Tuesday 12 January 2010
BOUNDARY CHANGES IN SCOTLAND MAY GIVE LABOUR EVEN MORE UNFAIR ADVANTAGE
Plans to alter boundaries of Scottish Parliament seats could assist Labour to win the next Holyrood election even if it gets fewer votes than the SNP. John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, said that the proposals which were announced last week could make the bias towards Labour in the Scottish electoral system even greater (according to an article in today's Times).
Support for Labour being more geographically concentrated than the SNP’s, the party has more success in first-past-the-post seats, 73 of the 129 at Holyrood. To redress this balance there is an additional 56 regional list seats, allocated using a method of proportional representation in each of eight regional clusters of constituencies. However, Labour still gains because in some regions there are insufficient list seats to correct fully the disproportionate constituency outcomes.
The professor suggests that changes proposed by the Boundary Commission for Scotland, a UK government quango (wouldn’t you know?), will worsen the situation. For example Kilmarnock, one of only two SNP-held constituencies in Central Scotland, is to be moved to the South of Scotland. However, there are insufficient list seats to compensate the Nationalists for this loss. Meanwhile, Cunningham South, which is held by Labour, is moved out of the South of Scotland into the West of Scotland. Labour, though, is not reliant on winning list seats in the West, so that gain will not be corrected.
Professor Curtice said: “This loss for the SNP is unlikely to be compensated for on the list allocation. So the Nationalists will be down one. If these changes had been in force at the 2007 election, then Labour could have won more seats than the SNP with fewer votes. The redistribution runs the risk of making the existing pro-Lab bias in the system even worse, and this is arguably not good for democracy either.”
The UK Parliament is expected to make a decision on the proposals later this year. However, the SNP wants Westminster to transfer its powers over Holyrood elections to the Scottish Parliament. The SNP played down the implications of the changes planned for the next Holyrood election in 2011. Its spokesman said that it would fight hard to win as many seats as possible.
Admirable as that is, should we not be working towards a fairer and more representative parliament, regardless of who the winners would be. We have already heard much of how the Tories have to have a 10% advantage over Labour in the UK to break even in seats, and surely the Liberal’s representation is Westminster is lamentably small in relation to the numbers of votes that they poll.
On the basis that Labour has made a complete mess of running elections in Scotland should not the whole business of democracy be devolved to Holyrood, where for all its faults our system is far fairer than in London?