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Wings Over Scotland

The referee’s a Mason

Posted on November 16, 2011 by

Professor John Curtice, a psephologist at Strathclyde University and the Scottish media's go-to guy for all political analysis, is often attacked by "cybernats" for alleged partiality in favour of Labour. This blog sighs in despair whenever online nationalists automatically scream "Biased!" at anyone who doesn't come onscreen in a kilt and Jimmy hat singing "Flower Of Scotland", but it has to be said that Prof. Curtice has done himself no favours at all this week.

As co-author of a report published yesterday by the Electoral Reform Society Scotland, the good professor has launched what the Scotsman today calls a "strongly worded attack" on Holyrood's proportional electoral system, under which the SNP won a majority of seats (53%) on 45% of the vote. As we noted yesterday, it's odd that the ERSS has chosen now to demand changes to the system, given that when Labour/Lib Dem coalitions had Holyrood majorities in 1999 and 2003, they also commanded less than 50% of the vote (45.5% between them in 2003, 49.5% in 1999), and nobody seemed to have a problem with that.

Now, to be fair to Prof. Curtice, the Scotsman does put words in his mouth, in their characteristic manner. The headline of the piece claims that the report brands the Holyrood system "a failure" (a description which we can't find anywhere in it) and also asserts that the report demands the system "should be changed to prevent one party winning an overall majority", which is something of an exaggeration – Curtice only actually says that the objective of the proposed changes is to make a majority "more difficult", not impossible.

But by fronting such a suspiciously-timed report, the Professor and the ERSS have allowed their credibility to be undermined by exactly the sort of distortion the Unionist media specialises in, and in doing so have left themselves dreadfully open to allegations of political colour. The society claims their motivation is honourable, and aimed only at promoting a fuller range of political views:

"We are convinced our democracy would work better with more parties in the system, so that more voices are represented and heard and that power is shared, checked and balanced."

…but the current method of electing the Scottish Parliament is perfectly capable of delivering that – in 2003, for example, the Greens got 7 seats, the Scottish Socialists won 6 seats and two independents also secured seats, those three groups between them providing almost 12% of the Parliament's MSPs. (For comparison, imagine the UK Parliament having 78 MPs from outwith the three main parties – the actual number is 28, with only one of those representing an English constituency.)

The simple fact is, the electorate could have elected a wider range of MSPs if they'd wanted to, as they have done in the past. Instead, they overwhelmingly chose the SNP. That's democracy, because in practice almost no democracy on Earth is perfectly proportional. This blog has no objections to bringing the Scottish Parliament closer to that ideal, but it's decidedly odd that supposedly neutral organisations like the ERSS didn't feel the need to suddenly press for it until the SNP won a majority.

We're absolutely confident, however, that the author of the above quote – the society's director Willie Sullivan – also being a Labour councillor in his day job (a fact the Scotsman inexplicably neglects to mention) is entirely coincidental.


PS The replacement PR method proposed by the ERSS report is one devised by the French mathematician André Sainte-Laguë. His most famous work is the calculation that it was scientifically impossible for bumblebees to be able to fly.

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1 to “The referee’s a Mason”

  1. An Duine Gruamach says:

    Cannae whack that for neutrality, eh?  I guess this is what Gerry Hassan means when he talks about the Labour State.

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