1.8m votes in Scotland had no impact on final result – ERS report

Posted on the 21st August 2017

Statement from Electoral Reform Society Scotland, for immediate release

  • Study shows Scotland shifting back to multi-party politics – with more seat changes than any other region or nation
  • Victories are precarious as Scotland returns four of the UKs top ten smallest majorities, making the electoral landscape unpredictable and fluid
  • The end of ‘tectonic plate’ politics heralds renewed need for enhanced electoral system.
  • Case for PR grows with 66.4% of votes wasted and a surge in tactical voting

Two-thirds of votes were ‘wasted’ and had no impact on the election result in Scotland, according to a new report from the Electoral Reform Society.

‘The 2017 General Election: Volatile Voting, Random Results’  shows that under Westminster’s First Past the Post voting system, 1,759,305 votes in Scotland didn’t go towards electing an MP [1].

Top Ten Seats by Wasted Votes %
Constituency Wasted Votes %
Edinburgh South 77.5%
Ross, Skye & Lochaber 75.1%
Dundee East 72.6%
Edinburgh West 71.4%
Kilmarnock & Loudoun 71.1%
Orkney & Shetland 71.0%
Caithness, Sutherland & Easter Ross 70.8%
Falkirk 70.2%
Aberdeen North 70.0%
Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale 69.9%

The study also shows Scotland is shifting back to multi-party politics, with more seat changes than any other region or nation.

However, Scotland is at risk of witnessing a ‘lottery election’, with slim victories meaning many seats hinge on just a handful of votes, as Scotland returns four of the UKs top ten smallest majorities.

The ERS are calling for Westminster to adopt a more proportional voting system, such as Scotland’s Single Transferable Vote used in local elections, amid a ‘sea of wasted votes, and a surge in tactical voting’.

Willie Sullivan, Electoral Reform Society Scotland Director, said:

“For older politics watcher it might be surprising that there has not been a settling into a period of one party dominance as many predicted, but a shifting back to multi-party politics. Of the 59 Scottish seats, 21 changed party. That’s more in relative terms than any other region or nation in the UK. Both Scottish Labour and Scottish Tories have been resuscitated and are for now growing in health.

“There are relatively few stable waymarks in the political landscape. Shock changes can take place very quickly and are exaggerated by the electoral system. Victories are precarious, and the possibility of another election in the medium term could mean all change again soon.

“Large swings, often local in effect, show that no party can expect very long in the sun. Banff and Buchan where a majority of over 14,000 for the SNP turned into a majority for the Conservative party of 3,600 highlights this. Scotland returned 4 of the UKs top 10 smallest majorities. Those MPs’ bottoms rest on very wobbly seats.

“We have left behind the ‘tectonic plates’ of the political mainland onto a choppy ocean of promiscuous tactical voting. This should open up a wide-ranging discussion about engagement with our national political debate and its relationship with the voting system that leaves voters puzzling over how to make it express their desires. Our report shows that 1,759,305 (66.40%) of votes in Scotland were ‘wasted’ – having no impact on the outcome of the election.

“The ways that votes are converted into seats matters. As voters wake up to the failures of FPTP they are increasingly taking on the complex task of trying to game the system to make it reflect their wishes.

“Electors should be able to vote for parties they agree with on the broad sweep of policy, instead of feeling the need to vote tactically based on one significant issue such as independence or Brexit because they fear ‘winner takes all’ dominance.

“A proportional system would allow for this, create a much broader discussion of politics ensure all votes are of equal value with citizens feeling empowered to take part. We need a democracy fit to take on the challenges the 21st Century is providing, and that means going beyond first past the post.”


Notes to Editors

For the full embargoed (Monday 21st August, 00:01), see here


Top Ten Seats by Wasted Votes (Numerical)
Constituency Wasted Votes
Edinburgh North & Leith 38934
East Lothian 38803
Linlithgow & Falkirk East 38625
Falkirk 37780
Edinburgh West 37675
Edinburgh South 37085
Renfrewshire East 36954
East Kilbride, Strathaven & Lesmahagow 36945
Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey 36683
Dunbartonshire East 36117


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