Voting system reforms | Scottish elections, a defining example

  Voting system reforms |  Scottish elections, a defining example

According to opponents of reforming the electoral system in Quebec, the introduction of a small dose of proportionality into the current way of nominating our political representatives would harm government stability and the national affirmation of the Quebec people. An analysis of the results of the recent Scottish elections reminds us that these fears are unfounded.


Henry Milner and Julian Verville
Associate Researcher in the Canada Research Chair in Electoral Studies at the University of Montreal and Professor of Political Science in the College, respectively*

The Scottish electoral system is known as the Complementary Membership System (AMS). The Scottish Parliament (Holyrood) is made up of 129 MPs, 73 of whom are elected by post past in their constituency and 56 from regional lists drawn up by each party. At the time of the ballot, each voter votes twice: once for the candidate in his constituency and once for his regional list. Scotland is divided into eight regions, from which seven regional list MPs are elected through a mechanism to compensate for distortions induced by the majority system. The system is similar to the mixed voting system with territorial compensation proposed by the Legault government in its Bill 39.

We have a concrete example here that allows us to better understand how our new Quebec electoral system would work and how it would be possible to meet the aspirations of the Quebec people if the government carried out the promised reform.

In the 6 May 2021 elections, Scottish political parties won a proportion of seats that better reflects the weight of their views in Scottish society. These electoral results are more equitable among different parties. Re-elected for the fourth time in a row, the Scottish National Party (SNP) won one more seat than in the previous election and now has 64 seats (62 constituency seats and 2 regional list seats), with 47.7% of the seats. Huh. constituency vote and 40.3% of the regional vote. It only needs one seat for an absolute majority in parliament. The Greens have made considerable progress in adding two seats to their seats. He now has eight MPs, all from the regional list. Other smaller pro-independence parties did not elect any candidates and the total vote in favor of parties in favor of independence is estimated at 51%. The SNP and the Scottish Greens campaigned on the grounds that a pro-independence electoral majority would be sufficient to call for a new referendum on the Scottish National Question.

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This scenario reminds us that it is possible to protect a national project with an electoral system with a proportional component, but it must be based above all on a popular majority, a primary principle in a democracy.

Regarding the logic of political instability that the new voting system would cause, here again the Scottish example belies the most bizarre scenarios. Since the resumption of its parliament in 1999 (it disappeared in 1707), Scotland has held six general elections (1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2016 and 2021). For comparison, in Quebec, since 1998, we have had seven general elections (1998, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2014, 2018). Then elections are not frequent in Scotland, a democracy that follows our parliamentary system.

To continue the comparison between the Scottish electoral system and the compensatory mixed ballot system proposed by the Legault government, note that the model contained in Bill 39 would result in a less proportionate result in Quebec. This is partly due to the low proportion of regional list MPs (36% versus 43.4% in Scotland) as well as the calculation method for the allocation of regional seats adopted by the Legault government, an accounting for gains. The trick is The strongest party in the administrative regions of Quebec.

Finally, it should be noted that, when this new electoral system was implemented in 1999, the electoral authorities in Scotland were able to hold elections with their new voting system less than a year after the adoption of the law. are. This is a much faster application deadline than the 30 to 42 months required by Quebec’s chief electoral officer. Obviously, in order to talk about these proposals for change, the Legault government would have to make its point and call its bill for detailed study by the Committee on Institutions.

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*Julian Verville is the author of the book Reform of the voting system in Quebec – avenues for government and avenues for reflection.

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