again let’s take these figures and walk through all the steps to allocate the 7 seats. I’ll only be including the SNP, Labour, Tories and Greens as they are the only ones with a chance of winning any of seats given the number of votes they got.

Seat 1

Again each party’s total vote gets divided by a factor of 1 + the number of constituency seats won in the region. This time we have the SNP & Tories starting on a division factor of 5 and Labour with a division factor of 2.

  • Lab – 56,072 / 2 = 28,036
  • SNP – 120,217 / 5 = 24,043
  • Con – 100,753 / 5 = 20,151
  • Grn – 14,773

Labour win seat 1.

Seat 2

Labour’s division factor increases to 3

  • SNP – 120,217 / 5 = 24,043
  • Con – 100,753 / 5 = 20,151
  • Lab – 56,072 / 3 = 18,691
  • Grn – 14,773

The SNP win seat 2.

Seat 3

The SNP’s division factor increases to 6.

  • Con – 100,753 / 5 = 20,151
  • SNP – 120,217 / 6 = 20,036
  • Lab – 56,072 / 3 = 18,691
  • Grn – 14,773

Seat 3 goes to the Tories.

Seat 4

The Tories division factor increases to 6.

  • SNP – 120,217 / 6 = 20,036
  • Lab – 56,072 / 3 = 18,691
  • Con – 100,753 / 6 = 16,792
  • Grn – 14,773

The SNP wins seat 4.

Seat 5

The SNP’s division factor increases to 7.

  • Lab – 56,072 / 3 = 18,691
  • SNP – 120,217 / 7 = 17,174
  • Con – 100,753 / 6 = 16,792
  • Grn – 14,773

Labour win seat 5.

Seat 6

Labour’s division factor increases to 4.

  • SNP – 120,217 / 7 = 17,174
  • Con – 100,753 / 6 = 16,792
  • Grn – 14,773
  • Lab – 56,072 / 4 = 14,018

The SNP wins seat 6.

Seat 7

The SNP’s division factor increases to 8.

  • Con – 100,753 / 6 = 16,792
  • SNP – 120,217 / 8 = 15,027
  • Grn – 14,773
  • Lab – 56,072 / 4 = 14,018

The SNP win seat 7.

Summary

So that’s 3 seats for the SNP and 2 each for Labour and the Tories.

As before let’s look at the total votes each party’s candidate got in the 9 constituencies in this region…

  • SNP – 129,064
  • Con – 104,816
  • Lab – 64,638
  • LD – 12,852
  • Oth – 2,241

We now have the first (and only) region in which the SNP won the majority of the list seats. It is also the only region that they didn’t win at least half of the constituency seats, so it serves as a great example of how the less constituency seats you win the more list seats you have a chance of gaining.

You’ll also notice how close the numbers are for the SNP’s constituency and region votes, 129,064 & 120,217 respectively. This highlights why sometimes an SNP1/SNP2 vote can be so important where the constituency seats are spread out more evenly between the parties.

While 2,020 SNP votes going to the Greens would have given them a seat at the expense of the Tories, if it had been 3,020 votes the SNP would have lost one of their seats to the Tories. I hope this shows how dangerous tactical voting would be if the SNP wasn’t to win most of the constituency seats in a region.

Unlike all the other regions the Tory vote didn’t at least double in size but wasn’t far off it rising from 54,352 in 2011 to 100,753 in 2016.

West Scotland Region

The West Scotland Region is made up of 10 constiuencies namely Clydebank & Milngavie, Cunninghamme North, Cunninghamme South, Dumbarton, Eastwood, Greenock & Inverclyde, Paisley, Renfrewshire North & West, Renfrewshire South and Strathkelvin & Bearsden. In 2016 the SNP won 8 of these constituencies (gaining 5 from Labour) with Labour and the Tories winning 1 each.

In 2011 Labour won 3 of the regional list seats with the SNP and the Tories winning 2 each. This changed in 2016 to 3 each for Labour and the Tories and 1 for the Greens.

