Scottish election 2021: How independence question is having a distorting effect on democracy – Scotsman comment

Tactical voting has almost certainly existed for as long as democracy itself.

And attempting to stop a candidate or party – rather than choosing the one you prefer, with an eye on how others will cast their ballots – can be a legitimate stance to take, particularly when the stakes are especially high.

The Scottish Conservatives clearly thought so and made an overt plea to unionist voters who had never voted Tory before to do so in Thursday’s Scottish Parliament election, arguing that they were the best-placed party to prevent a nationalist majority and the prospect of a second independence referendum.

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As we wait to discover the full results, there are signs this may have been at least a partially effective strategy with big increases in the Conservatives’ share of the vote in Aberdeen Donside and also the Banff and Buchan Coast seat, although both were held by the SNP.

However, in the long-term, the risk of widespread tactical voting is that we end up with elected representatives who are our least-worst option, rather than the best.

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Opposition parties have long complained that the SNP can rely on support for independence to obscure their record on, for example, education, the economy and drug deaths.

The Conservatives need to do more than use unionism in the same way and would do well to avoid the mistake of starting to view tactical votes as a sign of support for their wider manifesto.

Counting gets underway for the Inverness and Nairn constituency and regional votes (Picture: Paul Campbell/Getty Images)

Ahead of this election, Labour, in particular, sought to turn the focus on ‘domestic’ issues, but their pleas seem to have had only a marginal effect on their share of the vote. For many people, the independence question is one where the stakes are just too high to ignore.

But, ultimately, our lives will be made better or worse by the kind of bread-and-butter issues that are currently being sidelined.

The distortion of Scotland’s politics by what some have wearily dubbed the “neverendum” campaign looks set to continue.

It is up to the electorate how long this will last but, in the meantime, we need to demand more from our politicians than merely to declare themselves champions of unionism or independence.

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