The National:

Talk of electoral pacts is back in vogue. Again.

At Westminster, opposition parties dream of an electoral alliance capable of defeating the Conservative government. Likewise in Scotland, Unionists continue to propose pacts to defeat the SNP and the independence movement.

Professor Adam Tomkins, formerly a Conservative MSP, is the latest Unionist to suggest such an arrangement. Speaking to the Daily Record, he argued for standing unified Unionist candidates drawn from the Conservatives, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats to defeat the SNP.

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Although a similar arrangement was rejected by Labour ahead of May’s election, let’s assume such a pact came together. And let’s assume – for the time-being – that those who voted Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat in May would have voted for the unified Unionist candidate.

Modelling this, the Unionist parties would have won 64 seats, and the SNP 57 seats. The Greens would have won a crucial eight seats. As a result, even if the Unionist parties were able to also come together over matters of health, education, the economy, and other policies, they would still be in opposition.

But this best-case scenario for a unified Unionist front is incredibly unrealistic.

'One Unionist party’s candidates are not interchangeable for another’s'

Tomkins is right that the Yes/No divide is a crucial driver of voting behaviour in Scottish elections. Ahead of May’s election, polling by Ipsos MORI found that 49% of Scots said independence was very important in helping them decide how to vote.

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But it is not the only driver of voting behaviour. Some 28% mentioned education, 27% mentioned healthcare, and 16% mentioned the economy. These figures were higher for Labour voters – 33% of whom mentioned education, 34% healthcare, and 23% the economy.

The same poll found that 53% of those intending to vote Labour do not trust the Conservatives to manage Scotland’s education system. Then, 63% do not trust them with the NHS, and 52% don’t trust them to manage the economy.

The National:

Moreover, the Scottish Election Study found that Conservative list voters were roughly three times more likely to vote Labour in their local constituency than Labour list voters were to vote Conservative, despite the Conservatives defending twice as many constituencies.

Tomkins seems to be forgetting that one Unionist party’s candidates are not interchangeable for another’s, and that anti-Conservative sentiment among Labour voters means that many would rather vote SNP, Green, or simply stay at home than cast a vote for his party.

All of which is without mentioning the substantial cohort of Conservative voters who do not trust Labour either, and would likewise be likely to stay home on election day.

'Divisions run deep'

Unionists who call for an electoral alliance to defeat the SNP correctly diagnose the challenge they face. They are divided, and this division is locking them out of power to the benefit of the SNP. But their divisions are far deeper rooted than many of them seem willing to acknowledge.

A Unionist electoral alliance would not lead to a Unionist election victory. It would lead to depressed turnout, defeat, and quite probably a backlash from voters angry at being taken for granted and deprived of choice.

And how could the Unionist parties, under such a pact, answer the question of what they are for if they are willing to set aside their entire political programs in the name of opposing a single policy?

Rather than scheming to manipulate the voters, Unionist politicians would be advised to put their efforts into winning elections the old-fashioned way: by persuading them.