TACTICAL voting for independence is a complicated subject with many factors involved. But first it is necessary to understand how voting for Holyrood works. Apologies to those who already understand this, but it sets the scene.

There are 129 MSPs in total, 73 constituency MSPs, “topped up” by eight regions each with seven MSPs. The system was designed to minimise the likelihood of any one party gaining a substantial majority as often happens at Westminster. This was intended to give the advantage of ensuring that as many opinions as possible have a parliamentary representation in principle to achieve a greater degree of compromise rather than “yah-boo” division, which we see and experience at Westminster. So, the first vote is for your preferred constituency candidate, and the second is effectively a preference for the party of government.

The list candidates are selected based on the number of votes they receive. The concept of constituency and list was devised to allow smaller parties a parliamentary voice, require collegiate compromise in legislation, and assumed that people would vote for a different party on each ballot slip.

As we all know, we have lots of ideals which cannot be realised without independence in the first place. Tactical voting therefore should be devised around maximising the MSPs who are in the party that is best able to deliver independence. It is a fact of Westminster life that they refuse to see things if they aren’t on single party lines and any suggestion that there is not a majority in favour of a particular party and its manifesto then any requests, complaints and so on are just ignored. As we have experienced even with a majority independence mandate as we currently have at Holyrood. Unionists will only therefore however grudgingly respect a party majority mandate. Sadly, legally and constitutionally Westminster still holds sway and therefore anything we do has to take account of that unsavoury fact.

If, and only if, we can predict in advance that the SNP will gain statistically significantly more than 67, ideally 70 or more constituency seats – in other words, virtually all of them – tactical voting for minor parties will work without detriment. This, with the best will in the world and activists’ wishful thinking, is highly unlikely – there are too many undecided voters to achieve certainty. This means our second votes become very important. If we achieve these constituency numbers then independence-supporting list candidates are the icing on the cake regardless of party, but the likelihood is that that to achieve a SNP majority we have to gain as many list seats as possible to complement those of constituencies. We cannot do this if we split the list vote. Tactical voting when the level of support for the various parties is in effect unknown is a gamble, and in negotiations with Westminster a single unified voice will be essential, otherwise there will be gaps for them to exploit.

On the list, while candidates are named – and usually those competing for the constituency will also have a reserve list position and top their party list – remember it is the party that is being voted for, not a specific person, unless of course they are the only representative of their party. This illustrates an important and not often considered issue, in that there may be several parties with similar manifestos or manifesto elements that a voter agrees with. In this case the multiplicity of parties with similar aims will split the list vote, as would an independence-supporting independent candidate for the constituency. Therefore the multiplicity of new independence parties will harm the cause of the overall objective.

It is important to remember also that while the smaller parties, Greens in particular, support independence, achievement of their goals is predicated on being independent. Indeed the social aims espoused by the Labour and Socialist parties are in a similar position, and they will be far more likely to achieve a social Scotland than could ever be achieved as part of the UK. Despite the inflammatory label “Tartan Tories”, the SNP is actually a broad socialist party.

Unionist-based support for tactical voting is designed to split and fragment our cause, as does their promotion of internal arguments and divisions. The Empire motto of “divide and conquer” still resonates today. The only practical route to independence is a negotiated and peaceful one and that also means a unified single representative voice. It does not mean that the various smaller parties and their various usually worthwhile aims lose. They need independence to achieve their aspirations, which means independence is the key and has to be achieved first. Nobody can win the World Cup without first qualifying!

To sum up. “Both votes SNP” maximises the likelihood of gaining a working majority at Holyrood. While sadly it does mean that the smaller parties with very worthwhile manifesto aims will possibly lose votes this time round, their broader objectives can only be met in the medium- to long-term by allowing the SNP a working majority, enabling them to act with greater authority with Westminster. Another thing to bear in mind is that the specific aims of the smaller parties are often included in most party manifestos anyway, and after independence we can vote for who we like. Not voting Green, for example, does not mean their aspirations are not desired. Without independence all the lofty ideals can never be realised except at the unlikely whim of the self-interested, oligarch-driven Westminster. While it seems that this is a plea for everyone to vote SNP regardless, we have to bear in mind the overall goal of independence, without which we are back to square one, and like it or not the SNP are the only party that can deliver.

Nick Cole

Meigle, Perthshire