The once-hallowed concept of providing proportionality in the outcome of voters’ intentions is, thanks to Alex Salmond, being put to the sword. The practice of compensating those hundreds of thousands of “wasted” constituency votes that did not deliver an MSP being compensated by a list member has been thrown to the wolves.
Instead we are likely to see the majority of nationalist voters having two votes that mean something while unionist voters will have two votes that mean nothing. This shall be the mother of all democratic deficits. Salmond’s new party is literally anti-democratic.
The likely outcomes? Attacked by its everyday opponents for a horrific record of public service deterioration that would result in any other government being shown the door by an unhappy electorate, the SNP will now also be repeatedly outflanked as separatist-lite – unwilling to take steps to hold an illegal secessionist plebiscite.
I fully expect Alba to gain representation in enough number to cause unpredictability and merry hell at Holyrood. In 2016 the SNP regional list vote was 42 per cent, but due to the intentional counterbalance that succeeds in delivering a level of proportionality closer to the constituency vote share only four SNP MSPs were elected from the lists.
With Alba representing the SNP MkII option it only needs to gain a mere fifth of those SNP list votes to have 8.4 per cent of the list votes and probably have an MSP in every one of the eight regions. Taking a third of the SNP’s list vote would see it move into double figures of MSPs.
Whichever of those scenarios deliver there is every opportunity for Alba to become the new King or Queen-makers, replacing the Greens in that role, who are likely to pay the price for prostituting themselves as a woke independence campaign, rather than an environmental movement. In that latter respect few tears shall be shed except in some fusty student dorms and unisex changing rooms.
The prospect for any SNP candidate ranked second on its regional lists – such as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon – is zero. Were Labour’s Anas Sarwar to win her seat in Glasgow Southside the SNP leadership would become unemployed.
Indeed those of a nationalist bent wishing to change the SNP leadership could sit on their hands for the constituency vote and only vote for Alba in the lists knowing that if the SNP gains a list seat in compensation it is unlikely to be any of the leadership. It would not surprise me if some are already anticipating doing that.
Alex Salmond says he is backing Nicola Sturgeon for First Minister but that is only half the story. He shall undoubtedly have a price for such support and it could be a cost that she is unwilling to pay.
Ideas such as the immediate dismissal of Peter Murrell as CEO of the SNP, the firing of the Permanent Secretary Lesley Evans and a reposting for Sturgeon’s Chief of staff Liz Lloyd to the equivalent of Siberian salt mines are just three visions appearing in my imaginary crystal ball.
For the main union-supporting parties the ramifications of Alba are also very uncomfortable. If the votes pile up as the polls currently suggest (and it is early days yet) then both the Conservatives and Labour will takes modest losses from an already modest position. Their best prospect will, as before, be in the regional lists but Alba will likely eat into their MSP allocation as well as that of the Greens. Consequently, the ability of the pro-UK parties to hold any SNP government to account and have it take responsibility for its many failings will become far weaker.
The prospect for the Scottish people having an effective opposition able to give a voice to minority (or in many cases majority) views will evaporate on the night of 6 May. Dark clouds loom. Scotland could become a one party state except for the colour of the nationalist rosettes.
To alleviate such an outcome the opposition parties have to seek a formal arrangement before the close of nominations on Wednesday at 4.00pm to not stand in constituencies where in the past they have not polled more than, say, five-ten per cent – or an informal understanding after that date to at least not campaign in such seats (a much less effective approach as this campaign more than any other shall be dominated by the broadcast and social media air war than the canvassing and leafleting ground war).
The offer of coming together to at least discuss such a prospect by Conservative leader Douglas Ross had all the hallmarks of having being designed to fail. Instead of flagging his priority to save the union he should have used his rivals’ desire for a Covid-recovery plan. This would have left Labour and the Lib Dems looking stupid in refusing to come to the table in a time of emergency.
As it now stands the one thing that is certain that Alba’s arrival has demonstrated is the long overdue need to reform the Scottish Parliament’s lack of checks and balances. Its committees are mostly docile and toothless. Its voting system can and will be gamed so its intended proportionality is abandoned to the point of obscenity. If ever there is a democratic deficit it shall be as a result of this election.
Meanwhile no-one’s talking about the economy or education. Thank you Alex Salmond. A splendid job. How democratic of you.
Brian Monteith is editor of ThinkScotland.org and served in the Scottish and European Parliaments for the Conservative and Brexit Parties respectively