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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds Before we start to talk about the policies and the parties involved in this election, one of the most important things to understand is how the Scottish Parliament electoral system works. So the electoral system for the Scottish Parliament elections bears some similarity to the Westminster system, but also contains a proportional element. And we call it the Additional Member System. So let’s start just by reminding ourselves how the electoral system works for UK parliamentary elections to the House of Commons. So the UK is split into 650 individual constituencies, each electing one Member of Parliament. And that Member of Parliament is the candidate who receives the most votes in that constituency.

Skip to 0 minutes and 49 seconds Now, one advantage of that system, some people say, is that you maintain a clear link between an MP and the particular constituency. But you might argue that one disadvantage of that system is that it can produce results which are quite wildly disproportional. So the percentage of votes that a party receives might not necessarily match up to the percentage of seats that they receive in the House of Commons. So for example, the UK Independence Party at the 2015 general election in the UK received around 3,800,000 votes, but only got one seat in the House of Commons. So the Scottish Parliament system is in part an attempt to maintain the constituency link, but also have a more proportional electoral system.

Skip to 1 minute and 36 seconds So we retain that Westminster element of the system. We have 73 MSPs who are elected for individual constituencies across Scotland – that maintains a constituency link between an individual MSP and his or her constituency. But the Additional Member part of the system involves 56 other MSPs that are elected in regions across Scotland. And it’s this part of the system that tries to make the overall result more proportional. So the percentage of votes cast for a party more resemble the percentage of MSPs they receive in the Scottish Parliament. So in addition to those 73 MSPs, we have 56 MSPs in eight regions across Scotland.

Skip to 2 minutes and 21 seconds So Scotland is split into these eight regions – the Northeast, Highlands and Islands, Central Scotland, Glasgow, Lothian, Mid Scotland and Fife, South Scotland, and West Scotland. Those are the eight regions. So each person in Scotland gets two votes – one for the individual constituency MSP. Then additionally, we have a second vote, which is for a regional MSP. So 7 MSPs for each of the eight regions in Scotland – 56 in total. And they are the part of the system that is designed to make it more proportional – so to strengthen the relationship between the percentage of votes cast for a particular political party and the number of seats that party wins in the Scottish Parliament.

Skip to 3 minutes and 11 seconds So how do we decide how to divide up those seats in each of those regions between the different parties? Well let’s take, for example, the region of Glasgow. So we calculate the number of MSPs which each party gets in the region using a formula called the D’Hondt formula, which is designed to make the result proportional. So we take the number of votes the party has already won in the region, and we divide that by the number of MSPs they’ve already won in the region, plus 1. And we carry out this process in seven rounds to work out how many of the seven MSPs should be allocated to each party. So let’s look at round one in Glasgow in 2011.

Skip to 4 minutes and 2 seconds So let’s go to round two, and apply the D’Hondt formula to these results – only this time, we’ll be adding one more MSP to the Labour Party’s total. So the number of regional votes divided by the number of MSPs – the party has 1 plus 1. And when we do that, we find in the second round the SNP have come first. And therefore, the top candidate on their regional list, Humza Yousaf, was elected as a regional MSP for Glasgow. Let’s now turn to look at round three, where we have the SNP with one more MSP to add to their total. We then apply the D’Hondt formula to these figures.

Skip to 4 minutes and 40 seconds And we find we get results like this, which means that this time, the Conservatives have come first. And the top-placed candidate on their regional list of candidates, Ruth Davidson, was elected as a regional MSP for Glasgow. Now let’s look at round four. And if we apply the D’Hondt formula again to these totals, we get results like this. Which, as you can see, means that the Green Party have come first in this fourth round. And their top-placed candidate was Patrick Harvey, who was therefore elected as a regional MSP for Glasgow. So this process continues over the seven rounds in Glasgow until we have seven regional MSPs.

Skip to 5 minutes and 21 seconds And it goes on eight times all over Scotland, until we have our 56 regional MSPs. Although there is a greater level of proportionality then we see in the Westminster system, it doesn’t exactly match up. It doesn’t exactly match up the percentage of votes cast to the percentage of seats in the Scottish Parliament. So we can discuss disadvantages and advantages of this system. So a clear advantage is that it is more proportional than First Past the Post, if you think that proportionality is important. And also, it maintains that constituency link, if you think that is important. One criticism that has been levelled at this system is that it involves what we call ‘closed lists’.

Skip to 6 minutes and 5 seconds So parties decide on the ranking of candidates in their individual lists. Voters can’t vote for a particular candidate with their regional vote – that’s decided internally in political parties. And some people think that that doesn’t involve voters enough in who should be elected as their regional MSPs.

How Does the Electoral System Work?

The Scottish Parliament uses a different electoral system from the UK Parliament. How does it work? Alan Convery explains the Scottish variant of the Additional Member System.

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This video is from the free online course:

Scotland and Wales Vote 2016: Understanding the Devolved Elections

The University of Edinburgh