A primer for the Scottish elections.

Happy people in Scotland and Wales are voting next month to vote for their decentralized parliaments. We’d also go to the polls if our executive hadn’t collapsed in 2017, so we’ll get this reward next year. However, I thought it would be useful to set out some of the things to look out for and be aware of when looking at campaign and election results.


Voters will elect 129 members to the Scottish Parliament, but unlike Northern Ireland, 16- and 17-year-olds are eligible to vote.

What system are you using?

Additional Membership System (AMS) – A similar system is used in New Zealand for electing Parliament. In short, voters get two votes, one to elect a constituency representative and one to elect a party on the regional list.

73 MSPs are elected on a constituency basis. Quite simply, the candidate who receives the most votes wins the seat.

56 MSPs are elected on a regional list. However, when a person votes for a party, each party receives a share of the seats equal to the share of the vote it receives. Although there are some limitations

How does the second vote work?

After all constituency votes have been counted, additional MSPs will be assigned to each of Scotland’s eight legislative regions to make the overall result fairer to all parties.

For example, the Conservative Party received two additional (or listing) MSPs in the North East Scotland region in 2016 because they did not return constituency MSPs. This gives Conservative Party voters fairer representation in relation to their political support in North East Scotland.

Scotland has eight regions with 7 seats each.

The regions are Central Scotland, Glasgow, Highlands and Islands, Lothian, Central Scotland and Fife, North East Scotland, South Scotland and West Scotland

This system is nice because if you really like your SNP-MSP in your constituency but want the Conservatives to be the opposition. You can vote for your MSP from the SNP and choose the party conservatively on the list. The downside is that in places like New Zealand there is a problem of being “out on Saturday and back on Sunday” with some MPs losing their constituency seats but still being able to stay in parliament via the list.

Game Status

As we go into this election, the SNPs are dominating at the constituency level. In 2016 they won 59 of the 73 available places. They only won 4 on the regional lists. Over time it has taken voters to familiarize themselves with the system. The SNP asked almost 5% fewer questions in the regional list vote than in the constituency vote. Conversely, parties like the Greens concentrate on the list and do not care about the constituencies.

In contrast to the system in Northern Ireland, the Scottish Parliament works with a simple majority system. That said, 65 is the magic number for a majority. That is, if neither party gets this number, they have to do business with another party to rule. The current SNP government has done business with the Greens and, in the past, with the Conservatives in order to rule as a minority. Previously there were agreements between Labor and the Liberal Democrats.

The SNP will lead the next government. The race right now is, will it be a majority government or a minority government? You have to get two more seats from the last election to get a majority. If they come up short again, they’ll have to turn to the Greens or maybe even the new Alba party if they can.

The SNP is already the longest running government in Scottish history and has maintained its popularity in these elections for the longest period in the dispersed era. The Scottish Conservatives have become the main opposition to the SNP since Indyref. While they were successful, they are expected to do no better than 20 to 28 seats. However, twice in a row they have secured a position as the main antagonist against the SNP, which is a solid achievement without Ruth Davidson as leader.

Scottish Labor is still in a real mess. A revolving door of the leaders since 2011 and little stability are proving difficult for them, considering that they were the most dominant party in Scotland for decades.

“Nicola Sturgeon, painted portrait _DDC0027” by Abode of Chaos is licensed under CC BY

David McCann holds a PhD in North-South Relations from the University of Ulster. You can follow him on Twitter @dmcbfs

Related Articles