LOCKDOWN has started easing again and the vaccine roll-out is progressing wonderfully, but that does not mean the virus is gone. Covid-19 is still dangerous. Please be careful when you are out and about and follow the government guidance.

The end of the pandemic is approaching, and the recovery is hopefully beginning. I can’t help but think it would be heartbreaking for anyone to have made it this far through the nightmare to get careless at the last hurdle. Please be safe.

A poll came out this week that showed the SNP achieving a slim majority at the upcoming Scottish Parliament election. It has been clear for a very long time now, that securing an SNP majority is the most likely way of ensuring we can hold a referendum on independence in the near future.

But as is the case every time there’s a Scottish election, there’s a lot of talk about people giving their second vote to other parties.

As most will be aware, the Scottish Parliament was specifically designed to make it highly unlikely that any political party could achieve a majority. The idea is that it is better for governments to have to work with other parties in order to get any legislation passed.

The only time in the history of the Scottish Parliament that anyone has achieved a majority was the SNP in 2011. It was this majority which meant Westminster could no longer ignore the desire of the people in Scotland to hold a referendum on independence.

The SNP achieved that majority precisely because most of those who voted SNP on the first ballot also voted SNP on the second. The reason the SNP failed to achieve a majority in 2016 is because fewer people gave their vote to the party on the second ballot.

This is where it is important to know exactly how each ballot works. Both votes are equally valid, they are only counted differently.

The first ballot is based on “first past the post” like Westminster elections – whoever gets the most votes in a constituency wins that seat. The second ballot uses a mathematical formula to assign political parties with the proportional number of seats in each of the eight regions. The formula is that the number of votes a party receives on the second ballot is divided by the number of constituency seats they won on the first ballot, plus one.

In an overly simplistic example, imagine a region where the SNP have already won a seat on the first ballot and have received 100,000 votes on the second ballot. Labour received 40,000, on the second ballot and the Conservatives received 20,000 votes. Using the mathematical formula, the SNP’s 100,000 would be divided by two (the number of constituency seats won +1) leaving them with 50,000 votes.

Labour’s 40,000 would be divided by one leaving them with their 40,000 votes and similarly the Conservatives with their 20,000 votes. In this scenario the SNP would still win a seat because the number of SNP votes (50,000) still exceeds that of the other parties, despite being halved. This process continues until all of the seats in a region have been distributed.

Now imagine instead the SNP achieved 70,000 votes in the above example – 70,000 divided by two would leave the SNP with 35,000 votes. Labour would win the seat as their 40,000 votes exceed the SNP’s 35,000 votes.

This is where I am frustrated when people try to portray any vote as wasted, particularly in an election with proportional representation. They are not wasted; they give your party a head start and will add to the overall result.

The reason tactical voting rarely works is because it relies on knowing exactly what huge swathes of people are going to do when their ballots are in front of them. It is particularly ineffective when you try to game a system specifically designed to provide proportional representation.

Any talk of an independence “super-majority” neglects to appreciate that we have had a pro-independence majority in Holyrood since 2016.

We know that Westminster will hide behind any excuse in order to prevent us having another referendum. From their point of view, they are basically saying, “you set the bar in 2011, let’s see if you can meet it again”. We can argue over how credible that Westminster argument is, but it is the reality of where we currently are.

If we can replicate the 2011 Scottish election result then Westminster, and more importantly the international community, will have no reason to deny us another referendum, even by their own logic.

It’s not just that trying to game the system doesn’t work, it’s simpler than that.

The problem with lending your second vote elsewhere for tactical reasons, is it ignores the most fundamental thing about voting: you should vote the party that represents your views.

If the SNP, with a clear plan to hold an independence referendum, is what you want, then vote for it. If you believe in the vision the Scottish Greens pursue, then vote for it. If it is one of the other parties then vote for them.

But going to the polling station and treating your list vote as some sort of game that can be rigged will not result in any winners, only losers.