General Election in Scotland could see Labour win more votes but fewer seats than Tories

Posted on the 20th March 2018

Campaigners say Westminster’s ‘broken’ voting system must be brought up to Scottish standard. 

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society for immediate release, 20th March 2018
    Spokespeople are available for interview. For more information, contact mediaoffice@electoral-reform.org.uk or 07717211630

Campaigners have slammed Westminster’s ‘absurd and undemocratic’ voting system, after influential election website Electoral Calculus projected Labour would secure more votes but fewer seats than the Conservatives in Scotland if a General Election were held now [1].

Under the projections based on the latest polling, Labour would secure 27% of the vote but just four seats, due to the ‘one-person-takes-all’ nature of the disproportionate First Post the Post system. Meanwhile, the Conservatives would win 24% of the vote – but nearly triple (11) Labour’s number of seats.

Unlike elections for Holyrood and local councils, Westminster elections in Scotland still use ‘First Past the Post’ – unlike most developed democracies which use proportional voting systems.

Up to 1.8 million Scottish votes were ‘wasted’ in last year’s General Election because they had no impact on the result, according to ERS research. [2]

The Electoral Calculus projections follow UK-wide analysis [3] predicting the Conservatives would win 40.5% of the vote and 297 seats, whereas Labour would win just 279 seats on 40.7% of the vote – resulting in a situation where one party wins the most votes yet the other party wins the most seats.

The Electoral Reform Society say the figures show ‘Westminster’s outdated electoral system is failing at its most basic requirement’.

A ‘wrong winner’ scenario would not be a first for the UK: in 1951 the Conservative Party won 48% of the vote to 48.8% for Labour, yet the election saw a Conservative majority.

And the February election of 1974 produced a hung parliament, in which Labour had 301 seats to the Tories’ 297 – despite the Conservatives beating Labour in votes by 0.7% [4].

Trade unionists and former Jeremy Corbyn advisors have now launched a new campaign, ‘Politics for the Many’ to call on Labour and unions to back ‘root and branch democratic reform’, including proportional representation [5].

Willie Sullivan, Director of Electoral Reform Society Scotland, said: 

“While elections for Holyrood and local councils ensure seats match how people vote, Westminster’s voting system continues to short-change Scottish voters. This analysis shows that Westminster’s democratic deficit continues to get worse.

“This situation would be absurd – but not unprecedented. Two elections in the second half of the last century produced ‘wrong winner’ results. Now it looks like it could happen in Scotland – in this case with Labour securing more votes but fewer seats than the Conservatives. That’s not democracy, and does all of Scotland a disservice. London’s broken electoral system is holding back the will of voters.

“These figures show just how broken Westminster’s voting system is. Whichever side it affects, a ‘wrong winner’ scenario would be an absolute scandal for our democracy, and the fact it is even on the cards is an absolute indictment of the Commons’ current set up. It’s a stark contrast to the proportional Holyrood and local council systems.

“It’s time for all parties to push for real reform at Westminster  to ensure that voters’ voices are always fairly reflected. It is simply unacceptable that in the 21st century, we still face the prospect of the largest party winning fewer votes than the other side.”

Nancy Platts, Politics for the Many coordinator and former trade union advisor to Jeremy Corbyn, said:

“For Labour to potentially secure more than a quarter of the vote but get just 7% of seats is a sign of just how rigged Westminster’s voting system really is.

“These figures suggest the Conservatives could get fewer votes but nearly triple the number of seats as Labour if a General Election were held tomorrow. That would be an insult to Scottish voters.

“The system looks increasingly stacagainst working people’s voices, with the Tories unfairly benefiting from the vote-wasting machine that is ‘First Past the Post’. This analysis showing just how unfit for purpose the one-person-takes-all electoral system has become. It serves the old boys’ network while workers’ interests are trampled on.

“Holyrood and Scotland’s local councils are miles ahead of the UK’s Parliament’s set-up. It is now time to bring Westminster elections into line – to give Scottish voters the representation they deserve. Instead of allowing our constitution to breed distrust and alienation, we need a politics for the many.”

[1] https://twitter.com/ElectCalculus/status/974580554858459136/photo/1

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-40991615

[3] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/next-election-could-see-labour-win-most-votes-but-fewer-seats-than-tories/

[4] Internationally there are other precedents under disproportionate voting systems, with New Zealand seeing two wrong winner elections in a row in 1978 and 1981 – setting them on the path to electoral reform. New Zealand now uses Holyrood’s Additional Member System. The mechanics of the electoral college in the United States are also similar – delivering Presidents who did not win the popular vote in 1876, 1888, 2000 and 2016.

[5] Politics for the Many has support from senior figures from the UK’s leading trade unions, including Howard Beckett, Assistant General Secretary at Unite, as well as former trade union adviser for Jeremy Corbyn, Nancy Platts.

Organisers are urging others to add their weight to the campaign on the Politics for the Many website and join its dedicated Facebook page here.

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