Wednesday, 30 January 2013

A Tale Of Two Referendums

Yesterday evening saw the House of Commons accept a House of Lords amendment on the Electoral Registration & Administration Bill which effectively kills the proposed boundary changes. What is interesting is the comment by Pete Wishart, Scottish National Party MP for Perth & North Perthshire:

The only other party working for the Tories is Labour in the “No” campaign, working to keep Scotland governed by Conservatives at Westminster

Now, from what I am aware of Labour, their aim is not to keep Scotland governed by the Conservatives, but to have a Labour-led Scottish Government at Holyrood and a Labour-led British Government at Westminster.

But, this is the SNP logic - a vote for the Union is a vote for the wicked Tories.

I note what Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's Depute First Minister, wrote in Scotland on Sunday:

For me, an independent Scotland has ­never been the goal in itself, but rather the means to deliver the vital objectives of a fair society and dynamic economy.

The range of identities in modern Scotland – Scottish, British, Pakistani, Irish, Polish and many more – will be encompassed in an independent country, but they are not dependent on it. In the 
centuries since the 1707 Union, Scottish identity has endured, evolved and strengthened. In a similar manner, British identity will continue in an independent Scotland.

In other words, the case for independence does not rest on identity or nationality, but rather on values of social justice, enterprise and democracy. My concerns are not just about the nation of Scotland – they are principally about the welfare of the people of Scotland.

The shocking poverty statistics cited above cannot be divorced from the fact that the UK is the fourth most unequal country in the developed world – a situation that will only worsen as a result of the cuts imposed on working families and vulnerable citizens by the Westminster government.


[Work & Pensions Secretary] Iain Duncan Smith’s unfair cuts to the welfare system will hit a million working age households in Scotland, weakening consumer demand as well as harming families. But 80 per cent of Scottish MPs opposed them – and to add insult to ­injury Iain Duncan Smith refuses even to appear before Holyrood’s welfare reform committee to explain them.

along with:

The damaging uncertainty about our place in the European Union created by [Prime Minister] David Cameron’s speech last week is another example – a process driven entirely by Tory electoral fears about Ukip south of the Border. In Dublin on Friday, I set out a distinctively Scottish case for Europe’s importance to Scotland and our importance to Europe.

This concern about Westminster governments’ lack of a democratic mandate in Scotland is not just a problem now, and has never been confined to the SNP. For more than half of my life, Scotland has had a Tory government from Westminster that we didn’t vote for. And it was Jim Wallace – ironically enough now the Lib Dem Advocate General in a Tory-led government – who said in the House of Commons on this very day 25 years ago: “The Conservative Party in Scotland has no mandate, and it is no use pretending that it has.” I agree with the former Jim!


No vote is literally a vote for nothing – other than the continuation of a Westminster austerity agenda we didn’t vote for, uncertainty about our place in Europe, and complete certainty that Scotland would have a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons dumped on the Clyde for another 50 years

Stirring stuff - but more-or-less focussing on temporary things. The steps the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Government is taking to deal with the deficit Labour left them. Trident etc.

Whether Scotland becomes independent or not, are these going to be the top issues on people's minds in the 22nd century?

It seems that Sturgeon is offering a long-term solution (independence) to what she perceives as a short-term problem (an "agenda we didn't vote for" - hmm, Labour running England relying on the votes of Scottish MPs eh?)

But isn't this going to be the danger of the European Union referendum? Instead of asking the two questions:

  • What is the best thing for the United Kingdom's long-term future?
  • What is the best thing for the people of the United Kingdom?
  • isn't there a danger it'll all be about short-term issues, just as local and European elections become your chance to "send a message to the Government" or "give the Government a bloody nose", especially as a 2017 referendum would be in the middle part of mid-term?

    My worry is that it'll degenerate down to bendy bananas, to people on one side thinking that terms like "EUSSR" and "Fourth Reich" are substitutes for argument. To conspiracy theories (no, I cannot prove that the then-Prime Minister Edward Heath never ever held a meeting with then-backbench Labour MP John Prescott and faceless Eurocrats on how to "abolish England"). To the "who paid you?" argument (maybe, just maybe, politicians who put the case for continuing EU membership are being neither bribed nor blackmailed by Brussels, but are patriots who believe EU membership is in our best interest).

    To the portrayal of those opposed to EU membership as swivel-eyed closet racists. Or portrayed as wanting us to be the 52nd state of the USA.

