Why I Think We Should Make Tactical Voting History

Back in October, I wrote about how I was conflicted between voting for the Greens or SNP in next May’s election.

To paraphrase that article, I want to vote for the Scottish Greens as I agree with most of their policies (to the extent that I joined the party) but they have only a tiny chance of winning my (or indeed any) seat. On the other hand, the SNP have a great chance of winning my seat and I agree with them on many things, but also disagree with them on a lot (albeit a lot less than I disagree with any other major party.)

I concluded that folks should do as they feel most inclined to do so, and not allow themselves to be bullied one way or the other. It’s your vote, after all.

However, I’ve continued to wrestle with the issue and had some spirited debates with friends on the subject – usually centering around the idea that a vote for a minority party in an First Past The Post election is wasted and I should be voting SNP (for independence) or Labour (to get the Tories out) despite my issues with both parties.

All this has solidified some thoughts I’ve had on the subject, to the point where I have come up with what I feel to be a pretty watertight case for never voting tactically, whether you’re inclination is towards a minority party or towards a major party that happens to be a minority in your seat.

Admittedly, I write this from the perspective of a Green voter in post-referendum Scotland (supposed ‘Yes Alliance’ and all that extra pressure) but the same points are true if you’re a fan of Greens elsewhere, English Democrats, National Health Action Party, Socialists, Respect or whatever…

I’ve broken my case down into three points.

I’m against tactical voting because…

… it supports an unfair system.

Most apologists for tactical voting cite the inherent flaws in the First Past the Post voting system as an excuse for the practice, pointing out that only the winner of a constituency gets represented in parliament and if you’re preferred party aren’t in with a chance of winning then you would be better voting for the most palatable of the parties who might win.

Often this leads to negative voting, casting your ballot for a party you dislike to try and stop an ever more dislikable party winning the seat.

Of course, this props up the 30%+ vote shares which tend to win most seats, and tends to give the party who wins power 40% or better of the popular vote as a minimum but this is invariably not a fair reflection of their actual support.

Such figures, within spitting distance of a popular majority mask the fact that FPTP produces governments who have been rejected by 60% of the electorate and make the suppression of minority voices an nacceptable cost in return for ‘stable, strong government.’

If everyone voted for who they wanted to win, we’d see much smaller majorities, more three and four way marginal seats and probably repeated hung parliaments or governments with a woefully low popular vote.

This would make the case for electoral reform almost irresistible.

… it restricts change.

The practice of only voting for parties which ‘might win’ or against a dreaded outcome stops political change from happening.

This is shown by the fact that every election since universal suffrage was granted in 1928 has seen the same two parties occupying the top two spaces and with the third place party only achieving better than 20% of the popular vote a handful of times, let alone even smaller parties.

Nowhere is this better emphasised than in Scotland, where the habit of voting Labour in general elections to keep the Conservatives out has habitually led to potential SNP (and Liberal, Socialist and Green) voters casting their lot with Labour. It’s been shown that Labour habitually score between 7-11% more in General Elections than Scottish Elections, while the SNP have received between 4%-25%* more of the vote in the Scottish elections, with the immediate threat of a Conservative government removed.

* the difference between the 2010 General election and 2011 Scottish election being especially marked.

Now, if those who were SNP minded had cast their vote with their hearts rather than against the Conservatives, we could have seen many more SNP MPs long ago (and no, that probably wouldn’t have cost Tony Blair any of his election victories.)

This year’s general election, with the media sponsored rise of UKIP, the SNP maintaining their form from 2011 and the Green surge all twisting pollsters heads up and making once predictable seats into marginal shows how much a rejection of the tendency to vote for the usual two or three parties can make elections more interesting, more vital, more democratic.

Look across the continent, to Spain and Greece where Podemos and Syriza – parties which didn’t exist a decade ago – could well be on the verge of power, due to their populations finally losing patience with identikit, austerity supporting mainstream parties. It’s time that the people of Britain started looking to do similar things.

… it harms the viability of smaller parties.

If you favour a minority party but vote for the ‘least bad potential winner’ then you are not only denying that party your vote and a higher chance of actually winning the seat, but the credibility that comes with receiving more votes and actually financially harming the party.

Remember, each candidate has to put up a £500 deposit to stand in an election and they lose this if they poll less than 5% in the constituency. If a party were to stand in every constituency in the UK and lose it’s deposit in them all, they would lose a mighty £325,000, even before the costs of campaigning are taken into account.  That’s a pretty serious outlay for a party lacking the corporate backing of the big guns…

It’s also worth remembering that the number/percentage of votes a party receives in an election directly influences how the media portray them in the following period (media bias and preference notwithstanding) and consequently how the public perceive that party. If you poll a tiny % in one election, the media don’t take you seriously and neither do the public, so the party struggles to do better next time and so on and so on.