The total 2016 votes for each party in this region were as follows:

PartyVote &
SNP135,82742.2
Labour72,54422.5
Conservative71,52822.2
Green17,2185.3
Liberal Democrats12,0973.8
UKIP5,8561.8
Solidarity2,6090.8
Scottish Christian2,3910.7
RISE1,5220.5
Libertarian4840.2
Total322,076

So again let’s take these figures and walk through all the steps to allocate the 7 seats. I’ll only be including the SNP, Labour, Tories and Greens as they are the only ones with a chance of winning any of seats given the number of votes they got.

Seat 1

Again each party’s total vote gets divided by a factor of 1 + the number of constituency seats won in the region. This time we have the SNP starting on a division factor of 9 and Labour & the Tories with a division factor of 2.

  • Lab – 72,544 / 2 = 36,272
  • Con – 71,528 / 2 = 35,764
  • Grn – 17,218
  • SNP – 135,827 / 9 = 15,092

Labour wins seat 1.

Seat 2

Labour’s division factor increases to 3.

  • Con – 71,528 / 2 = 35,764
  • Lab – 72,544 / 3 = 24,181
  • Grn – 17,218
  • SNP – 135,827 / 9 = 15,092

Seat 2 goes to the Tories.

Seat 3

The Tories division factor increases to 3.

  • Lab – 72,544 / 3 = 24,181
  • Con – 71,528 / 3 = 23,843
  • Grn – 17,218
  • SNP – 135,827 / 9 = 15,092

Seat 3 goes to Labour.

Seat 4

Labour’s division factor rises to 4.

  • Con – 71,528 / 3 = 23,843
  • Lab 72,544 / 4 = 18,136
  • Grn – 17,218
  • SNP – 135,827 / 9 = 15,092

The Tories win seat 4.

Seat 5

The Tories division factor rises to 4.

  • Lab – 72,544 / 4 = 18,136
  • Con – 71,528 / 4 = 17,882
  • Grn – 17,218
  • SNP – 135,827 / 9 = 15,092

Labour win seat 5.

Seat 6

Labour’s division factor rises to 5.

  • Con – 71,528 / 4 = 17,882
  • Grn – 17,218
  • SNP – 135,827 / 9 = 15,092
  • Lab – 72,544 / 5 = 14,509

Seat 6 goes to the Tories.

Seat 7

The Tories division factor rises to 5.

  • Grn – 17,218
  • SNP – 135,827 / 9 = 15,092
  • Lab – 72,544 / 5 = 14,509
  • Con – 71,528 / 5 = 14,306

The Greens win Seat 7.

Summary

So that’s 3 seats each here for Labour and the Tories and 1 for the Greens.

Here the SNP would have needed 154,971 to take seat 7 from the Greens, that’s 19,144 more than they actually got.

As before let’s look at the total votes each party’s candidate got in the 9 constituencies in this region…

  • SNP – 148,660
  • Lab – 90,468
  • Con – 64,732
  • LD – 16,104
  • Oth – 1,253

So we have yet another example where even if every SNP constituency voter then voted for them on the regional list vote as well it would still have been short of the number needed for the SNP to gain a list seat.

With the Labour & Tory votes being so close and them both winning 1 constituency seat, compared to the SNP’s 8, it’s no surprise that they got 3 list seats each.

Guess what? Yes, you’ve got it! The Tory vote doubled here as well, going up from 35,995 in 2011 to 71,528 in 2016.

Conclusions

Well done dear reader for making it this far! Hopefully by now you have a much clearer idea how the Additional Member System works in Holyrood Elections. I just have a few more things that I’d like to cover.

Firstly I need to kill the elephant in the room! The SNP did not lose seats or “let the Tories in” at the 2016 Election due to their Constituency voters giving their 2nd vote to the Greens. This seems to a common misconception amongst many SNP supporters.

As I’ve demonstrated in the individual region summaries even if everyone that had voted SNP in the Constituency vote had also voted SNP in the Regional vote it would still have been mathematically impossible for the SNP to have gained a list seat in 7 out of the 8 regions.

Even in Lothian, the only region where it was mathematically possible, the seat gained would have been at the expense of the Green’s Andy Wightman.