    I fear that on both sides, the short-term issues (such as "give Dave/Ed/whoever a bloody nose") will take priority over the long-term question of what sort of Europe do we want? And what role do we want the United Kingdom to play (if any) in that Europe?

    Sunday, 27 January 2013

    That German 5% Rule

    This autumn the people of Germany go to the polls to elect a new Bundestag.

    The Bundestag uses a version of the Additional Members System - with some differences to the Scottish version - and there is a national 5% threshhold.

    Basically (and there is one exception), if a party fails to get 5% of the vote, then it fails to get any "top-up" seats. When the votes have been counted, the regional votes of all the qualifying parties (i.e. those entitled to list seats) are totted up for each Land and the number of seats a party is entitled to in that Land is calculated as if all of that Land's seats were allocated that way.

    This may sound confusing, so look at a local example. The Scottish Parliament is elected using AMS, and the d'Hondt method is used for allocating the "top-up" seats, which is a slightly different allocation method to the German one, but stick with this example.

    Mid Scotland & Fife returns 16 Members of the Scottish Parliament - with there being 9 constituencies and 7 "top-up" members. If we used d'Hondt to allocate all 16, then we would get:

  • Scottish National Party- 9
  • Labour- 4
  • Conservatives- 2
  • Liberal Democrats- 1
  • If we followed a Germanic method, then we would deduct the number of constituencies (8 SNP, 1 Labour) to get the number of "top-up" seats a party is entitled to:

  • Labour- 3
  • Conservatives- 2
  • Scottish National Party- 1
  • Liberal Democrats- 1
  • Which is exactly the real situation.

    The Bundestag was set up with the idea that half the seats would be constituencies, and half would be top-up, so with 299 constituencies, we should expect there to be 598 seats. At the September 2009 election, the result was:

  • Christian Democratic Union (CDU)- 194 (173 constituency, 21 top-up)
  • Social Democrats (SPD)- 146 (64 constituencies, 82 top-up)
  • Free Democratic Party (FDP)- 93 (all top-up)
  • Left- 76 (16 constituencies, 60 top-up)
  • Greens- 68 (1 constituency, 67 top-up)
  • Christian Social Union (CSU)- 45 (all constituencies)
  • So, we see 299 elected on constituencies, and 323 elected as "top-up" members. Has something gone wrong with the maths?

    Look at another Scottish example - this time Lothian. This is unusual as the only region where the SNP did not win any "top-up" seats, and so the good people of Edinburgh Northern & Leith are the only people in Scotland not to have an SNP MSP.

    If we follow the same method that we did for Mid Scotland & Fife, then we find the parties are entitled to the following number of seats:

  • Scottish National Party- 7
  • Labour- 4
  • Conservatives- 2
  • Independent- 1
  • Greens- 1
  • Liberal Democrats- 1
  • Subtract the number of constituencies (8 SNP, 1 Labour) and the number of "top-up" seats each party would be entitled to is:

  • Labour- 3
  • Conservatives- 2
  • Independent- 1
  • Greens- 1
  • Liberal Democrats- 1
  • Scottish National Party- minus 1
  • How do we deal with the SNP? We could, perhaps, take their most marginal constituency in this region, Edinburgh Central, and award that to the second-place Labour, and reduce the number of "top-up" seats that Labour is entitled to to 2.

    Now, the system of AMS used in Scotland never encounters this sort of problem as it is an additive system - after the constituencies have been awarded, it is then worked out how many "top-up" seats a party should be given.

    The Bundestag has a subtractive system - the number of seats in a Land which a party is entitled to is worked out, then the number of constituencies subtracted to work out how many "top-up" seats should be awarded. And that creates "overhang" seats in some Länder whereby a party gains more constituencies than it would be entitled to on a proportional system.

    As a result, the Bundestag is enlarged by 24 seats beyond its expected 598 members.

    As a rough guide, on a pure system, where there are no overhang seats and the seats are allocated in proportion of the national vote at a national level, we would get:

  • CDU/CSU- 215 (24 fewer than real result)
  • SPD- 146
  • FDP- 93
  • Left- 76
  • Greens- 68
  • The use of overhang seats has increased the CDU/CSU-FDP majority from 18 to 42.

    With 14.56% of the vote, the FDP got their best-ever result. For the past 20 years or so, in the run-up to elections, there has often been speculation that they would fall below that 5% threshhold and crash out of the Bundestag.

