We’re supposed to be taking a few days off, but it’s been tipping it down outside for 36 solid hours, so when an alert reader emailed us a question relating to this article from Monday, we couldn’t help but go and research it just to pass some time.
They’d asked how many of the Tory MSPs elected last Thursday had been rejected by the voters of a constituency seat on the same day, and we were startled by the answer – of the 24 Conservative members of the Scottish Parliament elected on the list last week, every single one was also a failed constituency candidate.
And that got us thinking.
In total, 67% of the opposition MSPs taking their seats in the chamber – 44 out of 66 – when the new Parliament convenes will be constituency rejects. (There’s a full list below the main text of this article.) 18 of the 44 came 3rd in the seat they contested, and one finished 4th. 11 lost by margins of more than 10,000 votes.
Rather remarkably, given those statistics, we could only find a single seat – Inverness and Nairn – where the winner, runner-up and 3rd-place finisher ALL ended up MSPs.
The solitary candidate who stood in the seat and DIDN’T end up in Parliament (the Lib Dems’ Caroline Caddick) must feel pretty left out, but the 86% of voters who cast their votes for one of the other three must be wondering why they bothered.
In such circumstances it surely can’t be entirely coincidental that turnout in Holyrood elections is consistently lower than Westminster ones. In well over half of Scotland’s 73 constituencies, voters rejecting a candidate hasn’t prevented them strolling into the Parliament anyway, sometimes having won as little as 8.6% of the vote.
(Annie Wells of the Conservatives in Glasgow Provan, who gathered just 2,062 votes, although to be fair to her that’s still a couple of hundred more than Tory leader Ruth Davidson got in 2011, becoming an MSP despite finishing 4th in Glasgow Kelvin.)
So what (if anything) should be done about it? When we raised the subject on Twitter yesterday several options were suggested:
1. Switch to Single Transferable Vote
This is the option preferred by the Electoral Reform Society and used in council elections. The upsides are that it tends to produce roughly proportional results and avoids “wasted” votes. The downsides are that it loses the constituency link prized by voters, and somewhat falls apart in the event of by-elections.
2. Prevent incumbent MSPs from standing on the list
Some people have suggested that any MSP who’s already in a seat shouldn’t be allowed to have a backup list spot, on the grounds that having already been in power, voters should have the ability to make a judgement on their record and throw them out if they want, improving accountability and therefore engagement.
The upside is that it still lets new talent have a chance to prove itself by coming through on the list. The downside is that such a rule would probably require small parties to change their leader at every election. Had it been in place this year, for example, the Greens would have lost both of their “co-convenors”.
3. Restrict the number of “loser’s spots”
This is an idea of our own that we haven’t seen anyone else propose. Parties would only be allowed list seats for a set number of “losing” MSPs (it could be a total number, say 10 nationwide, or one or two per region). Once those spots were used up, the seats would go to the next people on the lists who hadn’t been rejected in a constituency.
That way parties would still be able to get their leaders and experienced figures into Parliament if they had no “safe” constituencies to run in, but the “old guard” wouldn’t be allowed to hog all the seats, as happened this year with Labour.
(As far as we can tell, 16 of the party’s 17 constituency losers who got backup list seats were already sitting MSPs.)
We can’t identify any obvious drawbacks to the plan. It seems to be better both for the electorate, who get more ability to reject unsatisfactory MSPs, and for the parties themselves, who are forced to refresh and renew their ranks.
(How can Labour possibly rebuild from the ruins when almost all of their MSPs are the same ones who got them in such a mess?)
So just for fun, we thought we’d solicit your opinion.
* denotes a candidate who finished in 3rd place
** denotes a candidate who finished in 4th place
Liz Smith lost by 1,422 in Kinross-shire
Gordon Lindhurst lost by 2,456 in Pentlands
Alex Johnstone lost by 2,472 in Angus North & Mearns
Ross Thomson lost by 2,755 in Aberdeen South
Douglas Ross lost by 2,875 in Moray
*Miles Briggs lost by 3,625 in Edinburgh Southern
*Rachel Hamilton lost by 5,284 in East Lothian
Peter Chapman lost by 6,683 in Banffshire
Dean Lockhart lost by 6,718 in Stirling
*Alexander Stewart lost by 7,232 in Clackmannanshire
*Donald Cameron lost by 7,721 in Argyll
*Maurice Corry lost by 8,631 in Dumbarton
Jamie Greene lost by 8,724 in Cunninghame North
*Margaret Mitchell lost by 9,655 in Hamilton
*Maurice Golden lost by 10,129 in Clydebank
Murdo Fraser lost by 10,353 in Perthshire North
*Jeremy Balfour lost by 10,681 in Midlothian
Edward Mountain lost by 10,857 in Inverness
*Adam Tomkins lost by 10,950 in Anniesland
*Annie Wells lost by 11,078 in Provan
Liam Kerr lost by 11,630 in Donside
*Graham Simpson lost by 12,099 in East Kilbride
*Alison Harris lost by 12,383 in Falkirk West
*Brian Whittle lost by 12,450 in Kilmarnock
*Ken Macintosh lost by 1,851 in Eastwood
Alex Rowley lost by 3,041 in Cowdenbeath
Rhoda Grant lost by 3,496 in the Western Isles
James Kelly lost by 3,743 in Rutherglen
Elaine Smith lost by 3,779 in Coatbridge
Lewis Macdonald lost by 4,349 in Aberdeen
Kezia Dugdale lost by 5,087 in Edinburgh Eastern
Neil Bibby lost by 5,199 in Paisley
Richard Leonard lost by 6,192 in Airdrie
Johann Lamont lost by 6,482 in Pollok
Claire Baker lost by 7,395 in Kirkcaldy
*Mary Fee lost by 7,474 in Renfrewshire North
*Claudia Beamish by 7,826 in Clydesdale
Neil Findlay lost by 8,393 in Almond Valley
Jenny Marra lost by 8,828 in Dundee West
Mark Griffin lost by 9,478 in Cumbernauld
*David Stewart lost by 11,786 votes in Inverness
**Alison Johnstone lost by 5,755 in Edinburgh Central
Patrick Harvie lost by 4,048 in Glasgow Kelvin
LIBERAL DEMOCRATS (1)
*Mike Rumbles lost by 6,138 in Aberdeenshire West