On Elections

How people elect parliaments

Scottish teenagers choose between leading women

The Scottish Parliament is being elected today, and voters aged 16 and 17 are taking part.

Scotland’s independent parliament is part of the regionalised United Kingdom political system, which in addition to the national House of Commons in London has independent parliaments – and governments – in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as a powerful Greater London Authority led by the directly elected Mayor of London.

Today marks the 5th elections in Scotland, Wales and London since the regional government system was established in 1999.

The Scottish Parliament recently changed the voting law to allow 16-year olds to vote, initially in the September 2014 referendum on independence for Scotland.

The change was introduced by the governing Scottish National Party (SNP) and supported by the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and Greens, but not by the Conservative party.

Voting by 16-year olds did not apply in the national elections in May 2015, but has since been legislated to apply to all Scottish Parliament elections.

A young Scot who turned 16 in August 2014 could therefore have voted in the 2014 independence referendum, would then have been excluded from the 2015 national vote, but – still aged 17 – could vote again today for the Scottish Parliament.

An estimated 120,000 16- and 17-year olds were added to the roll at the 2014 change.

Young Scottish voters will also start their electoral careers with a modern perspective on the leading role of women in politics. At today’s election the three main political parties are all led by women, with SNP Leader and sitting First Minister Nicola Sturgeon facing Labour leader Kezia Dugdale and Conservative leader Ruth Davidson.

image - Holyrood chamber

The modern parliamentary chamber of the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, Edinburgh (image: Wikipedia commons)

The Scottish Parliament is elected by an unusual two-part system, consisting of 73 local constituencies topped up by 56 seats allocated in 8 regions to party lists.

The proportional formula for the list-seat allocation uses a second ballot, separate from the ballot voters cast for the local constituencies. However the number of local seats directly won is taken into account by the formula, so that in each region the total number of seats of both types is proportional to the number of party list votes won by each party. The eight regional results are then aggregated to form the whole parliament.

Since individual candidates can be named on the regional party list as well as nominate for a local constituency, the system can guarantee some politicians a seat in parliament even if they lose in their constituency. In effect, politicians who have a prominent position on their party list are ‘zombie candidates’ (i.e.: you can’t kill them!) who cannot be voted out by the electorate on the basis of poor performance.

At the last election in 2011 the SNP won a narrow majority of 69 seats in the 129-seat Parliament.

All recent polling suggests that the SNP will retail power. Polls show the SNP winning at least 45% of the vote, with Labour just above 20% and the Conservatives just below 20%.

The narrow defeat of the independence referendum in September 2014 was a turning point in Scottish politics, with support for the SNP – the only major party to back independence – since rising sharply at the expense of the Labour party.

The effect of this shift on numbers in the parliament could be significant, as the SNP is expected to win heavily in the constituency seats which are decided using the first-past-the-post voting method.

The outcome would be an exaggerated number of SNP seats, and Labour, Conservative and minor party opposition teams – smaller than their proportional vote share – made up almost entirely of members chosen from the party lists.


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This entry was posted on May 6, 2016 by in Election results, MMP/British AMS, Scotland, United Kingdom.
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