Proposed STV constituencies for the Scottish Parliament

It is becoming increasingly necessary, in many people's eyes, to change the method by which our MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament) are elected. The main reason for this is some dissatisfaction with the two-vote, "mixed member" system that is used at present. This poses certain problems, the more important of which are:

  1. The two votes on the ballot paper can be confusing for voters, with many thinking that they are first and second preferences. Confusion surrounding who is being elected by each vote can also occur, particularly when names of individuals can appear in the party list section as well as the constituency section.
  2. The fact that MPSs of two different types are elected, one group from the constituency vote and the other from the party lists.

In addition to these problems I would add some of my own. First, the constituency elections are not majoritarian and thus MSPs can still be elected from this section of the poll without a majority of the voters in the area behind them. This could be resolved by using the Alternative Vote, but this would still leave the problems related above. Also, the party list section does not allow voters any control over who appears in these lists and in what order. They are decided by party bosses and this, coupled with the same lack of choice in the constituency elections (i.e. you get the candidate for each party that the party decides) means that the voters do not have any chance to prefer one party candidate over another from the same party. Add to this the fact that most parties field candidates in the constituency election and also in the party list, producing the unsatisfactory situation whereby a candidate loses in the constituency but gets in vis the "back door" of the party list.

There is a lot of support now for the introduction of the Single Transferable Vote (STV) for these elections, in view of the fact that this system was introduced with some measure of success for the Scottish local authority elections in 2007. There is evidence to suggest that voters found the 1-2-3, ranking preference concept easier to understand than the two-votes that they were asked to cast, on one ballot paper, for the Parliament.

Adopting STV would, in my opinion, have various advantages:

  1. Voters would be able to select a preference of candidates within parties and thus exercise more personal choice than is allowed for within the two sections of the vote currently used.
  2. Although more than one vote is cast, in the form of preferences, there is only one "section" of the ballot, thus removing the confusion that apparently occurred in the Parliament election in 2007 where people did not know how many votes they could cast in each section, nor indeed that there were two sections with one vote allowed in each thereof. With STV, as few or as many preferences can be cast (and I would propose also that a single 'X' is acceptable if thet voter only wishes to cast one preference, but that is another matter).
  3. A link between members and constituencies would be retained, something that is not really satisfied within the party list ("regional") section at present.
  4. There would no longer be two "classes" of MSP - all would be of equal standing in Parliament.

How would STV be implemented?

The biggest problem implementing STV is the geographical organisation of the constituencies and how many members each returns. Let's deal with the first one first.

What areas should the constituencies cover?

This question concerns the matter of "co-terminosity", i.e. are the boundaries of the constituencies co-terminous with those of existing geographical areas? One of the advantages of STV not mentioned above is that constituencies can generally be arranged to coincide with sepecific areas, such as local council areas, and then it is a just a matter of adjusting the number of members returned for that area. With the first-past-the-post method used for single-member constituencies at present, many of the boundaries vary widely from the areas that they are meant to represent. For instance, the constituency of Angus only covers part of that council area, with a large part falling with the constituency of North Tayside. In the Westminster constituencies, voters in the Dyce and Bridge of Don areas of Aberdeen elect a member for the Gordon constituency instead of an Aberdeen one.

So, the question is, with which areas is it desired that co-terminosity exists? The Gorrie Proposal (opens in a new window) suggests that co-terminosity should exist with the new Westminster consituencies introduced for the 2005 General Election, which reduced Scotland's representation at Westminster to 59 MPs. This has the advantage of causing less confusion for voters as it groups whole Westminster constituencies into larger STV ones. They have chosen not to give them separate names but to use the names of the existing constituencies to redcuce confusion. However, this still has the anomolies mentioned above, e.g. with voters in Aberdeen city voting in a rural constituency.

My proposal is that co-terminosity with local councils is more important. Most people tend to know who their local council is as they pay their council tax to it, send their children to their schools and get their refuse collected by them. Also, it makes sense that if you live in a city council area that you should be able to influence the representation that that area sends to Holyrood, rather than a neighbouring, rural area, which would generally have different issues from those in the city.

The next problem is making sure that the constituencies are not so large in area that they represent widely disparate communities. There are two areas in Scotland where this has relevance: the Highlands and the islands. The problem is with keeping the areas from being too large but allowing them to have enough representatives to satisfy the requirements of the particular type of STV that is being used, which is the second of the two issues that we need to discuss.

How many members should each constituency return?

