Tactical Voting For Numpties | Autonomy Scotland

Tactical Voting For Numpties

We recently shared a piece called Holyrood Election for Numpties in which we explained how the Scottish Parliament voting system works. We said we would take a look at tactical voting from the point of view of those in the Independence movement. So, what follows is some broad points about tactical voting backed up by some tables.

Tactical Voting

The first thing I would like to say is that tactical voting is for numpties, at least in the way it has been discussed within the Independence movement. People on both sides are talking about a strategy to maximise pro independence MSPs. I think this is wrong for three reasons:

  1. This election has nothing to do with Independence. You should be voting for the type of government you want.
  2. That said, as we will see below a pro Independence majority is guaranteed this time unless there is a Unionist miracle in the last month. With that in mind I don’t see the benefit of trying to maximise the number of pro indy MPs beyond a comfortable majority. It makes more sense to use your vote to change the make up of the the inevitable pro indy majority depending on your preferences. If your goal is Independence, and as such persuading No voters to vote Yes, then a good way to do that is have a Parliament that is seen to be more representative than the one in Westminster. Trying to maximise pro Independence politicians above other concerns will alienate many.
  3. Due to the number of variables in the system, you can’t hack the vote. As we will see, you can take an educated guess but this may have unintended consequences.

My Vote

I am going to be voting SNP/Green. I am doing this because I want to maximise Green Party representation. As you will see from the tables below my vote may, in extreme circumstances, cost the SNP a majority. I don’t care as an SNP minority government propped up by the Greens would be a better parliament for my personal tastes. I believed one of the benefits of Independence was that the voting system allowed smaller parties to have a chance to grow. It also should force parties to work together to find consensus in order to get bills passed. So I like the idea of a broad diverse parliament working together to form policy. I think this type of parliament would also distinguish the Scottish system from the UK one making Independence more appealing.

Your Vote

The SNP are too far in front as things stand to not win this election. However, tactical voting could cause them to not get a majority.

With that in mind and looking at Scotland as a whole (I will look at the regions separately in the future as that would be more precise):

  • If you want to guarantee an SNP majority government then vote SNP/SNP. Because the SNP will need the regional votes if they don’t do as well as predicted in the constituency seats.
  • If like me, you want to see a smaller party gain a few seats and don’t mind risking an SNP minority government then vote SNP/another.
  • If you want to maximise pro independence seats, in theory, a switch to a non SNP regional vote can work. However, at the moment SNP/SNP is winning the argument and that makes sense if the majority of SNP constituency voters want to see that party get a majority. So while voting for another party in the regional vote has a good chance of increasing pro indy seats it depends on the numbers willing to do it.


The tables below are based on the results of the recent Survation poll in the Daily Record. Based on those, I have awarded SNP all constituency seats minus 5. I have given the Lib Dems Orkney as well as Shetland (two Highlands and Island seats). I have given Conservatives: Eastwood, Ettrick Roxburgh and Berwickshire, as well as Dumfriesshire (one West Scotland and two South Scotland seats).

To work out the regional percentages for each party I have used table 7 from the Survation poll. This table excludes undecided voters and those who refused to give an answer.

For overall voting numbers I used the 2011 turnout figures.

Please note, I am not trying to predict the results. People who do this properly would not use the figures from one poll to predict election results as samples are too small. However, the figures in the Survation Poll are broadly in line with what others who have been looking at trends are predicting. So for the purpose of looking at tactical voting they are OK.

I have also looked at how a universal shift in second vote preference throughout the whole of Scotland might affect the overall result. In reality the likelihood that a switch will work will vary from region to region.

Prediction based on the Survation Poll

So this first table shows what the result would look like if Survation were correct. Pretty amazing for the SNP.

PartyConstituency SeatsTotal AdditionalTotal Of 129Percentage
Lib Dem2464.7%

What happens if certain percentages of SNP voters give their REGIONAL vote to the Greens?

This is the ideal scenario for tactical voting as proposed by many. The SNP can’t lose the majority as they have it before the D’hont method used to calculate regional seats kicks in. As more people switch their regional vote to Green the pro Independence vote goes up and the Unionist vote goes down. The SNP only lose one seat as they only got one seat in the regional vote but Green could potentially gain lots.

