Split and Split Again….

The AFI now looks set to appear on the list in next May’s Holyrood election as, to satisfy the Electoral Commission, it has had to change its name from the AFI to… the AFI — or rather from the Alliance For Independence to Action for Independence.

The AFI will join (so far) the ISP on the regional lists in next May’s Holyrood election. While the ISP was originally touted purely as an independence only vehicle to ‘game the system’ and try and win seats (a mantle that the AFI now seems to have taken over), it is clear that this party (or at least the most vocal of its supporters) are primarily motivated by issues other than independence. If it was simply a matter of voting for an alternative list party to boost indy bloc seats, then the Greens are already a proven vehicle for that. No other party is needed.

It has indeed been an eventful week for the fringe list parties, as a founder of the ISP, the one name associated with that party that most have ever heard of, outed herself on YouTube as a MAGA hat wearing Trump supporter. A statement from the ISP on Twitter expressed their extreme disappointment with ‘some’ of her views.

So far, the Alliance for Independence, sorry Action for Independence, has only had Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity party come under its umbrella, leaving the impression that the AFI will be little more than a front for Solidarity and a few assorted independents aiming to use a more ‘middle of the road’ label to surpass the 1.1% the two comradely leftwing parties (RISE and Solidarity) together achieved in 2016.

Since both the SNP and the Greens have been discounted in the minds of these list party advocates as vehicles for the independence movement, that leaves the AFI and ISP now to fight it out to tell us which one is the One and Only True Party of Independence. Perhaps an arm wrestling match will settle it? Best out of three?

We can now look forward to the insane situation of not one but at least two fringe indy list parties vying to take list votes from the SNP: we haven’t heard from RISE yet (remember them?), who were going to rock the indy list vote in 2016.

It’s Now Party X and Party Y

Previous modelling showed the effect of defections from the SNP only to one or more list parties. It would take over a fifth of the currently projected SNP list vote (currently over 200,000 votes) split between two list parties for them to fill in the hole in the indy bloc they created by handing over potential SNP seats to unionists:

Research suggests that perhaps 2–2.5% of the Green vote is the result of ‘tactical voting’ by those who voted SNP in the constituency. Let’s do some modelling to see the effects of 2.5% of this ‘tactical’ vote going to the list parties instead of the Greens, with further SNP votes switching across later.

We will use projections from the latest Panelbase poll for consistency (not least because two of the three subsequent published polls release only figures rounded to the nearest percentage point in their tables— a very blunt tool indeed in terms of trying to extrapolate to seat projections.)

Here’s the baseline projection as a reminder:

If that 2.5% ‘tactical Green vote’ is split between the two list parties, the Greens lose four seats to the SNP, but also a seat each to the Tories and Labour. Indy bloc down two seats:

By the way, an even better result of nine SNP list seats would be outcome of those 2.5% returning to the SNP:

And that seat gain happened with a mere 2.5% shifting from the Greens to the SNP — less than 70,000 votes nationally — to close the gap between the SNP’s constituency share and list vote share from 5% to 2.5%.

You see, #BothVotesSNP works to win list seats, despite the party winning almost all the constituencies.

If there is a 1.5% gap between the SNP’s constituency and list votes (not even as close as the 1.2% achieved in 2011), then the SNP adds on another three seats:

Oh look: the SNP winning seats in all but one region, a feat the list party advocates would have you believe is ‘impossible’ under the Additional Member System.

Now we know that #BothVotesSNP works as a strategy (no magic list parties that defy arithmetic needed), time to continue with our modelling and to start transferring some SNP votes to the two list parties, on top of that 2.5% from the Greens, to see just how #MaxTheYes fares:

Let’s start by transfering 5% of the projected SNP list vote to the AFI and ISP:

While the SNP has gained one seat — from the Greens — five other Green seats have been lost to unionists — one to the Tories and four to Labour.

The AFI and ISP would have been able to do what even Richard Leonard himself couldn’t dream of— turning four indy seats into Labour ones.