    And one thing that saves them is supporters of their coalition partners giving them their second votes. If you support a main party and live in a Land where your party is likely to get overhang seats, then that means it won't get any "top-up" seats there, so it is logical to give your second vote to your party's junior partner.

    But there is another reason for voting tactically to keep your partner above the 5% threshhold. Now, suppose that the total CDU/CSU-FDP vote remains the same, but the FDP gets one vote less than that 5% threshhold. We then get:

  • CDU/CSU- 291 (up 76)
  • SPD- 155 (up 9)
  • Left- 80 (up 4)
  • Greens- 72 (up 4)
  • Good news for the CDU/CSU as its share of the vote and number of seats soars? Not really. The Left cannot be touched with a bargepole, a CDU/CSU-Green coalition is unlikely, leaving the only majority coalition possible a grand one of the CDU/CSU with the SPD.

    Yes, Angela Merkel gets a third term as Chancellor, but not leading the Government of her choice.

    Next, increase the FDP vote by one, at the expense of the CDU/CSU, so the FDP just hits that 5% threshhold:

  • CDU/CSU- 276 (down 15)
  • SPD- 146 (down 9)
  • Left- 76 (down 4)
  • Greens- 68 (down 4)
  • FDP- 32
  • This would give a CDU/CSU-FDP majority of 18 again.

    Hence, the 5% threshhold rule creates an interesting effect that you if you support one of the 2 main parties, you can help them by voting against them.

    Saturday, 19 January 2013

    Government By Fax- Is The Prime Minister Wrong On Norway and the European Union?

    Last year, Prime Minister David Cameron warned that the United Kingdom would be governed by fax if we left the European Union.

    His argument was that we would be bound by the EU's social market rules even if we did enjoy a Norway-style relationship with the EU.

    Iceland, Lietchenstein and Norway are - along with the EU - part of the European Economic Area. There are, in addition, joint EEA structures.

    The European Free Trade Agreement (these days, Iceland, Lietchenstein, Norway and Switzerland) had produced a factsheet on how EEA laws are made - note that this is from before the Treaty of Lisbon, so parts of it might be out-of-date on the EU side.

    Unless I have misread it, it seems that for the non-EU members of the EEA, it is not a simple case that the legislation is passed in Brussels and Strasbourg and is then imposed on them by fax.

    Moreover, in drawing up proposals, the European Commission consults with various bodies, including the EEA.

    Thursday, 3 January 2013

    Could STV Help The Centre-Right In Northern Ireland?

    About 20 years ago I was a member of Mensa's Politics Special Interest Group, and this was the era when the Conservatives were doing badly politically. And one man came up with an interesting suggestion - couldn't the Ulster Unionist Party drop the "Ulster" from its title and start contesting by-elections in Great Britain, offering itself as a conservative party without all the baggage that the Conservative Party had?

    With recent by-elections, I now wonder if the UK Independence Party has taken that role he envisaged for the UUP. And, I wonder if he would suggest that another Ulster party - one which, unlike the UUP, is represented in the House of Commons - could drop the "of Northern Ireland" from its title and start contesting Great Britain constituencies to offer people a liberal democratic party without the baggage of being in a coalition with the Conservatives, if it wished to play a Long game (sorry, couldn't resist that) and become a significant force in British politics (note that with the implosion of the Progressive Democrats there is now a liberal democratic vacuum in the Republic of Ireland's politics).

    Now the UUP are in decline, with no MPs, despite more votes than the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland.

    When the Jenkins Commission produced its report on reform of the electoral system it came up with AV+, a form of Additional Members System where the Alternative Vote is used to elect constituency MPs, and the d'Hondt system is used to elect additional MPs. The Commission briefly considered Northern Ireland, and concluded that it should use AV+ in line with Great Britain, but should be split into an East and West, with 8 constituencies in the East, 6 in the West, and both areas electing 2 additional MPs.

    Even as late as the July 1945 general election, there were two-member constituencies (such as Southampton) and some of the university constituencies were using the Single Transferable Vote. It is not until the February 1950 general election that we have every MP elected on a common method - that of the Single Member Plurality.

    So, there is a history of different constituencies using different methods. And a switch to electing Northern Ireland MP's using STV would be consistent with its political history - the Government of Ireland Act 1920 required the old Northern Ireland Parliament to use STV - and with its current practice, where STV is used for elections to the European Parliament (even since the first elections, in June 1979, we have accepted that SMP was not suitable for Northern Ireland), Northern Ireland Assembly and local councils.

