ON Thursday, the SNP took 48% of the vote on the constituency ballot – an all-time high for any party in a Scottish Parliament election. Why, then, did they narrowly fail to win an overall majority, given that we know from the 2011 experience that a majority is perfectly possible under the voting system?

The simplest explanation is that, ultimately, the list vote is the more important vote, and by that measure this election was not the SNP’s best showing since devolution – it was only their third-best. It’s true they could have circumvented that disadvantage by doing even better in the constituencies – if they had taken Dumbarton from Labour or Eastwood from the Conservatives, they would have “broken the system” and achieved a majority in spite of the reduction in their list vote.

But in retrospect it was always a long shot to do it that way, given the scale of Unionist tactical voting in the key marginals.

While the arithmetical explanation for missing a majority is the SNP’s raw vote share on the list, the more political explanation is that an unprecedented gap has opened up between the party’s constituency vote and list vote. In 2011, there was practically no gap at all, but this time the SNP did 7.4% better on the constituency vote than on the list.

If the “both votes SNP” campaign this year had been as successful as its 2011 equivalent in carrying SNP constituency voters over to the list, it’s likely that the SNP would have won an overall majority, and that it would have been quite a comfortable majority. So why couldn’t they do that? To some extent, it may be because the genie is now out of the bottle about tactical voting strategies on the list. When people start believing that it makes sound strategic sense to vote for a smaller party, the SNP’s list vote is always likely to go down rather than go up or hold steady.

In a sense, then, the concern about wasted SNP votes on the list is a self-fulfilling prophecy – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that people are irrational to have that concern. Once the SNP’s list vote has fallen below a certain level, it’s absolutely true that SNP votes are likely to be wasted in a number of regions, and the underlying cause of that phenomenon makes no real difference to individual voters.

It was therefore reasonable enough for people who voted SNP on the constituency ballot to at least take into account the possibility that a list vote for the same party on the list might not go to good use.

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To appreciate just how unlikely it is for the SNP to win list seats in the majority of regions on the type of list vote share they secured on Thursday, it’s only necessary to consider the fact that John Curtice’s projection model for the BBC had already excluded any possibility of an SNP list seat in six out of the eight regions several hours before any of the declarations had taken place.

The d’Hondt formula used to calculate list seat allocations ensured that the SNP just weren’t at the races. Take Central Scotland, for example: even after all seven list seats were distributed, the SNP were still behind both the Tories and Labour on the d’Hondt calculation – meaning if there had been an eighth, ninth or even tenth list seat available in the region, the SNP still wouldn’t have got a look-in.

Some SNP supporters in Central Scotland can hardly be blamed for having concluded they’d get more bang for their buck by switching to the Greens or Alba – the only danger would have been if the SNP had surprisingly lost constituency seats. With the benefit of hindsight that wasn’t really a danger at all – but then hindsight is always a wonderful thing.

The National: The Scottish Greens won all of their seats on the listThe Scottish Greens won all of their seats on the list

THE equation was very different in South Scotland and the Highlands and Islands, though, because the SNP had demonstrated in 2016 that it was possible for them to take one or more list seats in both regions even when they were dominant on the national constituency vote. Budding tactical voters in those parts of the country did need to be conscious of realistic scenarios in which they might cost the SNP, and by extension the pro-independence camp, a crucial seat. One of those scenarios almost played out – the Curtice projection initially suggested that the SNP would narrowly miss out on a list seat in the south, with Labour taking the final seat in the region instead.

The eventual result threw up a surprise, with the SNP getting their seat but with Labour still taking the final seat at the expense of the Greens. So pro-indy tactical voting could have backfired but didn’t. Should the people who gave it a try be beating themselves up about what almost went wrong? Maybe, but it has to be remembered there are ‘what if?’ scenarios in both directions. If the SNP had added Dumfriesshire and Galloway and West Dumfries to their haul of constituency gains in the south, a list seat would have been totally out of reach, and then the real regrets might have been among the “both votes SNP” contingent.

That said, there’s a case to be made that both the SNP and the Greens were entitled to a seat in the south, and that Labour should never have ended up with the final MSP.

It was incredibly tight – the d’Hondt calculation left Labour with 19,079 votes on the final count, just ahead of the Greens on 18,964.

But there are widespread suspicions that a significant number of people who intended to vote Green instead voted accidentally for a fringe party called Independent Green Voice, which is a right-wing British nationalist outfit with a thoroughly misleading name.

It’s certainly hard to think of a plausible alternative explanation for Independent Green Voice attracting 1690 votes in the south, and easily outpolling somewhat better known fringe parties such as Reform UK and Ukip.

It was a similar story on the Glasgow list, where the Greens thought during much of the count that they were on course to take a second seat, but ended up missing out to the Tories by a few hundred votes on the final d’Hondt calculation. Independent Green Voice, meanwhile, took 2210 votes in Scotland’s largest city – accounting for a highly suspicious 1% of the vote share after rounding.

Questions will surely be asked about why the Electoral Commission have allowed voters to be misled in this way, especially bearing in mind that they’ve become notorious for rejecting parties’ preferred names, logos and descriptions in circumstances that were far less controversial than this.

It’s possible that their failure to act has distorted the national election outcome, with the Greens ending up with two seats fewer than they should have had, and the combined forces of Unionism correspondingly being two seats stronger. In the overall scheme of things it may not matter much because we have a handsome pro-independence majority anyway, and the “narrative” of the result therefore hasn’t really been affected. But we may not be so fortunate on another occasion, and this matter should certainly be looked into urgently.

AS for the heated debate between proponents of “both votes SNP” and “both votes Yes”, that’s essentially ended in a no score draw – at least to the extent that it was a debate mostly between the SNP and Alba.

The SNP were ultimately proved right that Alba votes would be wasted due to the overall vote share being too low, but Alba were equally proved right that hundreds of thousands of SNP list votes would be wasted across most of the electoral regions.

The only thing Alba voters should really be upset with themselves about is not possessing a crystal ball, because even some of the final polls were suggesting their party was on course for one, two or three seats. There was no way of knowing in advance that those polls would prove to be wrong. If they had instead been right, Alba would actually have received more seats per list vote than the SNP.

And even if it had somehow been possible to foresee the result in precise detail, there would have been nothing to be gained for Alba voters in switching to “both votes SNP” in most regions – the only viable tactical switch would have been to the Greens.