By Richard Wood
Upgrade Holyrood strongly supports improving Scotland’s broadly proportional but flawed Additional Member System (AMS), currently used to elect Members of the Scottish Parliament.
This is why I have started an official Scottish Parliament petition to replace AMS with a more representative alternative.
The petition is officially entitled “PE1901: Replace the voting system for the Scottish Parliament with a more proportional alternative” and can be signed here.
Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to replace the broadly proportional, but flawed, Additional Member System (AMS) used for electing MSPs with a more proportional alternative.
AMS results in more representative parliaments than FPTP used in Westminster but it is not fully proportional. It also results in two classes of MSPs, limits voter choice and can be exploited by decoy parties.
Alternatives such as the Single Transferable Vote (STV) or Open List PR, would empower voters and lead to more representative parliaments.PE1901
Reasoning behind the petition
The Additional Member System has done well to ensure broadly proportional parliaments but it does have some serious flaws, the full details of which can be read below.
This petition makes the case for an alternative system to replace AMS. I recognise that different individuals and parties back different alternatives, which is why I have kept the proposed alternative open and reasonably vague to help build a broad coalition for voting reform in Scotland.
For example, the Scottish Lib Dems and SNP favour the Single Transferable Vote (used for local authority elections in Scotland, as well as national elections in Ireland and Malta) while the Scottish Greens now support an Open List PR system (like those used in Denmark and Iceland) but have supported STV in the past.
Earlier this year, Scottish Conservative Murdo Fraser MSP broke party ranks and called for reform, highlighting STV as a possible alternative.
In terms of non-party support, the Electoral Reform Society has long supported the Single Transferable Vote while Ballot Box Scotland, who does an incredible job of covering and analysing Scottish electoral politics, favours and Open List PR system with levelling seats.
The route to electoral reform in Scotland
Changing the voting system at Holyrood requires a two-thirds majority rather than a simple 50%+1 majority as with most votes.
The Scottish Lib Dems were the only party in the parliament to propose changing the voting system in their 2021 manifesto but with the SNP and Scottish Greens in favour of a change in principle, as well as at least one Scottish Conservative MSP behind the idea, there is a possible route to reform.
The two-thirds rule would therefore mean that 86 MSPs would be required for supporting any reform. Together, the SNP (64 seats), the Scottish Greens (7 seats) and the Scottish Lib Dems (4 seats) fall short of that number with a combined total of 75 seats. Even with Murdo Fraser there would be just 76 MSPs in favour of reform.
The Scottish Conservatives are unlikely to back any reform overall due to their long-standing opposition to reform at Westminster. Any moves to supporting reform would lead to calls of hypocrisy if they continued to favour the archaic First Past the Post voting system at Westminster.
The best hope is getting additional support from Scottish Labour who have no position on changing the voting system. That said, there is certainly a route to reform through Scottish Labour who could definitely be persuaded to back reform if the idea gained momentum.
Other hurdles include the the fact that electoral reform is not high on the political agenda and there are different schools of thought on what to replace AMS with as previously mentioned.
Nonetheless, it is important to shift the conversation on this issue, which is why I have lodged the petition.
Please consider adding your name to begin an active conversation about the flaws of AMS and a real discussion on alternatives that provide for better representation.