GUEST POST BY BRACO
I am not a member of any political party but I am totally committed to the Yes movement and an Independent Scotland.
After reading a very interesting and thought provoking post-election article over on Arc of Prosperity these are some of my own (non party political) thoughts on the issue of d'Hondt and pro-independence majorities. I would really like to thank Tris and the Republic for giving me the opportunity to try and develop that discussion on here as a guest post.
I think, after the heat of party political battle is over, the electoral evidence is now becoming clear for all to see. The voting system, which Scotland currently operates under, is designed (and was selected specifically) in order to try and make the devolved governance of Scotland reliant on the formation of coalition politics (of some sort). This is at the heart of unionist reasoning behind d'Hondt as their voting system of choice for Holyrood back in 97.
I.e. IF Scottish governance is made dependent on coalitions and the SNP are the only effective Independence party in the country to vote for, then it will never have a coalition partner party to form a majority government with. Therefore the SNP will be unable to pass Independence Referendum legislation while in government, no matter how popular the SNP becomes. This is central and must always be kept in mind when thinking about Scotland's current electoral system.
It also explains the reason behind the Libdem leadership's point blank refusal to enter into coalition with the SNP in 2007 (and, dare I say, Lord Nicol Stephen's shock resignation as Libdem leader and subsequent enoblement in 2008).
It was this refusal that forced the SNP into forming Holyrood's first, 'shock horror'... minority government. Also, worth noting that even the SNP themselves bought into the accepted political narrative of the time and really didn't want to take (or see the political opportunities) that minority government could bring.
This refusal of the democratic will of the electorate to form a coalition with the SNP shocked many of the Libdem rank and file, and was the start of Libdem electoral rot in Scotland thereafter. What it did do however, was absolutely ensure that there was no Indy Ref during that first term of enforced SNP minority rule.
I.e Short term, the system worked exactly as designed.
As ever, though, unionist long term thinking has been shown to be more tactical than strategic and even in those terms limited and inept, as during the period of exceptional circumstances that followed, we the Scots electorate were able to first experience successful and competent minority SNP governance, and then watch the stars align during the 2011 election as the d'Hondt system was broken (just) through what we now know was a lucky balance being struck between constituencies won and regional list votes cast. All resulting in the SNP winning an incredible (and d'Hondt busting) single party absolute majority.
The evidence of the extraordinary nature of that result at the time was seen in the total and utter shock of even the SNP's own leadership, as well as the hilarious absolute blind panic and horror that followed from all other sections of the Scottish (and UK) political establishment. This 'breaking of their system' at the root of all the 'Holyrood-as-anti-democratic' psychosis and unionist schtick that still fills their media output to this day.
Yesterday we just saw a return to the normal way that the voting system was actually designed to operate. That is, no matter how popular a single party becomes, in a multiparty d'Hondt system, it will most likely NOT gain a majority. This is again shown to be true by the fact that the SNP voting figures actually went up from 2011 yet their seat count went down.
If all the above is taken into account and properly rationalised, then there is only one relatively simple way to ensure that democratically endorsed pro Independence electoral results in Scotland always have the ability to produce equally strong pro independence majority governance in Holyrood (along with all the democratic abilities that will naturally bring, such as referendums on Independence as often and as regularly as the will of the Scots electorate will allow).
The answer is simple; don't try and 'game' the system by attempting to form a single super supported (and therefore super powerful) single Independence party that can somehow regularly overwhelm d'Hondt, as this strategy will inevitably risk wasting hundreds of thousands of pro-Indy votes on the list every time that attempted majority fails (750 000 votes in the case of the SNP on Thursday). Far better to simply go with the grain of d'Hondt and purposely set about helping the development and establishing of a good, strong and electorally successful moderate second pro independence party that can be relied upon to form strong and effective pro independence coalition governments with. (After Thursday, this is looking like it could be the Greens). It's that simple.
As the main creators of our devolved electoral system, SLabour's leadership never truly saw the LibDems as an electoral threat in Holyrood, rather they viewed them as their key to consistently forming (and leading) majority Scottish governments. Term, after term, after term. This is how the SNP (and the Yes electorate) should start thinking about the Green Party. There are many overlaps between SNP and Green party policy priorities (other than just Independence) within which a sensible and workable, progressive eco friendly programme for government could be formed.
Now that SLAB and the LibDems are up to their necks in the same d'Hondt electoral trap they hoped to lock the SNP into, it's that very same opportunity of consistently leading (though perhaps not totally dictating) the policy agenda of Scotland over many, many terms of majority government that now presents itself as the enormous prize to the SNP (and Greens as junior partners).
All that is required is that each can somehow see past traditional UK party political tribalism. It's not happy clappy idealism that I am appealing to here but instead simple, hard nosed party political 'enlightened self interest'. This is what d'Hondt is designed to reward and it is through this (along with a powerful and autonomous YES grass-roots movement) that Scotland will quickly win it's independence.
I think this is the lesson that the Independence movement will learn from yesterday's frustrating experience of the d'Hondt system. Hopefully all this will also be cemented in place during a term of government where the dominant pro indy party (SNP) learns to work effectively and builds strong political relationships with the other, much smaller, pro independence party that was also returned by Yes supporters to sit alongside them in Holyrood (The Greens).
It's essential that both these parties manage to control, and then throw off, those 'me-only' party political attitudes developed and inherited from the British adversarial 'first past the post' system (essentially two party politics) and begin to adopt the more consensual, coalition based political culture that we all hoped Holyrood would help usher in (and which yesterday proved, will be needed) if timely Independence is to be achieved within the designed limitations and political realities that we the Scots electorate find ourselves having to operate under.
Thanks for a great article, Arc of Prosperity, it was much appreciated, and thanks again to Tris and Munguin's Republic for the opportunity to discuss it further in the Republic :-)