Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Pots and Kettles

Last week I (at least implicitly) criticized the SNP, for condemning a Labour-Conservative coalition in Stirling. In the interests of party balance then, I should mention that today I saw this piece on the BBC, which reveals that Labour were the largest single party in Dumfries and Galloway (15 seats) but have been ousted by an SNP-Conservative coalition (10 and 14 seats respectively). The interesting point is that Labour group leader Ronnie Nicholson is quoted as saying "The Tories lost the election, and the people of Dumfries and Galloway voted to kick them out. But the dead hand of Tory rule has been given the kiss of life by the SNP." The irony is that these words - such as the dead hand reference - echo what the SNP said about the Labour coalition in Stirling.

So, if there is any merit to this claim, then the Labour group from Dumfries and Galloway are implicitly criticizing the Stirling Labour Party, while the SNP from Stirling are criticizing the SNP from Dumfries and Galloway...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Logic of Proportional Representation

I commented last week on the Scottish local council elections. As it turns out, the results in Stirling were rather interesting: SNP: 9, Labour: 8, Conservative: 4, Green: 1.

No party had a majority (over half of the 22 seats). But in today's news I see that the Labour and Conservative Parties (12 seats between them) have agreed to enter a coalition. (This makes a change from the SNP minority council that's been in charge from 2008 until now.)

I was struck by the reported reaction of the SNP:
"Graham Houston of the SNP ... said: "The people of Stirling will be shocked that the Tories and Labour will get together to form an administration on Stirling Council, despite neither party being the biggest party after Thursday's election ... The real losers will be the people of the Stirling Council area, who after rejecting Labour at the ballot box will nonetheless see Labour entrenched at the helm of Stirling Council ... The people of Stirling will rightly feel betrayed by this treacherous Labour/Tory alliance.""

It seems that this statement is either downright misleading or portrays a lack of understanding of the electoral system. The elections were held under STV, a form of proportional representation. The simple idea is that the party or parties with a majority of seats thereby represent the majority of voters.

Ok, it's true that no one voted for a Labour-Conservative coalition, but the Labour and Conservative councillors between them represent more people than the SNP alone. It's not clear in what sense he can say that the people of Stirling rejected Labour, except in so far as Labour failed to win a majority, but that is true also of the SNP.

Simply being the largest single party does not give one the right to govern. Suppose we had one centre-right party with 40% support and two centre-left parties each with 30% support. Here we should expect the latter two to form a coalition government and, in doing so, they would be representing the majority of the people.

Disclaimer: I don't know the exact breakdown of the vote in Stirling, nor how the redistribution of preferences went to arrive at the final outcome, but the difference between SNP (9 seats) and Labour (8 seats) could be negligible. Even if it's not, the above points still stand. Proportional representation is intended to realize majority rule, whereas non-proportional systems of representation allow sizable minorities to wield disproportionate power.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Paid to Quit

Apparently a study in Dundee found that people who were paid incentives to stop smoking were more likely to succeed in giving up. Since the incentive was not the only help provided, it's not necessarily the case that it was the effective element, but it does seem to do some good. Interesting, I suppose, given that it requires some capacity for delayed gratification.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Electoral System Watch

I've just finished teaching my module on Democratic Theory. When discussing the plurality run-off method, I used French presidential elections as my example, though there voting takes place in two distinct stages. It seems, however, that the London mayoral elections use the plurality run-off method, as the BBC report here:

"With no candidate set to get 50% of votes, the top two go into a second round, where the second choices of those who voted for the five eliminated candidates are reallocated."

In related news, local elections were also held in Scotland, using the STV method (see the end of this report on results or this Q&A).

Readers may remember that I backed the 'Yes to AV' campaign in our recent referendum on electoral reform. Though there are some problems with AV, I think the three main arguments that swung the referendum were: i) under AV the 'loser' wins; ii) under AV some people get more votes; and iii) AV is too complicated/expensive. I don't think any of those arguments are good ones, and the links given will take you to my rebuttals of the first two. But the interesting point is that all of those arguments apply at least as well to STV, but I don't hear anyone round here complaining about it...