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Funny old game

Nick Robinson | 15:09 UK time, Friday, 6 May 2011

As we await the result of the referendum on changing our voting system I can't help noticing that proportional representation has delivered a stable, majority government in Scotland whilst good, old fashioned first past the post produced a hung parliament and a coalition in Westminster.


  • Comment number 1.

    Very true Nick - and how supremely ironic that Labour introduced PR into Scotland with the sole aim of preventing an SNP majority.

  • Comment number 2.


    sweet irony

  • Comment number 3.

    And ironic that Annabel Goldie would not have kept a seat in Holyrood under FPTP.

  • Comment number 4.

    "...As we await the result of the referendum on changing our voting system I can't help noticing that proportional representation has delivered a stable, majority government in Scotland whilst good, old fashioned first past the post produced a hung parliament and a coalition in Westminster..."

    Not much gets past you, does it, Nick?

    You little tinker.

  • Comment number 5.

    Except the elections in Scotland were a mix of FPTP with a top-up list system. Not exactly full PR.

  • Comment number 6.

    Oh The Irony....

  • Comment number 7.

    PR was the ghost at the banquet. There should have been a real choice in the referendum i.e present system, AV or PR, then real change would have been possible. I, like I'm sure, many others added this choice to my ballot paper and put my X against it. For years as a Libdem supporter I thought bringing about change to PR was party policy. One more broken promise, I'm afraid (and my vote gone too).

  • Comment number 8.

    This is either a rather ill-informed or deliberately misleading post. Holyrood does not have PR, it has an additional member top-up system. If you look at the break down of the seats, the regional PR section of the election would have produced no majority government and Labour, against the general popular vote, would have been the largest party. It is the constituency first-past-the-post section of the election that has produced a large majority for the SNP. In the constituencies the SNP took 73% of the available seats, producing a conclusive government. If anything, the Scottish election demonstrates that FPTP produces strong governments in circumstances under which PR won't.

  • Comment number 9.

    Nick - The plural of "anecdote" is not "data". You need to have a sample set a lot bigger than "one of each" in order to draw a conclusion.

  • Comment number 10.

    As a letter writer to the Times pointed out this week, the Conservatives used a form of AV for their last 3 leadership elections without any fuss about the process or the result.

  • Comment number 11.

    Nick - while you whitter on ever more inanely, how about this for remarkable:

    The Tories WON a further 4 councils last night and added over 60 councillors in England.

    Pretty amazing for an incumbent party undertaking some very very tough reforms.

    But do the BBC report this? Err, no. I think I might ask for an independent enquiry.

  • Comment number 12.

    You're right of course, but most of the people who bothered to vote only saw it as a chance to kick the LibDems, so England isn't even going to get AV, and the only avenue to PR is now closed.

  • Comment number 13.

    Sorry to be a party-pooper, Nick, but statistically it can and does happen from time-to-time, and so is hardly earth-shattering.

    Let's not forget, also, that coalitions have been the general state of affairs in Scotlland and Wales (I'm not forgetting N Ireland but STV is specifically designed to produce a coalition there to ensure that both unionists and republicans are involved in government) and single party government is the norm in Westminster.

    Exceptions always prove the rule...

  • Comment number 14.

    And did you not realise that PR didn't get a strong government in Wales and hasn't produced a majority on Scotland for ages. Poor analysis I'm afraid Nick...

  • Comment number 15.

    Stunning victory for Scotland's people and the SNP!

    Both devolution and the voting system for the Scottish Parliament were designed by unionist to prevent Scotland from disolving the union.

    Guess what the unionists have failed on both accounts.

    The unionists are still trumpting that a referendum on independence will not go ahead, problem for them now is they can not block it in parliament. Same as they can not block a re-introduction of the alcohol bill or any other bill for that matter.

    labour have been seen for what they are by the Scottish people, a party with no raison d'etre, careerists and opportunists such as the brothers m, brown, blair and balls.

    Scottish labour mps have no mandate in westminster, English people should demand their removal to address the democratic deficit that exists in England.

    C McK

  • Comment number 16.

    "Except the elections in Scotland were a mix of FPTP with a top-up list system. Not exactly full PR."

    The Additional Member System is absolutely PR driven. Seats are allocated based on what the second votes are compared to who won the seats in the FPTP seats. Then the second seats are allocated based on that. It has the constituency MSPs people voted for, and it has the PR element to give a balanced parliament. If that had been the system being asked for on the referendum yesterday it would have won a majority in Scotland (and I'd suspect Wales as well) because people like it.

  • Comment number 17.

    Ironic, isn't it?

    Bottom line is, a divided country - present-day Britain - will produce a divided government.

    A united nation will produce a united government, however strongly the system mitigates against it.

    Good to be Scottish today.