For the record here are the total number of people across Scotland who voted SNP in the respective votes…

  • Constituency – 1,059,898
  • Regional List – 953,587

The regional vote number is 90% of the Constituency Vote number which given that some who voted SNP in the 1st vote would be Green supporters and would naturally vote Green in the 2nd vote.

Okay, now that’s been put to bed let’s look at why the SNP really did lose so many list seats.

The first factor was the gain of an extra 6 constituency seats bringing the number held to 59, which is 80.8% of the available 79 seats. This is frankly remarkable on a 46.5% vote share.

The whole point of the Additional Member System is to offset this sort of dis-proportionality and as you’ve seen by each region breakdown that I’ve provided that it works. Whether or not it is a good system is a discussion for another day!

Because of the division factors that I’ve been demonstrating throughout the regional breakdowns out of 953,587 SNP list votes only 118,802 of them actually counted towards the list seat allocations. Think of that as 834,785 votes, that’s 87.5% of the total, just being thrown into a bin.

The second factor, and why the Tories picked up so many list seats, was all down to the size of the Tory vote. You’ll have seen from the regional summaries what the jumps were in each region but across the whole of Scotland their regional vote more than doubled from 245,967 in 2011 to 524,222 in 2016.

For comparison the SNP’s increase was from 876,421 in 2011 to 953,587 in 2016. Labour fell from 523,469 in 2011 to 435,919 in 2016. The total number of voters in 2011 was 1,990,836 and 2,285,752 in 2016.

Moving on now to the controversial topic of split or tactical voting. Is it right or is it wrong?

I’m sorry to disappoint you all but there really is not a simple answer to that. In many ways it boils down to how would you like the Parliament to look? Do you want the greatest possible chance of a majority SNP Government or would you prefer to see the largest pro-indy majority possible?

If your preference is for the greatest chance of an SNP majority then you would want to go for SNP1/SNP2. Although the Additional Member System was designed to prevent a majority for a single party 2011 proved it was possible. Indeed in 2016 the SNP were just 1,619 constituency votes short of a 66-63 Parliamentary majority as 610 more votes in Edinburgh Central, 900 more in Aberdeenshire West and 109 more in Dumbarton would have seen them take those constituency seats as well. It goes to show how important it is to actually get as many people as possible out to the polling stations to cast their votes. The 2016 Election only had a 55.6% turnout so more needs to be done on that front.

Now for those of you who would prefer the largest pro-indy majority possible in Parliament then you may wish to consider giving the Greens your 2nd vote. Just for fun let’s see what would have happened if 50% of the SNP list vote had instead gone to the Greens. Parliament would look like this…

  • SNP – 59 seats
  • Grn – 27 seats
  • Con – 22 seats
  • Lab – 17 seats
  • LD – 4 seats

So you would have had a pro-indy majority of 86 – 43, but you would have to hope that Patrick Harvie doesn’t overdo the celebrations on election night and trade his soul and Independence away to the Unionists in exchange for the promise of being elected First Minister!! 😉

What about if there was another totally Independence focused party? Unless it featured several major players from the Indy movement and had a massive amount of funding behind it, I struggle to see how this could get enough traction to garnish the level of public interest and support it would need. In 2016 RISE and Solidarity between them could only attract 25,244 voters, that’s just 1.1% of the total votes cast. Having said that though it’s something I’d like to see.

As a little aside, the server that I host this website on went down for 5.5 hours while I was writing so to amuse myself I posted this on twitter 🙂

One final point before I bring this article to a close. People have asked about simply not using their 2nd vote and to that I say nay, nay and thrice nay. SNP1/SNP2 is always better than not using your second vote at all. If it’s not counted then so be it but it’s better there just in case it is needed.

And breathe…. Well done and thank you for making it this far, it’s been quite a journey!!

I’ve put over 20 hours work into this so I really hope it has helped you understand the list vote system clearer.

Till next time, Marky!!

This website relies on donations from you, our readers, to keep going. To find out why and what we use the donations for as well as the ways you can donate please visit the donations page.