There are many schools of thought on this and much research has been carried out by various people into the effects on elections results and the question of "proportionality" that different sizes of consitituency can produce. In Scotland, for instance, is it desirable that constituencies should not return fewer than four members, bearing in mind that there are four "major" parties in Scotland? If so, then other problems are created from this. First, the size of the constituencies can become overly large if four-member seats are to be the smallest allowed and at the same time keep the number of electors required to elect each representative reasonably similar in each constituency. On the other hand, if some variance is to be accepted in this latter factor, then some over-representation may be allowed for some of the more sparsely populated areas such as those already mentioned.

The islands

The islands are a particularly special case in Scotland. If we take all three island areas (Eilean Siar/Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland) together they would probably warrant two members being returned for the entire area. Each island group, however, is a self-contained community, very remote not only from the mainland but also from each other. So, even if we accepted that either they would need to be over-represented to maintain the minimum number of members or they would have to have fewer members than other areas, would it be acceptable to have them all lumped into one, hugely disparate constituency? Or should they each have their own, single-member constituencies using possibly the Alternative Vote to elect their MSPs? This, I think, would be a matter for them to decide themselves. If they wish to have the full membership of say three, or even four, MSPs, then they would have to accept one very large constituency covering all three areas. Otherwise it would have to be three single-member constituencies and a different voting system from the rest of the country.

Proposed make-up of the constituencies

The following table shows my proposal for the make-up of the constituencies for STV in Scotland. The rules that I have applied are:

  1. As far as possible, each constituency should represent one council area.
  2. In some instances a council area might be too big to apply rule 1, in which case a council area can be split into two or more whole constituencies.
  3. Sometimes a council are might not have enough voters to warrant a consitituency to itself, in which case it may be merged with a neighbouring, whole council area, which should, as far as is possible, represent a community of similar type, e.g. rural with rural or urban with urban.

The main idea is that we want to avoid constituencies crossing council area boundaries and including part of one council area and part of another. The only constituency in my propoal that does not strictly follow these rules is the South East Highlands. This covers all of Moray but only part of the Highland council area. This is, unfortunately, necessary due to the way the councils have been set up in that area, ie. one average-sized area adjacent to two much larger areas, i.e. Highland and Aberdeenshire.

Note that many of these areas return only three MSPs and my proposal is that the minimum number of members should be four. Applying four to these areas means that they are slightly over-represented but also that there would be more than the current 129 MSPs at Holyrood. I do not know if this would be a problem but I think it should be considered to ensure that the right representation is provided for the voters of Scotland. The "Members" column shows both figures with the number of members at Holyrood in the total at the bottom.

STV Constituency
Members
Council(s) covered
1
Aberdeen
5
5
Aberdeen City
2
Aberdeenshire & Kincardine
6
6
Aberdeenshire
3
Airdrie & Motherwell
4
4
North Lanarkshire (part)
4
Argyll & West Dunbartonshire
3
4
Argyll & Bute, West Dunbartonshire
5
Ayrshire South & East
6
6
East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire
6
Cumbernauld & Coatbridge
3
4
North Lanarkshire (part)
7
Cunninghame & Inverclyde
5
5
North Ayrshire, Inverclyde
8
Dumfries & Galloway
4
4
Dumfries & Galloway
9
Dunbartonshire East
4
4
East Dunbartonshire
10
Dundee
3
4
Dundee City
11
Edinburgh East
6
6
Edinburgh City (part)
12
Edinburgh West
6
6
Edinburgh City (part)
13
Falkirk
4
4
Falkirk
14
Fife North East
4
4
Fife (part)
15
Fife South West
5
5
Fife (part)
16
Glasgow East
5
5
Glasgow City (part)
17
Glasgow North West
5
5
Glasgow City (part)
18
Glasgow South West
5
5
Glasgow City (part)
19
Hamilton & Rutherglen
5
5
South Lanarkshire (part)
20
Highlands North
3
4
Highland (part)
21
Highlands South
4
4
Highland (part), Moray
22
Lanarkshire South
4
4
South Lanarkshire (part)
23
Mid & East Lothian
4
4
Midlothian, East Lothian
24
Orkney
1
1
Orkney
25
Renfrewshire
6
6
Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire
26
Scottish Borders
3
4
Scottish Borders
27
Shetland
1
1
Shetland
27
Stirling & Clackmannanshire
4
4
Stirling, Clackmannanshire
28
Tayside
6
6
Angus, Perth & Kinross
29
West Lothian
4
4
West Lothian
30
Western Isles
1
1
Eilean Siar
  Total Members
129
134  

Map of the proposed constituencies

© Alex Middleton 2007