  • Comment number 18.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 19.

    Sir! That is the rankest conclusion with a surprisingly low intellectual consideration given your record. PR delivered a majority SNP result in Scotland, precisely because of the rare coalition result in 2010 under FPTP, and futher more sir, inarguably we have FPTP producing an overwhelming majority of single party strong governments in its centuries long history. If your comment was merely glib then I take it with a pinch of salt, however, if it was intentionally 'sound' then sir, I'm afraid most of us within your readership and within the public must disagree with you on point of fact on this one. FPTP is the system which produces the least coalitions.

  • Comment number 20.

    The meltdown of the LibDems in local councils with their possible future extinction has given us all a chance to reconsider the true elegance of FPTP - a 'simple' and 'traditional' method of disenfranchising millions of voters!
    With the absence of a third party, in major conurbations in the north, and in the leafy shires of the south, conservative votes and labour votes respectively will be a total and absolute waste of time!
    All Hail Nick Cleggs genius!! All Hail Simplicity!!

  • Comment number 21.

    Why is it that we see coalitions as a bad thing. I fail to see how parties having to work together and compromise on more extreme policies is a bad thing. Having a single party government with a very large majority might mean a 'strong' government, but it means one that can effectively do what it likes. Look at Germany, its numerous coalitions since 1949 have still led to very strong government and turned Germany into the economic powerhouse it is today.

  • Comment number 22.

    Ironic yes, and I suspect that some people reading will wonder what the fuss was about regarding which version produces stable government. But it's a quirk of timing...That's the first time the Scottish Parliament has had a majority goverment, and Westminster has a hung parliament for the first time in almost 40yrs!

  • Comment number 23.

    Yes, Nick, but it is only a "type of PR" in Scotland - 2 systems of voting: the traditional system of First Past the Post, and the Additional Members System (AMS) - only Northern Ireland has a decent system of PR (IMO) designed to make sure that the candidates elected represent accurately the opinions of the voters, i.e. that the strength of each party in the elected forum is in proportion to its support among the people. The system used in Northern Ireland is called the Single Transferable Vote, STV for short. Every voter has only one vote, but they can ask for it to be transferred from one candidate to another to make sure it is not wasted. This is done by numbering the candidates 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and so on instead of just putting an "X" against one of them. So - "simples" as a certain meercat would say - can you get this across to your viewers?

  • Comment number 24.

    Yes, but you must remember that Scotland is a smaller country and therefore there is less chance of a major disagreement amongst the population on parties. England however has a huge demographic and therefore there will be larger swings which will only be extrapolated under any form of proportional representation

  • Comment number 25.

    I think that is a nonsensicle statement. How many stable, majority governments have their been since the last war using FPTP, would you say? And using proportional representation [as in Scotland] , how many stable majority governments has it produced [out of 4 attempts]? 1.

  • Comment number 26.

    A stable majority government? It produced a majority government by an absolute minimum amount, which hasn't even began sitting yet, so how can you call it stable yet?

  • Comment number 27.

    Mincepie Murderer - (lovely name ...I like mince pies too) - alleges that Labour introduced 'PR' into Holyrood elections to prevent an SNP majority.

    Not so! Objections to any Assembly capable of being dominated by the Glasgow-Edinburgh electors were listened to, and acted upon. It was Roy Jenkins who devised the two tier voting as a way of ensuring that Labour would always struggle to gain a working majority on its own. So that some Lib-Lab pact would be inevitable.

    No one anticipated that Scotland would swoon to a Personality Cult led by TV. Just as so many still assume that Scots are unlikely to vote for separation. And others assume that our European & UK neighbours will roll over and agree to sweetheart terms for any separation. Nobody knows what our electors may vote for when constitutions change.

    What we've seen is how the 'well laid plans' can go astray. We should all be careful of what we wish for.

  • Comment number 28.

    Scotland would return a stable majority under almost any system. The point worth noticing is that England would too. It's only the West Lothian question that causes the problem. The general apathy about the referendum is that the British people are sick and tired of politicians wasting time and money tinkering with the constitution but not addressing the fundamental issue - which is that England and Scotland want a fiscal and electoral separation.

  • Comment number 29.

    Here's Cameron telling lies about AV.

    To protect those with vested interest who want to maintain their position, maintain their privaleges.and who don't want change to take place even if its in the countrys best interests. Conservatives and Labour donkeys wearing a red rossette like John prescott and Margaret Becket.

    Presumably for to be accurate, he must have been using a dishcloth straight after using it to clean the toilet.

  • Comment number 30.

    And it's also a system that allows the electorate to reject a candidate in their constituency yet he/she still ends up in Parliament by virtue of the Additional Member System.

    No cronyism as a result of it then. Just fair, open and honestly (duplicitous) politics.

  • Comment number 31.


