General Election: Vast majority of Scottish voters ‘left voiceless’ under Westminster’s warped voting system

Posted on the 2nd March 2020

New report calls for UK parliament’s ‘rotten’ one-party-takes-all system to move over for ‘real representation and fair results’

New research into December’s UK election shows the vast majority of Scottish voters are effectively ‘ignored’ by Westminster’s one-party-takes-all voting system.

Voters Left Voiceless: The 2019 General Election” by researchers at the Electoral Reform Society shows how the one-party-takes-all electoral system delivered warped results across Scotland and the UK.

The report finds:

  • Of the almost 2.8m votes cast in Scotland on December 12th, 1.9m votes did not contribute to the result – meaning 68.5% of voters were effectively ignored.
  • Of that figure, nearly 1.5m votes went to non-elected candidates, while 408,000 were ‘surplus’ votes over and above what candidates needed to win. Under a proportional system like STV (as used in Scottish local elections), these surplus votes would be redistributed based on voters’ other preferences, to ensure they would be represented. Multi-member seats would also ensure far fewer ignored votes.
  • Voters of both the Conservatives and Labour suffered, with 80 percent of Conservative voters and 95 percent of Labour voters going unrepresented, compared to just 15 percent of SNP voters.
  • Scotland saw a starkly disproportionate result, with a disproportionality score (DV) of 36 – meaning well over a third of seats now held are effectively ‘unearned’ in proportional terms. The figure is double the rate of disproportionality as England, which saw a DV score of 17.5.

Scotland – Decisive vs Ignored Votes 

Number of Votes Percentage of Total
Total Votes   2,759,053 100%
Decisive Votes 869,357 31.5%
Ignored Votes   1,889,696 68.5%
  • Unrepresented Votes
  1,481,582 53.7%
  • Surplus Votes
408,114 14.8%

Scottish constituencies feature prominently among the top 10 smallest winning margins and majorities UK-wide, giving winners ‘precarious’ mandates and contributing to electoral instability. These small majorities are typical when FPTP is used in seats where more than two parties have a significant amount of support. The ERS say Westminster’s ‘one-winner’ set up leads to MPs slipping in on fractions of the vote – while other voters are denied representation.

The SNP’s performance delivered one of the most ‘warped’ results in the UK, with a 22 percentage point increase in seats for an eight point increase in votes. The SNP now hold 81 percent of the seats on 45 percent of the votes in Scotland. To their credit, the SNP support a switch to a fairer system, the ERS noted.

Scotland’s multi-party politics was again, as in 2017, squeezed by an ‘anti-choice’ two-party electoral system – despite Scottish voters being used to proportional representation for Holyrood and local councils – showing the warping effect of Westminster on Scottish politics.
The warped system represents an ‘insult’ to the millions who want to be heard, the ERS say.    

Writing in the report, the authors stated:

“The results show how Westminster’s system struggles to translate votes into seats in multi-party contests. Over a third of seats in Scotland were ‘unearned’ in proportional terms.

“In Scotland, the SNP’s performance delivered one of the most disproportionate results with a 22 percentage point increase in seats for an eight point increase in votes. The SNP now hold 81 percent of the seats on 45 percent of the votes.

“Tiny winning margins – where a candidate can slip in on a fraction of the vote, and all others are discarded – are the result of trying to force a voting system designed for two-party politics onto a diverse, multi-party contest.

“Over half of voters in Scotland do not have an MP they voted for, while many more votes failed to contribute to the result.

Dr Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research at the ERS, said:

“Voters in Scotland are used to voting with a proportional system for non-Westminster elections but are being cheated out of fair representation in the House of Commons. The huge scale of unrepresented votes, in Scotland and across the UK, represents a democratic crisis that has to be tackled. It’s time to ensure seats match how people want to vote. 

“Westminster’s out-dated, bankrupt electoral system is denying people choice and a real voice. The time for one-party-takes-all politics is over. We know proportional representation works – it’s time we backed a system at Westminster that works for all voters.”


Notes to Editors

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Full graphs and data reveal: Seats vs votes in Scotland, ignored votes vs decisive votes in Scotland. Disproportionality below: A DV score of 5-8 is normal for an election using a PR system. Scotland’s was the highest out of any UK nation or region, and double the UK-wide score

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