    This led me to do some thinking on what constituencies Northern Ireland could have, and what this would lead to.

    The first one is Antrim & West Down, comprised of 5 current constituencies - Antrim East, Antrim North, Antrim South, Lagan Valley and Upper Bann - all of which were won by the Democratic Unionist Party in the May 2010 general election.

    To look at the vote that parties got, I will use the May 2011 Northern Ireland Assembly results as these use STV and are free of the pacts that led to parties standing down.

    The parties getting over 5% of the vote here were:

  • Democratic Unionist Party- 41.96%
  • Ulster Unionist Party- 18.40%
  • Sinn Féin- 14.45%
  • Alliance Party of Northern Ireland- 10.07%
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party- 8.60%
  • Traditional Unionist Voice- 5.14%
  • The number of quotas that these got is:

  • Democratic Unionist Party- 2.52
  • Ulster Unionist Party- 1.10
  • Sinn Féin- 0.87
  • Alliance Party of Northern Ireland- 0.60
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party- 0.52
  • Traditional Unionist Voice- 0.31
  • So, we can tell straight away that the DUP would have won at least 2 seats (the two MPs with the highest vote were Ian Paisley jnr in Antrim North and Jeffrey Donaldson in Lagan Valley) and the UUP at least 1 (their candidate with the highest vote was Harry Hamilton in Upper Bann).

    The nationalist parties have 1.38 quotas between them, indicating their would be a nationalist MP, presumably from Sinn Féin. Their candidate with the highest vote was John O'Dowd in Upper Bann.

    All the unionist parties together (including UKIP) bring us to 3.94 quotas. However, add the APNI vote to the nationalist one and you end up 373 votes short of 2 quotas. Now, APNI is neither a uninoist nor nationalist, but maybe bolstered with UUP second preferences, and with nationalist voters placing an APNI candidate ahead of any unionist ones, then perhaps it would be APNI getting that final seat. Their candidate with the highest vote was Trevor Lunn in Lagan Valley.

    My guess is that Antrim & West Down would be DUP 2, UUP 1, SF 1, APNI 1.

    Next is Armagh & East Down, comprised of 4 current constituencies - Down North (Independent Unionist), Down South (SDLP), Newry & Armagh (SF) and Strangford (DUP).

    The parties getting over 5% of the vote here were:

  • Democratic Unionist Party- 26.15%
  • Sinn Féin- 22.65%
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party- 19.98%
  • Ulster Unionist Party- 15.14%
  • Alliance Party of Northern Ireland- 7.61%
  • The number of quotas that these got is:

  • Democratic Unionist Party- 1.31
  • Sinn Féin- 1.13
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party- 34 votes short of 1.00
  • Ulster Unionist Party- 0.76
  • Alliance Party of Northern Ireland- 0.38
  • Now, the DUP did not run a candidate in Down North at the general election. Sylvia Hermon, who had been the UUP MP, resigned the UUP whip in March 2010 as she disapproved of the UUP co-operating with the Conservatives. The DUP didn't contest Down North to enable her to win.

    The total unionist vote is 2.37 quotas (when we include UKIP, TUV and a couple of Independent Unionists).

    It is clear that we should expect a couple of unionist MPs, one Sinn Féin and one SDLP- and probably the same MPs that were elected.

    My guess is that Armagh & East Down would be DUP 1, SF 1, SDLP 1, Ind U 1.

    Next is Belfast, comprised of 4 current constituencies - Belfast East (APNI), Belfast North (DUP), Belfast South (SDLP) and Belfast West (SF).

    The parties getting over 5% of the vote here were:

  • Sinn Féin- 22.90%
  • Democratic Unionist Party- 28.04%
  • Alliance Party of Northern Ireland- 13.12%
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party- 12.52%
  • Ulster Unionist Party- 8.88%
  • The number of quotas that each party got is:

  • Sinn Féin- 1.46
  • Democratic Unionist Party- 1.40
  • Alliance Party of Northern Ireland- 0.66
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party- 0.63
  • Ulster Unionist Party- 0.44
  • So, with a complete quota each, it is clear that Sinn Féin would win a seat (their candidate with the most votes was their leader Gerry Adams, who was elected as MP for Belfast West) as would the DUP (their candidate with the most votes was their deputy leader Nigel Dodds, MP for Belfast North).

    The combined nationalist vote is more than 2 quotas, so transfers from Sinn Féin would give the SDLP a seat (their candidate with the most votes was their leader Alasdair McDonnell, MP for Belfast South).