Almost 118,000 votes have already been cast for these two list parties: they have gained no seats but instead turned five Green seats over to unionists.

We may recall the factoid of ‘a million votes for four seats’ used to claim an SNP list vote is wasted — well, we’re over a tenth of the way there, and it’s a case of ‘120k votes for zero seats…and five more unionists’ for the list parties.

It takes a transfer of about 17% of the SNP list vote —over 186,000 votes — for one of the list parties to win a single seat, but now the indy block is six seats down, as Labour pick up four seats and the Tories two:

Almost 190,000 votes for the fringe list parties has resulted in only one single seat between them, and six unionist gains from the SNP and Greens.

I’ll spare you further blow by blow seat by seat changes (see below for the individual seat change summary showing all the seats that change hands), but it would require a transfer of almost 21% of the SNP list vote — that’s almost 250,000 votes — to the list parties to recover from a nadir of putting the unionists seven seats up just to get back to square one.

We see all that voting AFI and ISP has achieved is that every one of their ten seats has just been taken from the SNP and Greens. The unionists have been left completely untouched.

It takes a further 5,500 votes, representing a total now of just over 21% from the SNP list vote to the list parties, to bring about a net gain for the indy side of one…single...seat.

Here is a graphical summary of the seat changes, which reveal that the unionist ‘seat warmers’ have been very far from ‘dumped’.

Clearly #MaxTheYes or ‘game the system to target only unionists’ as a viable strategy simply isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. It not only doesn’t produce the desired outcome, it actually makes the sitation worse by handing winnable seats to unionist parties through splitting the vote. This is not a matter of opinion, it is not debatable, it is an undeniable fact, demonstrated conclusively by data modelling. Anyone who disputes this is simply denying reality and sticking their head in the sand.

List party advocates who still persist in promoting the patent nonsense of ‘gaming the system’ should be ‘sent homewards tae think again’.

Not only will the AFI and ISP require over a quarter of a million votes to put the indy bloc a single seat ahead, the more likely scenario is the danger that, if these fringe parties exceed any reasonable — and indeed rational — expectation (given they are at precisely zero percent in the polls) and surpass the total vote share of RISE and Solidarity in 2016, they will actually see potential SNP and Green seats go straight to the unionists instead.

No ‘indy supermajority’ in sight.

Thankfully the 1.1% gained by RISE and Solidarity wasn’t high enough to have handed potential SNP or Green seats to the unionist parties, but we can’t be sure this won’t happen in 2021 with the new list parties.


List party advocates seem uniquely confident that the SNP will win a majority from the constituencies alone and therefore voters are free to ‘gamble’ their list votes on unknown fringe parties without endangering the chances of the SNP (an assertion we have seen is patent nonsense).

Indeed they have to make the argument that the SNP can rely solely on constituency success, otherwise they have to admit they are asking you to risk potential SNP list seats — which are vital to ensuring the SNP forms a government — going to unionists.

Exactly the same argument about ‘using the list vote’ was put forward in 2016, and look what happened, as SNP list votes peeled away, turning the 1% gap of 2011 into a 5% gap, and turning an SNP majority government into a minority one. (Indeed, it was the greater gap between the Labour constituency and list vote shares that allowed the SNP to beat Labour by a single seat in 2007.)

Bizarrely, in a unique feat of cognitive dissonance, while the Greens are seen by some as a competitor to the SNP… the list parties aren’t!

The truth, of course, is that all parties compete with each other, and the more indy parties there are to split the vote, the worse our side will fare against the unionists. This split is exacerbated by the inbuilt bias of the Additional Member System which rewards larger parties with more seats than they should be entitled to under a strictly proportional system, and penalises smaller parties:

The fact of the matter is, that if you don’t want to vote SNP on the list, Green is the only sensible alternative option, otherwise your vote will only lead to more unionist list seats, not less.

But the best way to get that majority government which will bring about indyref2 is with #BothVotesSNP.

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