One of the main points raised in independence debates, and what is essentially the whole basis of the independence movement, is that Scotland rarely gets the government it votes for in UK General Elections. It doesn’t matter which way Scotland votes because England decides the outcome.
During a debate on facebook I was met with the claim that Scotland does indeed get the government it votes for most of the time, not only that but England doesn’t get the government it votes for roughly the same amount of times that Scotland doesn’t.
Thinking it should be straightforward to find sources to counter this claim I trotted off to google. The google algorithm is a curious beast and chose to show me articles about “Scotland does get the government it votes for”. I had a look and found a well written article with convincing facts and well cited sources.
Have a look for yourself…
There was just one problem. That article and others like them base their assumptions on the Popular Vote and compare it with the overall result which is determined by Seats Won. That’s not how we elect our governments. Popular Votes do not convert to Seats, that would be a form of Proportional Representation which we do not use in the UK (except for Scottish Parliament elections).
To compare the Popular Vote with Seats Won is blatantly misrepresenting the data to achieve a favourable outcome that fits their conclusion.
Luckily they provided their data sources so I did a little research of my own to find out what the data actually shows.
This first table is roughly how the article depicts/distorts the data…
As you can see at a glance it looks roughly even.
Scotland had 7 governments it didn’t vote for; England had 4 it didn’t vote for, but for the sake of argument lets include 2010 to bring it to 5. Pretty close eh.
Now lets look at the amount of years each country was run by a government it didn’t vote for.
Scotland was ran by a government it didn’t elect for 29 years, whereas England is on 16 years (again, for the sake of argument).
Scotland clearly has more but 29 to 16 isn’t that far a stretch, they’re kinda comparable if nearly 2/1.
But, it bears repeating, this is not how UK governments are formed. Like it or not, we rely on First Past The Post with Seats Won to elect our government, not PR of any form.
So what’s a better way? Well comparing Popular Votes in each country to the overall Popular Vote would be a start and would give us some meaningful answer. Lets see how that goes…
As you can see it’s quite a different story.
Scotland had many more results it didn’t want than England.
9 for Scotland compared with 2 for England. Scotland had more than 4 times the governments it didn’t want than England.
But lets look at the years in power for these governments.
Out of 72 years, England was ruled by governments it didn’t choose for just over 6 years whereas Scotland had 33 years of an unwanted government! That’s about 5 times as much.
England didn’t choose the government 9% of the time; Scotland for nearly half (45%).
But that’s still not telling the whole story. Again, we don’t elect by Popular Vote, that would be another form of PR (and a form of PR that no country would adopt). So I guess we can scrap that data too altho it’s interesting in it’s own right.
So what’s the best way to show the data fairly?
The way we actually elect our government of course, the way it happens in the real world; FPTP by total Seats Won.
Lets have a look…
At first glance it seems about the same as the last table. 3 elections England “lost” and about 9 for Scotland.
But check out the years.
Every government that England didn’t vote for lasted for no more than 18 months, which makes almost 4 years in total. Not even a full term in modern fixed-term elections.
Scotland on the other hand had to suffer governments it didn’t elect for 38 years (yes I am counting 1951). That’s more than half the time since 1945.
Remember that first table comparing Popular Vote against Seats Won and how the year tallies for both countries were kinda in the same ballpark, 16 years to 29?
Well now we’re talking 42 MONTHS for England against 38 YEARS for Scotland. Let that sink in.
The stark difference between those tables is because the data did not match the desired result of pro-union bloggers. They manipulated the context to suit their narrative, going to great efforts to disguise the fact yet with the brassneck to cite sources in the hope that people will take their word for it and not check for themselves.
For the sake of transparency here’s the sources I used for my data, the very same sources used in the “aforceforgood” article but with a completely different outcome.
UK election statistics 1945-2003, pages 11 and 13
House of Commons Library, Research Paper 05/33, General Election 2005, pages 15 and 17
House of Commons Library, Research Paper 10/36, General Election 2010, pages 9 and 10
House of Commons Library, Research Paper CBP-7186, General Election 2015, pages 13 and 14
Do check the sources for yourself, don’t take my word for it.
I’ve triple checked everything and as far as I can tell it checks out, but as a human I can be prone to errors; if there are any it’s not an attempt to deceive, just holler in the comments and I will correct them. Yet even then I suspect it would barely change the results.
So what can you take from this?
You can only honestly judge how a government is elected by the method it is actually elected.
Scotland very clearly didn’t get the government it wanted in 38 of 72 years.
England very clearly didn’t get the government it wanted in 4 of 72 years.
Scotland does not get the government it votes for.
To claim otherwise is a blatant attempt to deceive voters looking for honest answers. Clearly if we had a system of PR Scotland would get the government it wants more of the time, if you agree with the first table (Popular Vote vs Seats) then you should campaign for electoral reforms.
Of course the Scottish Parliament already has a form of PR. An independent Scotland would not only elect a government it voted for all of the time, it would also have a fairer system with better representation for all voters in Scotland. Your vote would truly count.
Other interesting bits and pieces
The 1950 election was split 48.8% on the popular vote in England however the raw numbers favoured Labour at 11.63 million to 11.62 million.
The 1951 election was split in Scotland at 35 seats each with the popular vote going to the Conservatives.
The 2010 election was the first coalition government since WWII. While it could be argued that it’s not the result that England wanted with Conservatives winning both the popular vote and seats in England, the Prime Minister was Conservative and the LibDems really didn’t do much of anything. Also Scotland didn’t wish for either party so I’m counting it as a result for England.
Of the three elections where England didn’t vote for the government (Seats Won), none lasted more than 18 months; there was only 5 months between the 1974 elections. In the popular vote all 3 were won by Labour in England (2/3 in Seats)
The next shortest period between elections is from 2015 to 2017. If past performance is anything to go by it bodes well for Labour.
Since 1959 Scotland has consistently voted against the Tories (since 1964 for Popular vote).
Only twice have Scottish votes affected the outcome of General Elections, once in 1964 and again in 1974.