PartySurvation Prediction5 % SNP to Green10 % SNP to Green15 % SNP to Green20 % SNP to Green30 % SNP to Green
Lib Dem666676

But what happens when the constituency vote does not go as well as predicted for the SNP?

Polls are wrong and SNP only win 59 constituency seats

As we have seen many times in the past, polls are often wrong. In this table I have faked the numbers to make things harder for the SNP by reducing their constituency vote to 59. I have gifted Labour 8 seats; Glasgow Anniesland, Kirkcaldy, Edinburgh Central, Paisley, Edinburgh Southern, Aberdeen Central, Clydebank and Milngavie and Glasgow Shettleston. I also gave the Conservatives one extra with Edinburgh Pentlands.

If you run these numbers the SNP still have a narrow majority due to gaining 6 regional seats. It looks more precarious though.

It is worth noting that even though I gave Labour 8 seats on the constituency vote, they don’t gain any seats overall due to the D’honht method explained in the previous blog.

PartyConstituency SeatsTotal AdditionalTotal Of 129Percentage
Lib Dem2686.2%

Lets see what happens when you factor in regional tactical voting.

What happens if certain percentages of SNP voters give their REGIONAL vote to the Greens?

In this situation the SNP lose their majority. There is still a pro Independence majority which I would say is highly probable regardless. From my point of view the tactical voting in the table below is desirable as we have an SNP minority government looking to find consensus with other parties. From an SNP point of view it would be a bitter pill to swallow.

PartySNP 59 Constituency5 % SNP to Green10 % SNP to Green15% SNP to Green20 % SNP to Green30 % SNP to Green
Lib Dem888776


I was going to also concentrate on Rise but at the moment they are not polling very highly. This may change and it may be something to revisit. As an example, if we go back to the scenario where the SNP are winning 68 constituency seats and you take 20 percent of their regional vote and split it equally between Green and Rise. Then Rise only get one (extra) seat on current polling. Whereas the Greens pick up 4. In the future it might be worth breaking it down regionally if Rise start to gain traction in the coming months.

Lib Dem2464.7%


There is going to be a pro Independence majority regardless of your vote. You can try to affect the make up of this majority by using your second vote. If it is important to you to ensure an SNP majority then the sensible vote is SNP/SNP. If you would prefer more diversity and are happy with a potential SNP minority government then vote for a smaller party with your second vote.

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Derick Tulloch
7 years ago

“There is still a pro Independence majority which I would say is highly probable regardless ”

Er – that assumes that the Greens are pro-Independence. I don’t see any sign of that in their policy summary https://branches.scottishgreens.org.uk/resources/docs/other-policy-documents/Policy_summary_2015.pdf/at_download/file.

And they are standing unionist candidates such as Mr Ford.

7 years ago
Reply to  Derick Tulloch

It’s a fair point although I would be surprised if they weren’t. They certainly were during the referendum..They probably realise this election isn’t about independence and want to concentrate on policy. Which is what all the parties should be doing in my opinion. I guess one advantage the SNP have is they don’t need to continually reaffirm their commitment to the cause.

Steve West
Steve West
7 years ago

A couple of points in reply to Derick: 1. Scottish Green Party policy is still pro-independence. To change that policy would require a vote at conference and no such change has happened. You can find this policy deeper in the policy documents and in some recent public statements, eg this one: https://www.scottishgreens.org.uk/news/scottish-greens-publish-independence-statement/ The SGP is actually doing some of the groundwork (eg research on our own currency) that will be needed to win the next referendum, they just aren’t making an issue of it during this election. 2. A significant minority of SGP members do oppose independence and this includes… Read more »

7 years ago
Reply to  Steve West

Thanks Steve, that was very informative. I thought the policy document Derick posted was very interesting as well.

Uber Mensch
Uber Mensch
1 year ago

And how did this work out for you? Years of bickering, failures, and division. You’ve now got the benefit of hindsight to come back and apologise for voting SNP.

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