EUROPEAN elections might soon set the heather alight across Britain for the first time in living memory.

As I write, the EU27’s final decision on Theresa May’s embarrassing (though vital) extension-grovel is still unknown. But the odds are on that Britain will get more time to let the main Westminster parties come up with a Brexit solution or – more likely – prevaricate and bicker until the next “non-negotiable” deadline.


The real opportunity of the Euro poll is that Scots can make a clear statement of our own distinctive political preferences – and though it feels like we’ve been doing that without tangible effect since time immemorial, the yawning gap between “Leave” England and “Remain” Scotland is now the most potent, relevant and easily demonstrated indicator of national difference.

That matters to European leaders who might soon consider a membership application from an independent Scotland and it matters to swithering No voters here. So the Euro elections – if they are held – should be a priority for Yessers in a way they never have been before.

The question is how to make the most of them.

Last time, in 2014 just before the indyref, Scots elected six MEPs – two SNP, two Labour and one Tory. All eyes turned to the allocation of the final seat and to the horror and surprise of many progressive Scots it went to Ukip’s David Coburn instead of the Scottish Greens’ Maggie Chapman. Coburn won by 32,229 votes – not a big margin in the great scheme of things – but the SNP won their two seats quite comfortably, prompting some to suggest that SNP voters hadn’t supported the Greens enough and vice versa. Of course, it’s always easy to see how votes could have been cast more profitably in hindsight.

READ MORE: Theresa May could cling on for up to a year as Brexit drags on

But can Yessers strategise to get three or more pro-independence MEPs elected this time – or could the pro-EU/Yes vote fall between two stools again? There isn’t a clear answer – partly because of voter intransigence (more later) but mostly because of a Westminster-imposed electoral system that doesn’t let voters transfer preferences as we’ve grown accustomed to doing in local government elections using the single transferable vote (STV).

Instead the European elections deploy the D’Hondt system which lets folk vote for just one party, and then that’s it.

As a result, last time around folk who might have voted Green were put off by the worry it might be a wasted vote – not enough to elect a Green MEP but enough to deprive the independence-supporting SNP of a third or even a second MEP. So many played it safe and the result was David Coburn.

Anoraks will know that the Additional Member System for Holyrood elections also uses the D’Hondt system for allocating members in the list section. It’s not ideal (in my opinion) but folk like to have constituency MSPs (meaning there’s less push for STV); its possible to “split” votes between the constituency and list (effectively having a second preference of sorts) and until recently Westminster controlled the whole shebang.

But according to Willie Sullivan of the Electoral Reform Society Scotland:: “Scotland has one single constituency for European elections rather than individual seats, so there’s no argument for not using a more proportional system like STV.”


Indeed, proof positive that D’Hondt isn’t really representative enough for European elections comes from Northern Ireland where STV is used – which suggests the unfair D’Hondt system tolerated on the mainland is too dodgy to use in volatile NI.

But in Scotland – and perhaps in six weeks’ time – Yes and Remain supporting Scottish voters face a stark choice.

Voting SNP or Green. One party or the other.

Doubtless, voters will look at opinion polls and try to second guess the system – but that’s well nigh impossible given its complexity and the unreliability of opinion polls.

At the moment the SNP is in a relatively strong position. But recent pro-indy interventions by co-convenor Patrick Harvie and the presence of Chapman and Peter McColl on the Scottish Independence Convention have persuaded doubters that a vote for the Scottish Greens really is another indy vote.

The National:

Meanwhile the Tories and Labour have taken a hammering at Scottish and UK level  and new parties are likely to run which may eat into their support. It’s not clear if the Tiggers will field candidates in Scotland but it’s probable a second pro-Brexit party will stand.

That might make things tougher for Coburn – presumably running for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party this time after quitting Ukip. He may face a Ukip rival in May but somehow he did see off candidates from Britain First, the BNP and No2EU last time around.

READ MORE: Patrick Harvie says Greens will fight to oust David Coburn in European elections

So it ain’t a slam-dunk.

Turnout is another vital factor. Last time only 36% of the UK electorate actually voted. Scotland was worse, with a 33.5% turnout – an improvement on 2009 when only 28.5% cast their votes. It’s not so much better elsewhere – the EU average was 43%.

That’s bound to be different this time – but different enough? And which stay-away voters from 2014 will turn out and vote this time? Leavers, Remainers or both?

The picture is further complicated by the situation facing EU nationals who believed the UK would have Brexited by now and therefore registered to vote in their countries of origin rather than the UK. In all probability then, most of the 209,000 EU nationals living in Scotland may be missing from the next EU poll. Which will doubtless impact on the 2019 result.

So how should Yessers vote?

Obviously, if you’re a card-carrying member of the Greens or SNP, the choice will be pretty easy. Even if your vote might be “wasted”, you’ll still vote for the party you’ve joined. For a large number of independence supporters, though, it’s harder to call.

So here’s a thought about what shouldn’t happen. There shouldn’t be any attempt to stop folk voting for the Greens on the grounds that the SNP somehow deserve the votes more, or are entitled to the support of every Yesser even if they prefer Green policies on the climate, air quality, local power or land reform.

I realise it just looks sensible for the little guys to give way if the electoral system isn’t sophisticated enough to allow citizens to transfer their votes. It just happens to be undemocratic. Votes are attached to people – they don’t float free in the electoral ether to be reallocated by some Indy Voting Wizard. Many folk already worry the SNP has become too big, too presumptuous and a bit tired on the domestic policy front.

Where is the real opposition coming from? It’s not the Tories, Labour or LibDems – it’s the Scottish Greens. I’ve spoken to lots of Yessers who favour a hung parliament next time around with the Greens stiffening the SNP’s resolve on many issues including an early date for indyref2 – but hesitate to say this aloud for fear of offending SNP friends. Enough already.

If we are not to wind up like the stultified electorate south of the Border – half of whom are so scunnered with their broken democracy that they long for “a strong ruler willing to break the rules” – we must embrace diversity, change voting systems to more accurately reflect it, banish the merest sniff of entitlement and encourage Scots to back the people and policies they really believe in.

So on May 23 – if we get the chance – let’s have a vigorous debate about the future of Scotland and Europe – not a dutiful ticking of boxes.

Lesley produces a podcast every Monday with Pat Joyce via