Scottish Election: What Happens to my Vote?

Before the last Scottish election, I wrote this to explain  how your votes actually count in the Scottish Parliament, and I thought it worth sharing again. It’s possible the constituency numbers may have changed, but the method is the same. Please forgive the multiple references to the AV referendum, which seems like a lifetime ago now…

With all this talk of AV, I’d forgotten how the Scottish Parliament Election works. It’s a bit complicated, so I thought it worth explaining in case you didn’t understand.

During this election, 129 MSPs will be elected. Of these, 73 will be “constituency” MSPs and 56 will be “regional” MSPs.

Scotland is divided into 73 constituencies. These in turn are grouped into 8 regions. When you come to the ballot, you have two votes, the first for your constituency, and the second for your region (there is also the AV referendum, but I’ll not worry about that here).

For the constituency election, it’s a First Past the Post system, that is, the candidate with the most votes in the constituency wins (I don’t believe AV will be brought in to Scottish Elections if voters choose it for Westminster on May 5th).

The regional vote is a lot more complicated. Instead of voting for one candidate, you vote for a party (or possibly an independent candidate): the results are calculated on a Proportional Representation basis (taking into account who has won the constituency seats) to determine who gets the 7 remaining regional seats.

It works as follows: the winner of the first seat is the party who gets the most votes when every party’s regional vote is decided by the number of constituency seats they obtained, plus one (lest we end up dividing by zero). The winner of the second seat is the party who gets the  most votes when every party’s regional vote is decided by the number of constituency seats they obtained, plus one, except for the party that won the previous seat, gets their number of votes divided by the number of constituency seats, plus two (to account for the extra regional seat).

As an example, in the Lothians region in the last election, the number of constituency seats obtained by parties was:

Labour 4

Lib Dem 2

SNP 2

Conservative 1

And the regional votes (only top 7 parties shown):

SNP 76 019

Labour 75 495

Conservative 37 548

Lib Dem 36 517

Green 20 147

Margo MacDonald (independent) 19 256

Senior Citizens 4 176

So for the first seat, the modified results are:

SNP 76019/3 = 25369

Labour 75495/5= 15099

Conservative 37548/2= 18774

Lib Dem 36517/3 =12712

Green 20147/1=20147

M MacDonald 19256/1 =19256

Senior Citizens 4176/1=4176

So the first seat is awarded to the SNP. The second round gives:

SNP 76019/4 = 19027

Labour 75495/5= 15099

Conservative 37548/2= 18774

Lib Dem 36517/3 =12712

Green 20147/1=20147

M MacDonald 19256/1 =19256

Senior Citizens 4176/1=4176

Giving the Green party the second seat. The third round:

SNP 76019/4 = 19027

Labour 75495/5= 15099

Conservative 37548/2= 18774

Lib Dem 36517/3 =12712

Green 20147/2=10073

M MacDonald 19256/1 =19256

Senior Citizens 4176/1=4176

Giving M MacDonald the third seat. Since she is an independent, she will no longer be considered. The fourth round:

SNP 76019/4 = 19027

Labour 75495/5= 15099

Conservative 37548/2= 18774

Lib Dem 36517/3 =12712

Green 20147/2=10073

Senior Citizens 4176/1=4176

Gives another seat to the SNP, while the fifth round:

SNP 76019/5 = 15221

Labour 75495/5= 15099

Conservative 37548/2= 18774

Lib Dem 36517/3 =12712

Green 20147/2=10073

Senior Citizens 4176/1=4176

Gets the Conservatives a seat.

Finally, the sixth and seventh rounds:

SNP 76019/5 = 15221, 760195/6=12684

Labour 75495/5= 15099

Conservative 37548/3= 12516

Lib Dem 36517/3 =12712

Green 20147/2=10073

Senior Citizens 4176/1=4176

gave the last two seats to the SNP and Labour respectively.

This means that the total distribution of seats was as follows:

SNP 5

Labour 5

Lib Dem 2

Conservative 2

Green 1

M MacDonald 1

Which just about corresponds to the proportion of votes.

This can create some results which may look a bit strange: for example, the Labour party is very strong in Glasgow, and they won 9 out of the 10 constituency seats, but won no Regional seats despite coming top of the regional poll by some way. Again, though, the total number of seats won was about proportional (results here).

I hope that was informative!

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