    And the fourth seat?

    Between them, the APNI and UUP have 1.10 quotas. It is likely that all UUP candidates would get eliminated, so where would their vote go?

    If it primarily goes to the DUP, then this could lead to a second DUP seat (their candidate with the second highest number of votes was leader Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland's First Minister, in Belfast East). On the other hand, going to the APNI (with transfers from the nationalist parties) could see the APNI win a seat (their candidate with the most votes was Naomi Long, MP for Belfast East).

    My guess is that Belfast would be DUP 1 or 2, SF 1, SDLP 1, APNI 0 or 1.

    Finally, Northern Ireland West, comprised of 5 current constituencies - Fermanagh & South Tyrone (SF), Foyle (SDLP), Londonderry East (DUP), Tyrone West (SF) and Ulster Mid (SF).

    The parties getting over 5% of the vote here were:

  • Sinn Féin- 39.15%
  • Democratic Unionist Party- 23.27%
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party- 16.09%
  • Ulster Unionist Party- 10.04%
  • The number of quotas that each party got is:

  • Sinn Féin- 2.35
  • Democratic Unionist Party- 1.40
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party- 0.97
  • Ulster Unionist Party- 0.60
  • With 2 full quotas, we should expect Sinn Féin to get 2 seats - their two election victors with the highest vote are Michelle Gildernew in Fermanagh & South Tyrone, and Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in Ulster Mid (who has now resigned from the House of Commons).

    With 1 full quota, the DUP would get a seat. Their candidate with the most votes was Gregory Campbell, MP for Londonderry East. However, in Fermanagh & South Tyrone, the DUP and UUP withdrew their candidates (Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland Minister for Enterprise & Trade; and Tom Elliott, respectively) to back an Independent.

    If we take the May 2011 Assembly results for Fermanagh & South Tyrone and assume that if Foster and Elliott had contested the seat in the general election and the DUP:UUP vote ratio remained the same, then we have Foster on 11,898 votes (just 199 fewer than Campbell) and Elliott on 9,402 - which is more than any UUP candidate in this area.

    The SDLP are just 1,181 votes short of a quota, so it would be unlikely they would fail to win a seat. Their candidate with the most votes was Mark Durkan, MP for Foyle - incidentally, McGuinness's predecessor as Deputy First Minister.

    So, that is 4 of 5 seats filled. Who gets the fifth and final seat?

    The combined nationalist vote is 3.31 quotas, while the combined unionist (including the Traditional Unionist Voice and David McClarty, who was elected to the Assembly in Londonderry East) comes to 2.23 quotas, so we should expect a second unionist seat. Looking at what I think the votes for Foster and Elliott would have been if they had contested the general election, I expect it would be between them. In the Assembly elections, Elliott was the UUP candidate with the highest vote in this area.

    My guess is that Northern Ireland West would be SF 2, DUP 2 or 1, SDLP 1, UUP 0 or 1.

    So, there are 16 seats we can be reasonably confident about:

  • Democratic Unionist Party - 5
  • Sinn Féin - 5
  • Social Democratic & Labour Party - 3
  • Ulster Unionist Party - 1
  • Alliance Party of Northern Ireland - 1
  • Independent Unionist - 1
  • And that leaves one seat which is a choice between the DUP and APNI, and another that is a choice between the DUP and UUP.

    Various things to note. Firstly, STV could give a result that (apart from the DUP being one seat down, and the UUP actually winning a seat) that is quite close to the real result.

    Secondly, although there is a potential for tactical voting under STV, the big battles where other parties see their vote fall away as two parties go head-to-head get diluted in the wider constituency. For example, one of the dramatic results of the last general election was Long unseating Robinson in Belfast East. Under STV the final Belfast seat could go down to the wire between their parties, but this would simply be part of the general Belfast seat allocation.

    Thirdly and alongside this, one criticism that is STV helps minor parties. But, for example, if a party under SMP were targeting one seat extensively as that was the winnable one, and walked away with half the vote, then in a four-seat constituency that would only be one-eighth of the vote, much less than a quota. How many seats would the Scottish Senior Citizen's Unity Party have won if the Scottiah Parliament used STV?

    Fourthly, although the result would have been similar to SMP, the distribution of seats would be different. Sinn Féin picks up a seat under STV in the unionist heartland of Antrim & West Down, but in returns loses a seat to a unionist in Northern Ireland West.