THE extent of the tactical vote battle in the Holyrood election has been revealed, with new research showing just over a third of Scots who decided to vote differently in the run-up to the poll did so to stop another party.

Nearly all – nine out of 10 – who cast their ballot this way did so in a bid to prevent the SNP winning a seat.

The findings have been revealed in initial research from the Scottish and Welsh Election Studies 2021, carried out by teams working across six universities and unveiled at a webinar by Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre last week.

The vast majority of voters – more than eight out of 10 – stuck to their preferred party.

But for the constituency vote, 7% switched to another party within their own Yes or No camp, while 4% crossed the pro-independence/pro-Union divide with the casting of their ballot.

When it came to the list vote, 13% switched within their own camp, while 3% crossed the Yes/No divide.

Rob Johns, professor in politics at the University of Essex, said the expectation was there would be little voter switching since the last Holyrood election because everything had become “entrenched” after the independence referendum of 2014.

But he said: “Actually we found a lot more switching than we had expected. The polls had suggested that not much was changing and obviously the overall election result was almost eerily similar to 2016.

“That can mean that nobody has changed their mind or it can mean lots of people have changed their mind – but these have cancelled out as people have moved in opposing directions.

“We found there was quite a lot more of that than we had expected.”

Johns said the longer-term switching of votes between the two elections had been impacted by Brexit – for example, with some SNP Leave voters shifting to the Tories and some Labour Remain voters shifting to the SNP and to independence.

The election results last month show pro-Unionist tactical voting had an impact in some key marginal constituencies – for example Scottish Labour’s Jackie Baillie increasing her majority due to Liberal Democrat supporters.

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However, despite the Tories pushing a message of voting for them on the regional list to stop a second referendum, they failed to make significant gains.

A call by Alba for SNP voters to back them on the regional list to secure a pro-independence supermajority also saw little success, with the party failing to gain any MSPs.

Johns said there had been little “short-term” switching in the weeks leading up to the Holyrood poll this year.

“What there was seemed to be based almost entirely on people either working out the electoral system or learning about what was going on in their particular constituency – like who was best placed to challenge usually the SNP,” he said.

“We didn’t really find any evidence for example, that Anas Sarwar’s rating changed people’s voting intentions. We didn’t really find much evidence that coronavirus handling proved much of a benefit to the SNP.

“We can’t really prove the theory Alba taught people to vote Green, that some people go for. But certainly what we saw in terms of switching was consistent with that. We also found a lot of constituency level switching to the Unionist challenger to the SNP – which was kind of obvious from the results on the night.”

Johns said tactical voting had become “more pronounced” in recent elections, including at Westminster.

“One of the findings is that of those people who did switch during the campaign and said yes I was voting to stop a party, in 90% of those cases it was the SNP they were voting to stop,” he said.

“Although we don’t have exactly comparable data, basically that percentage has gone up and up – there has been a learning of tactical battle against the SNP.

“It is hard to say whether it is because people are slowly learning what is happening on the ground, or whether it is because they are growing more determined somehow to stop the SNP.”

However he cautioned there would always be some people who could not bring themselves to vote for another party and therefore a limit on the extent of tactical voting.

“I don’t think we are going to get into a situation where every constituency is just one party against the SNP because everybody votes tactically,” he added.