Labour Hame editor Duncan Hothersall says there are fundamental errors in the logic behind the “Alliance 4 Unity”, and the best way to defeat the SNP is by voting for existing anti-independence parties.
George Galloway’s new “Alliance 4 Unity” party – which will contest the Scottish election as “All For Unity” after the Electoral Commission quite reasonably judged its original name would mislead voters – is currently making quite some noise on social media.
The A4U argument goes as follows: if unionist voters vote tactically in constituencies for whichever candidate has the best chance of beating the SNP, then most constituency seats can be won from the SNP. To then minimise the number of seats the SNP can win in the regional list vote, unionists should vote for A4U on the list instead of existing unionist parties whose list votes would count for less because of all the constituency seats they would now have. The SNP will be out of government and we can worry about what happens next later.
Most of those taken in by this apparently cunning plan seem to be Tory-leaning ultra-unionists, which is somewhat surreal for a party led by a man currently presenting on the pro-Putin TV channel RT UK and formerly a stalwart of Iran’s Press TV. But the problem with A4U goes far beyond its leader. The fundamental issue for anyone who, like me, would like to see the SNP prevented from gaining a majority in May is that voting for A4U actually makes that less likely, not more likely.
Here are my five reasons why.
Reason 1: It won’t work
Superficially the idea of creating a new, single-issue oppose-the-SNP party sounds like a solution to the perceived problem that “the different unionist parties split the vote and let the SNP through the gaps”. The problem with that argument is that that isn’t what happens.
Scottish parliamentary elections use the Additional Member System to “top up” the 73 First Past The Post constituency seats with 56 regional list seats. The method used means that parties that win constituency seats get proportionally fewer list seats, and this serves to broadly balance out the vote so that in each region the number of seats each party ends up with is approximately proportional to the number of votes cast for them.
The way to increase the number of anti-independence MSPs is to increase the vote for the existing anti-independence parties, not to create a new anti-independence party that will leech votes from the existing ones and make it less likely, not more likely, that any of them can win in the regional list.
Reason 2: It really won’t work
The key logic of the A4U argument is that a historic and unprecedented surge in tactical voting is going to deliver wins across the constituency votes for anti-independence parties. But precisely zero credible pollsters or commentators think that will happen. At the time of writing the SNP is still, after its most torrid time in government amid scandal and mistrust, sitting at around 50% in the polls. The space for the unionist parties to capitalise via tactical voting in this way simply doesn’t exist.
I am not preaching no hope at all in the constituency contests – far from it. There are still places where the SNP can be beaten and there is every reason in the current climate to redouble efforts in that regard. But the idea that enough SNP constituency seats can be taken from them to make voting for A4U on the list a credible option is for the birds. It’s just not happening.
Reason 3: We already vote tactically
Even if the polls changed radically to open up that space, the problem for anti-independence folk is that tactical voting already happens. The 2016 election result on which we are trying to build already includes tactical voting. Those voters who are prepared to hold their nose and vote for people they disagree with are already doing it, and there’s no evidence that the rest are about to change.
And the suggestion from A4U that people attempt to vote tactically in order to game the list system is fraught with danger. Vanishingly few people understand the list system well enough to even begin to calculate how to game it tactically. Remember 2011, and remember that every explanation of how it happened came from hindsight not foresight.
Reason 4: People vote for things, not against them
It may well be that a lot of people – especially the loudest people – see this coming election as a simple battle between enabling and preventing a second independence referendum. But the majority of voters don’t. For most of them the question of independence is secondary to a whole host of key issues that are directly the responsibility of the government we will choose in May. Polling shows that people are far more concerned by Covid recovery and our education and health systems, and that means those are the issues on which they are more likely to vote.
And they are absolutely right. Our devolved parliament has a huge range of powers over the most critical aspects of our lives. It must be right that it is on the basis of how we want the powers of the Scottish Parliament to be used for the next five years that we should choose our MSPs.
Reason 5: It’s a pig in a poke
Most decisions MSPs make are about critical issues that affect our daily lives, but A4U and its candidates are saying precious little about them. Indeed George Galloway has explicitly said he seeks no common ground among candidates beyond opposition to independence. But if A4U candidates become A4U MSPs they will be voting on everything other than independence too, and beyond ominous indications of social conservatism (the party is vocally supported by the Daily Express, for example) we really know nothing of how they might vote on taxes, public spending, social security, education, health or indeed on the laws of this country.
The idea that one should set aside political disagreement and vote in the interests of preserving the union sounds noble. I can see why it might attract some who are desperate to stop the SNP once again plunging us into a divisive and disastrous referendum. But to vote to give power to people who literally won’t tell you what they plan to do with that power doesn’t make you noble. It makes you a dunderhead.
The best way to prevent a pro-independence majority in the next Scottish Parliament is to vote for existing anti-independence parties who stand by far the best chance of defeating the SNP and the Greens, not for the “Alliance 4 Unity” which will likely undermine that effort. But the differences between those anti-independence parties also matter hugely, because we are not making a binary choice in this election, we are voting for MSPs who will run and scrutinize our government, and make our laws, for the next five years. It behoves all of us to make that choice carefully.