So, if you believe in a smaller party’s manifesto, then bloody well vote for them because if you don’t you are endorsing a broken system, endorsing parties you don’t agree with and actually harming the financial viability and future credibility of the party that you actually support.

That really is a wasted vote.


8 responses to “Why I Think We Should Make Tactical Voting History

  1. Nice argument Chris. You can also add that every single vote for a smaller party like the Greens actually sends a message to the larger establishment parties and puts more pressure on them to change, even when the Green doesn’t win. EG in your constituency, if the SNP lose to Labour by 6% of the vote and the Greens get 7% then the local SNP might feel obliged to pay some attention to Green voters. By voting Green you’re voting for a long term change.


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  3. The upcoming election is very diffrent from any other in our life time . We are voting to put activists in a trojan horse situation that will facilitate the attainment of power for our nation . When that has been achieved and our voices can be heard. It will be at that time that our new nation can be formed by active campaign and voting . The game we are being allowed to play is skewed against us this is the oppertunity to kick over the board and set new rules individual aprty politics are for another day


    • I understand the ‘if Yes then vote SNP’ argument all too well, however, if individual party politics are for another day, why did the SNP…

      a) try to make the referendum campaign all about them (possibly costing Yes the win in the process?)

      b) refuse to engage in a meaningful and formalised ‘Yes Alliance’ with the Greens and SSP?

      c) state that a second referendum was not to be a condition of their coalition/confidence & supply arrangements in the likely event of them holding the balance of power in a hung parliament?

      Also, folks who are thus minded voting for the Greens or SSP is unlikely to jeopardise the SNP’s landslide of Scottish seats in May, with only marginal seats – indeed many disaffected Labour voters would likely be more drawn to the Greens or SSP than the SNP and as such it’s important that these parties are seen as ‘worth voting for.’

      If all Yes/Progressive voters vote for the SNP, we will have a 40-50 SNP MPs in parliament and a horribly skewed image of that party’s true popularity, which will lead to the Greens & SSP being further marginalised in the run up to next year’s Holyrood elections.

      If voters who would vote for the Greens/SSP without the whole ‘Yes Alliane’ (which we must remember, the SNP rejected) pressure, do vote with their hearts then we’ll still end up with 40-50 SNP MPs in Westminster and a much more representative share of the vote and as such, media platform going into the 2016 elections, resulting in a more balanced and democratic campaign and election there.

      Option one is a win for the SNP and a fail for democracy in Scotland, option two is a win for the SNP AND democracy in Scotland.


      • As a Green party member who is voting SNP in May (in part because the Greens aren’t standing in my constituency!)
        a) I’m not entirely sure the SNP did try to make Yes all about them – I did a lot of campaigning for Yes and certainly it never felt like that on the inside. And even if they had I don’t think that’s what cost Yes the referendum
        b) This says it better than I could on the Yes alliance: https://jienotjay.wordpress.com/2014/10/07/yes-alliance-a-sceptical-cynical-curmudgeonly-party-hack-writes/
        c) Because if we had another referendum now, we’d lose. There’s no way you can convince me otherwise. And if we lose twice in quick succession, then it really is over.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Good responses, to be fair.

        a/b) I’ll give you both points and in fairness, I think my comments have been more coloured by the attacks on Greens by SNP fanatics – especially prevalent in places where we have the temerity to stand against them.

        A Yes Alliance was probably always a non starter, because even before their swelling membership, the SNP were bigger than all other pro-Yes concerns put together. However, it’s galling to see SNP activists attacking Greens for ‘splitting the vote’ when their party wasn’t actually interested in a joint ticket.

        c) Yes, we would lose a second referendum held now and the SNP were wise to keep that off the table as it was pretty much a deal breaker for a potential agreement with Labour and also shows that they aren’t actually frothing fanatics.

        I reckon the soonest we can expect a second referendum is 2019 (three years after a probable second SNP majority in Holyrood) at which point, I think we’d win.

        In all fairness, the SNP are just acting in their own best interests which largely ARE the best interests of folks who’s prime concern is Scottish independence.

        The main thread of my thinking here is that Scottish independence isn’t in fact my main aim – rather reform of the constitutional arrangement, electoral system, tax system and a move to a more sustainable, equal society. I see independence as a potential fast-track towards that, but it is not the only route and is not an end-game in itself.


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