New research by Professor John Curtice for the Electoral Reform Society shows how Scottish voters and parties have adapted to the Single Transferable Vote (STV) in Scottish Local Elections. His reports suggests both that progress was made at the election in 2012, the second to use STV, but that there is still room for improvement.
Professor Curtice (left) said that STV had “given voters the opportunity to express a more nuanced choice. 2012 confirmed that Scots are willing to use the opportunity to cast more than one preference, and to vote across party lines. Independents have done well under the new system. Personality still matters to some voters – and under STV reaps its reward. Meanwhile, a majority of councils are now being run by single party administrations. The fears of those who felt that introducing proportional representation would inevitably result in multi-party instability and greater party domination of local government have not been realised.”
The report was welcomed by Willie Sullivan, Director of the Electoral Reform Society Scotland, who pointed out that the first STV election in 2007 had seen “massive changes in how local democracy worked in Scotland. Voter choice more than doubled, uncontested seats became a thing of the past, and the rotten boroughs that plagued Scotland were undone. 2012 saw the new system bedding in, with both voters and parties making the most of the possibilities presented by STV. Scotland clearly has lessons for those in England and Wales who believe their local democracy can and should be better.”
The research has also suggested scope for further improvements. “The Government needs to think carefully about the wisdom of simply listing candidates in alphabetical order on the ballot,” explained Professor Curtice. “In 80% of cases where a party nominated a pair of candidates, the candidate placed higher on the ballot paper won more first preferences. Our elections shouldn’t give an ‘Anderson’ an inbuilt advantage over a ‘Young’.”
The report was published just before the close of submissions to the Scottish Parliament’s inquiry into the 2012 contest.
2012 Scottish Local Government Elections, 3 May 2012, Report & Analysis, by Professor John Curtice is available for download.
A short film to accompany the report’s launch — An Ordinary Election: STV in Edinburgh –- can be seen below.