Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross's anti-SNP tactical voting plan risks distorting the 'will of the people' – Scotsman comment
But Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross’s suggestion that people should vote tactically to unseat SNP MPs at the next general election has raised an issue that continues to dog British politics, while also kicking off an almighty row within his party.
Tactical voting has its place. If you have strong reasons to believe your preferred candidate stands little chance, then it does make sense to back the ‘least worst option’ to prevent one with whom you profoundly disagree from being elected.
Recent Scottish elections have seen unionist voters – normally split between Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats – rally in support of the strongest contender to beat the SNP, which has benefitted electorally from being the main party of independence. Three separate nationalist parties of similar size competing against one unionist party would have produced radically different election results.
However, there is a serious problem with tactical voting, particularly over prolonged periods. If too many people end up backing their second-favourite candidate, then it seems obvious that public discontent with the resulting governments will grow. A Labour supporter who follows Ross’s suggestion and backs a Tory candidate to oust an SNP MP, is unlikely to be delighted by five years of Conservative government in Westminster – and vice versa.
Writing in The Scotsman last year, after the Wakefield and Tiverton & Honiton by-elections saw significant tactical voting against Boris Johnson-era Conservative candidates, Willie Sullivan, of the Electoral Reform Society, said that “tactical voting is an inevitable symptom of our failing first-past-the-post system used for Westminster elections”. “As voters are given just one preference and only one candidate can become the MP in each constituency, votes for all the other candidates go to waste. This all-or-nothing system means that voters have to choose between voting with their hearts or working around the system…,” he argued.
Many of us will have voted tactically, and it is our choice to make. However, politicians, for all their good intentions, should be wary about promoting it because of the resulting distortion of the 'will of the people’. It is often said that we “get what we vote for”, but if that’s not what we actually want, there’s bound to be trouble eventually.
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