The Single Transferable Vote in Scotland (STV)

How to vote in council elections

Elections to Scottish local government (councils) use an electoral system called the Single Transferable Vote (STV). STV was first used in Scotland in 2007.

The way in which STV works

For the purposes of the election, council areas are divided into wards. Each ward elects four or five councillors.

Using the STV electoral system, each voter has more than one vote but rather than placing one ‘X’ next to the candidate of their choice, the voter is asked to rank the candidates in order of preference eg 1, 2, 3 etc. The voter can vote for as many candidates as they wish or can choose to vote for only one (rank 1).

To decide which of the candidates are elected as councillors, each candidate must achieve a certain percentage of the vote. If this does not happen, the candidate with the lowest number of votes drops out and their votes are redistributed according to these voters second choice. If a candidate achieves the required percentage of the vote they are then elected. This process is repeated until all councillors are elected.

The difference in two voting systems - proportional representation and first past the post

Advantages of STV

  • Greater voting choice: Voters can rank order the candidates giving them more choice. They can choose within parties and between parties.
  • Wider representation : As each voter has several councillors to represent them in their ward this gives them more choice in who they can speak to about their problems
  • Proportionality: System is more proportional than AMS and First Part the Post.
  • No tactical voting: No votes are ‘wasted’ ie all votes count towards choosing a representative. There is no need for tactical voting and there are no ‘safe’ seats.
  • Parties must work together: The most likely result of the election is that no one party will control a council. STV is more likely to result in a coalition (or minority control) of a council.

Disadvantages of STV

  • Complexity: Elections are more complex. Several different representatives covering the same ward are likely to be elected.
  • Coalitions more likely: As most parties gain representation under STV usually councils are run by a several parties together in a coalition which can make decision making harder.

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