    Calm down, dear.

  • Comment number 32.

    The purpose of elections is not to have what your term "a stable government" by which you presumably mean "a government where one party has an overall majority". By this measure they have very stable governments in Communist China and North Korea. The United Kingdom too has a stable government elected freely and fairly. Elections are fair if they are conducted in a way that the electorate want it to be conducted. The electorate in Scotland and Wales did not vote at all for PR or a top up and we already know that a majority of the electorate in the UK certainly did not vote for AV when offered the chance to do so.

  • Comment number 33.

    I would point out that at the time of writing the number of councillors in the UK returned (on FPTP) is

    CON 3857 +49
    LAB 2094 +695
    LD 843 -580
    OTH 581 -182

    So the conservatives would have a majority on FPTP.

  • Comment number 34.

    But this is only the first majority government in Scotland, so a little quick with the judgment Nick

  • Comment number 35.

    Mr Robinson, as a BBC correspondent you of all people should be preaching and practising impartiality in this great electoral system debate - be fair here, Scotland doesn't use PR, it uses AMS - and I don't believe for a minute that your good self would not appreciate the actually quite sizeable difference between the two.

  • Comment number 36.

    amendment to dh@29
    Presumably for this cleaning up politics visual metaphor to be correct:
    he must have been using a dishcloth straight after using it to clean the toilet.

  • Comment number 37.

    Indeed Nick. An obvious observation but no less moot for that. Shows that when assessing the merits of new voting systems, one should be wary of predicting exactly what it will - or won't - lead to and instead just focus on making each vote count the same, thus pure PR ... x% of the vote gives x% of the representation ... is the only thing which fits the bill. Progress, so only a matter of time.

  • Comment number 38.

    I think the more interesting observation is that all the different hung parliaments and assemblies in Scotland and Wales have never had trouble governing effectively, whilst the only coalition in recent history of the UK Parliament is poised to tear itself apart.

    I can't help thinking that the problem with the UK coalition is that the major partner is a party that doesn't really believe in coalitions and think it's entitled to always get its way (in spite of the voters didn't give them a governing majority even with a voting system heavily skewed in their favour).

  • Comment number 39.

    That's a pretty opportunistic comment Nick, which you are able to make only because of an unexpectedly large surge to the SNP and a dismal failure by the Tories at the last election to hammer home their advantage. These are if anything the exceptions that prove the rule. Before the spectacular nature of last night's result in Scotland commentators were shaking their heads and expressing caution about the SNP's ability to gain a majority because, they said, the list system was designed to ensure coalition governments. To suggest this first majority government since the introduction of devolution and the first formal UK coalition since the war point to some important political point on voting systems is risible.

  • Comment number 40.

    @ BenitoB [26] :

    "A stable majority government? It produced a majority government by an absolute minimum amount"


    LOL - another alternative universe dweller. The SNP won 69 seats, all the other candidates put together totalled 60. That's a whopping 15% over an absolute majority.

    Don't know about your political theory, but basic arithmetic is certainly a fail.

    This is a significant absolute majority under any voting system - and in PR terms it is a landslide.

  • Comment number 41.

    I notice that there is one house in this area with a "Yes" sign up and lots of "Yes" ballons around the door - what is the correct etiquette now that the AV Yes vote is being comprehensively thrashed and severely defeated, even as I write?

    Does one simply let the tatty little balloons deflate over the next few days as a symbol of their whole "miserable little compromise"?

    Or does one burst them all now to put the "progressive" Lefty residents out of their misery and sheer and utter humiliation?

    Thoughts please?

    Middle England (officially representing the 70% great conservative majority from now on...)

  • Comment number 42.

    There was a good reason to vote 'Yes' in the referendum.

    In an election using the 'AV' system you can choose whether to put preference votes 1, 2, 3 etc. (and participate under AV) or just put a single '1' preference so that you participate under 'first past the post'. If most people did the latter then the election result would be substantially decided under 'first past the post' despite allowing AV.

    It would be the sort of argument that would appeal to many groups - even the indecisive!

  • Comment number 43.

    37. sagamix wrote:

    Thus pure PR ... x% of the vote gives x% of the representation ... is the only thing which fits the bill. Progress, so only a matter of time.
    I’m with you on this one Saga, but I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for it.
    If the early results are to be believed, it’s going to be another bad day for the LibDem’s & voting reform will be pushed into the very long grass by the Tories for a generation.
    I wonder how many LibDems there are currently slapping their heads & groaning “why didn’t we go the whole hog & push for PR instead”.
    Why indeed...why indeed?

    Talking of voting reform; isn’t it ironic that the very system of voting in Scotland that was set up to prevent an SNP majority, has actually produced the first SNP Majority Parliament?
    Well I never -trebles all round in the SNP office me thinks.


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