by Rab Bruce’s Spider

Comments by Tory MSPs on social media often garner ribald replies. One retort often aimed at them is that most of them have never actually won an election and are only at Holyrood by virtue of being on the List and gaining a seat thanks to the workings of the D’Honte voting system. While this taunt is perfectly accurate, it is one people really should stop using, and here’s my argument why.

The D’Honte system, combining some First Past The Post elements with proportional voting electing List MSPs has its faults, but all Parties are bound by its rules and all Parties have List MSPs at Holyrood. While the Tories may have a higher proportion than other Parties, this is no reason to go pointing the finger at them for being elected using the same system which has elected Labour, Lib Dem, Green and SNP MSPs.

In any case, what alternative system would you propose we use to make sure that only people who have won elections are seen at Holyrood? This line of argument implies that you’d prefer FPTP which, as everyone should know by now, is a very biased, unfair and unrepresentative system. It also tends to lead to two-Party dominance such as we’ve seen in Westminster and in the USA. No, we really don’t want FPTP elections to the Scottish Parliament, do we?

But the other alternative is to go with fully Proportional Representation. This is quite normal in many other countries, but it means that every elected politician would be a List MSP. Where does your taunting go then?

And is there really a problem with List MSPs? Let’s face it, most voters don’t vote for an individual to represent them, they vote for the Party based on the leader. This is why the Tories managed to get away with the absurd campaign which told people to vote for Ruth Davidson’s Party in the General Election when she wasn’t even standing for election. The ploy worked, though, because the media hyped the Colonel up so much, allowing the Tories to gain seats because voters voted for the Party rather than the individuals who were standing in the various constituencies. Nobody bothered about those individual candidates, they voted for a person they mistakenly believed was the leader. As things have turned out, of course, the Colonel has shown that she has absolutely no influence over “her" MPs at all; they simply do as they are told by the Whips in Westminster.

But, getting back to Holyrood, some people argue that nobody should be allowed to be elected to the Scottish Parliament as a List MSP more than once or twice. This, they argue, would remove freeloaders who dare not stand in a head to head election and whose competence is questionable. Now, I’ve already pointed out the unfairness of head to head elections for parliamentary bodies, but should we limit the number of times a person can stand as a List MSP?

On the face of it, this seems a very reasonable suggestion but, after some reflection on this, I think any restriction could create more problems than it solves. It may well get rid of some annoying characters, but they could well be replaced by people of even less ability – hard as that may be to believe. But look, for example at how the Tories are finding it necessary to retain councillors who have made openly racist or homophobic comments because they can’t find anyone else to represent them. By limiting the number of times an individual can stand, you run the risk of standards being lowered even further. Let’s face it, the barrel is being scraped already. It may be hard to believe, but the List MSPs representing the Tories at Holyrood are the best they have available. If we bar them from standing for re-election, who knows what calibre of candidate we might see in the future?

The final point on this is that changing the voting system is no guarantee that a better quality of politician would emerge. Look at Westminster, for example, to see how braying schoolboy antics are the order of the day. And look, especially, at the 13 Tory MPs who were elected to Westminster under the FPTP system. They have displayed dazzling ineptitude in their short time there despite having won head to head elections.

So please let’s not use being a List MSP as any sort of derogatory comment. It’s a cheap and easy shot, but we should be criticising poor MSPs for their performances, not for being elected under the PR format of the List. Head to head elections are fine if you win, but a proportional voting system is much more representative of the wishes of all the voters. What we need is a better quality of politician, not a different way of electing them.