All that’s needed is 25% support for Scottish independence to be carried

It’s a huge irony of last week’s various elections that, as the UK opted not to replace the First Past the Post voting system with the Alternative Vote, the SNP was being elected into power in Scotland using a voting system designed to prevent the disproportional parliamentary majorities that FPTP tends to produce. Had FPTP been used for the Holyrood elections, the SNP’s 45.4% share of the constituency vote would have given it a massive landslide: the Nats won 53 out of the 73 constituency seats, or 73%.

It’s a safe bet that the Conservative and Labour Parties were glad of the existence of the regional poll, alongside the constituency vote, that is designed to counterbalance the disproportionality of FPTP. This system helped to ensure that the SNP won only 53.5% of the total seats, and it gave the Tories no fewer than 12 regional MSPs alongside their meagre three successful constituency candidates, while Labour gained an extra 22 seats compared with their pitiful showing of only 15 constituency MSPs.

All the same, the SNP ended up with an overall majority despite falling 5% short of a majority of votes; and it’s the FPTP system that is responsible for this disproportionality. A similar analysis can be applied to Wales, where Labour won 70% of the constituency MPs on 42.3% of the vote but failed to secure an overall majority thanks to the regional poll, where they won only 10% of the seats. I’m sure the Conservatives were just as glad that FPTP was not used without the counterbalancing regional system in Wales, too!

All of which totally gives the lie to the claims of the No2AV campaign that FPTP is a ‘fair’ system that has served Britain well and ensured ‘strong’ government. Well, it might have served ‘Britain’ well, in the sense that it’s been a key means for the two main unionist parties to monopolise – or should that be ‘duopolise’ – power for nearly 100 years and impose their various ideological blueprints on England and the rest of the UK without requiring, and hardly ever obtaining, the support of a majority of voters. But it’s not fair by any stretch of the imagination, as the howls of Conservative indignation at SNP and Labour landslides, and Tory obliteration, in Scotland and Wales would have demonstrated had the elections in those countries been held using FPTP alone.

But what’s good enough for Scotland and Wales is, apparently, too good for England, which is too great a prize for the Conservative and Labour Parties to give up by conceding the principle that parliamentary elections in England should be conducted fairly. All the same, AV, which was the only change to the voting system in England that the Westminster establishment was prepared to countenance, is not AMS (the system used in Scotland and Wales): not even close. Indeed, AV would have been liable to bring about even greater landslides in UK general elections than FPTP. So really, the AV referendum was a win-win situation for the Westminster elite: either system would ensure that disproportional single-party rule remained a distinct possibility in future UK elections.

In the event, though, neither FPTP nor AV won last week’s referendum, as my previous analysis showed. The majority of English and UK voters didn’t express a view (i.e. didn’t vote) or, if they did express an opinion by writing out their demand for an English parliament or a referendum on the EU on their ballot paper, those views were not recorded. The turn-out was so low that the headline 67.9% No vote across the UK as a whole was in reality the settled view of only 28.5% of registered voters. Therefore, there was no real mandate for FPTP, particularly as the referendum didn’t ask people whether they thought FPTP was the best voting system for UK-parliamentary elections but only whether they thought AV should be used instead. Indeed, you might even say this was a fitting FPTP victory: winner takes all on a pitifully small base of real support.

A bit like the Scottish elections in fact: not only did the SNP in fact poll only a minority of the vote, but turn-out for the Holyrood elections was also low: around 51%. This means that, in reality, only 23.2% of registered Scottish voters voted for the SNP in the constituency ballot: somewhat fewer than voted against AV across the UK as a whole. If you look at it this way, the real level of support for the SNP at the election was not in fact that different from the polling figures that are generally bandied about regarding support for independence among Scottish voters. In other words, it might actually only take around 25% of Scottish voters to support independence for independence to be carried in a referendum – so long as turn-out was as low as it was for the AV referendum and the Scottish election.

Surely, such a low level of support would mean independence had no mandate. Not if you accept the ‘mandate’ in favour of FPTP that last week’s referendum is said to have conferred – nor indeed the ‘mandate’ that FPTP elections are supposed to provide, such as Labour’s 2005 victory based on around 22% of real support from the electorate. Just as the SNP can claim a mandate to govern Scotland based on the active support of 23.2% of Scottish voters, they could rightly claim a mandate for independence on just a little more.

It would be utmost hypocrisy on the part of the established unionist parties if they tried to rig a Scottish-independence referendum by imposing a turn-out threshold. If FPTP ballots are ‘good’ enough for England, then FPTP should be good enough in a straight choice between independence or continued membership of the Union for Scotland, regardless of how many people turn out to vote.

Scotland could, and should be allowed, to gain its independence on the expressed will of only a quarter of its adult citizens!