Election explained: Why do more Scots vote in Westminster elections?

Holyrood has always lagged behind Westminster when it comes to voter turnout
Holyrood has always lagged behind Westminster when it comes to voter turnout
Share this article
0
Have your say

Scots consistently vote in higher numbers at Westminster elections than those for the Scottish Parliament.

That remains as much the case today as did 20 years ago at the inaugural Holyrood elections, which attracted a turnout of 59.1 per cent - which has never been matched since.

This fell to just 50.4 per cent when the SNP won its majority in 2011 - while the Westminster election the year before has a turnout of 63.8 per cent in Scotland. And while turnout rose to 55.6% in the last Scottish Parliament election in 2016, this compares with a 71.1 per cent turnout in 2015 north of the border at the Westminster vote - and 66.4% two years ago.

It comes despite claims by many that the Scottish Parliament is now the centre of political and civic life in Scotland, which most voters north of the border naturally turn to as the assembly which best reflects the nation's interests.

READ MORE: Pro-Union tactical voting guide launched to thwart SNP

Sowhy is the turnout consistently higher when Scots select their MPs rather than MSPs?

MEDIA PROFILE

Westminster elections command an all-encompassing coverage and interest from the UK national media which Holyrood votes simply cannot compete with. The daily diet of election specials news and magazine-style specials across all the broadcasters and in-depth analysis bring an intensity which Scottish Parliament votes alone struggle to compete with. The rise of interests in TV leaders debates, such as the clashes witnessed last week, has only served to pique the public interest. Although the Scottish leaders do debate each other in Holyrood votes, they don't have that same "across the board" coverage on all broadcasters which accompany a general election.

CAMPAIGN SPENDING

The campaigning drives of particularly the two main UK parties, the Tories and Labour, is very much focused on the Westminster election cycle. This is most obviously reflected in the tens of millions of pounds which are spend on advertising and campaign activity to target voters at for a general election compared with a Scottish Parliament vote. The last Westminster election more than £40 million spent by the parties on campaigning, with the Tories splashing out £18.5 million and Labour spent £1 million. The Liberals Democrats spent £6.8 million and the SNP devoted £1.6 million to campaigning. This compares to the 2016 Scottish Parliament election when the Tories spent just £979,000 and Labour spent £338,000 and even the SNP's spend fell slightly to £1.4 million. The greater spend is only to be expected for a UK-wide campaign, but much of it will still reach Scots through increasingly sophisticated media campaigns, which not only target the traditional broadcast and newspaper platforms, but also newer social media like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat which can often offer greater penetration.


THE VOTING SYSTEM


For all the critics of the Westminster's "first-past-the-post" constituency based voting system It is relatively easy to understand. The winner in each constituency becomes an MP and the party with a majority of MPs becomes the Government.


Holyrood's additional members system sees Scots cast two votes. One of these is for a "first-past-the-post" process, and a second for a "proportional representation" regional vote aimed at making the system more representative. But studies of the early Holyrood elections showed that many Scots find the set-up confusing. Faith in the system was also shaken by the debacle of 2007 which saw thousands of votes spoiled over a disastrous move to introduce a new design of ballot paper for the parliament vote and a new number voting system for the council seats which prompted widespread confusion. It also emerged that tens of thousands of votes for Holyrood that year were also rejected by electronic counting machines without any human adjudication.


VOTERS DON'T KNOW WHAT HOLYROOD DOES


Holyrood has always had significant devolved powers which sees the Scottish Government hold responsibility for education, the NHS, transport and most of the justice and legal system north of the border. Sweeping new controls have also been handed to MSPs in recent years in the aftermath of the independence referendum covering income tax rates and bands and much of the welfare. However, research has shown that most Scots are not aware of the areas which Holyrood controls and those which remain reserved to Westminster. And while Westminster retains authority in key areas like the defence of the realm, foreign affairs and the economy, it may foster a notion that Holyrood is something of a junior partner.


HISTORY


Holyrood is still in its infancy as a plebiscite of the people with just five elections having been staged in its two decades of existence. Nationalists have high ambitions of it one day being the Parliament of independent Scotland if Scots vote in a second referendum to leave the UK. It has passed some groundbreaking legislation covering land reform, free personal care, the smoking ban and just recently the smacking ban. But Westminster has a history stretching back centuries and hailed by some as the "mother of Parliaments." It remains an iconic global site, enjoys a grandeur which can seduce the world's most important leaders. It has survived civil war in the 1600s, transformed itself from an English Parliament to a UK-wide institution after the union and provided the platform for Churchill's oratorial rousing of the nation to stand firm against fascism in the war. Set against this perspective, it's perhaps understandable why some still see Holyrood is still playing catch-up