25 March 2013

2014 Euro Elections: The power of three?

At this weekend's Spring Conference, the SNP picked its slate of six European candidates from fifteen who have been husting across the country, making the case for their candidacy, over the last few weeks.  The remaining six will be ranked by the party membership on a one-member-one-vote basis over the summer. The two incumbent MEPs, Alyn Smith and Ian Hudghton, survived the Conference's verdict, along with Toni Giugliano, Chris Stephens, former Salmond special advisor Stephen Gethins and Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh, who counts the SNP as her third party in as many years, formerly having held memberships of both the Tory and Labour Parties.  

From the conference scuttlebutt, it seems that the leadership were quite keen to see Tasmina prosper this weekend.  Just an unlikely coincidence I'm sure, just serendipity, that Ahmed-Sheikh's daughter was hailed as the SNP's 25,000th member on the eve of the conference. Subtle it ain't, but I suppose such machinations are to be expected in all political outfits, where happy accidents can be found to puff the objects of official favour. It remains to be seen where the party membership will bestow their benevolence.  Those candidates nominated in first and second place, all things being equal, are assured a seat in the European Parliament.  Interestingly, if the current polls are anything to go by, the SNP has a sniff of a third.

How European Elections Work

I find that many folk are a bit mystified by how European elections work. Here's a brief summary. Firstly, Scotland is a single constituency, and from 2009 onwards, elects six MEPs.  These are selected on the basis of a simple quota system.  Like the regional vote in Holyrood, each party nominates and ranks a list of candidates. On election night, returning officers tot up all of the votes cast into national totals.

These are then divided by the number of seats the party has already won in the region + 1, with the party with the highest tally winning a candidate in that round.  In practice, that means that the party winning the highest level of support takes the first MEP, and their vote is divided first by two, and then by three if they take a second seat.  Clear as mud?  Consider this worked example. Consider the allocation in 2009.

As you can see, the Greens never really had a look in here, the scrap for the sixth and last Scottish MEP being duked out between Labour and the SNP, with only 7,925 votes between them, and the Tories due a second MEP too before any Scottish Green got to set foot in Brussels.

With the fundament falling through the Liberal vote after 2010, both the SNP and the Greens - and the Tories too - smell an opportunity for gains, and they're right to do so.  Projecting ahead here is a little tricky. The constituency which turns out for European elections isn't the same as materialises for Holyrood and Westminster polls, and accordingly, neither are good guides to what levels of support parties might expect in 2014, save in general terms about who is up, and who is down.

The drift of the Liberal vote also poses its predictive challenges. The Scottish election survey has convincingly shown that the SNP's win in the Holyrood election of 2011 wasn't attributable to the direct transfer of drifting Liberal Democrats, but an ensemble piece, pulled together from the electorate which had previously supported all of the SNP's rivals. No Scottish poll has yet asked about voting intentions for Europe.

For mischief, however, let's be crude about it, and candid about our crude assumptions. Say, for the sake of argument, that the number of votes cast in 2014 are the same as 2009. Let's assume too that the SNP, still doing well in the polls in Holyrood, add another 5% to their 2009 showing of 29.1% of the European vote, taking them up to 34.1% of all ballots cast.  For the model, say too that Labour, the Tories and the Greens are steady at 20.8%, 16.8% and 7.8% of the vote respectively.  Now let's snaffle 5% off the Liberal Democrats, leaving them with just 6.5% of Euro ballots cast.  

Given what we know about recent local and Holyrood elections, these assumptions don't seem entirely unreasonable. If the 2014 European elections were to pan out along these lines, who might benefit from George Lyon's evaporating vote? The tantalising answer is: it's all up for grabs.

SNP gains and Liberal losses reorders rounds one to five, with the Conservatives gaining their first MEP in the fourth rather than the third round, while the SNP snares its second in round three instead of four, per 2009. Instead of being narrowly trumped handily by the Labour Party in the sixth round, a 5% bump in support combined with a -5% Liberal slump would put the third-ranked SNP candidate very much in contention much earlier on, due an office in Strasbourg and Brussels as early as round five. An opportunity here which clearly focussed minds in the party conference in Inverness this weekend, and promises to make the ranking contest between Smith, Hudghton, Giugliano, Stephens, Gethins and Ahmed-Sheikh quite the scrap. 

On these simple assumptions, round six of the allocation doesn't have the appearance of a closely-fought mêlée, though reality has the habit of upending one's most cogent assumptions.  On this model, Labour would retain its second MEP in the sixth round, 18,796 votes ahead of the nearest contender - now the fourth-ranked SNP candidate - and 34,485 in front of the Greens. 

While in Holyrood in 2011, the Scottish Greens proved unable to capitalise on the Liberal purge, perhaps Europe will give Maggie Chapman an opportunity to corral more wayward Liberals, shorn of the presidential Salmond vs Gray logic which dominated in 2011.  If she's to have a snowball's chance in hell to be in contention, she'll have to push the Green vote (higher in European elections in recent years than in Holyrood polls) to the sorts of levels which the Liberals were able to command in the pre-coalition era.

A rather modest opportunity here too for the Scottish Conservatives to achieve that most elusive of outcomes - a Scottish political gain - if only they can keep up their vote. And, for that matter, for the Liberal Democrats to save a little face, if their losses aren't as attenuating as I've projected. Lyon might survive yet.  


In an earlier edition of the blog, I magisterially cocked up the all important last-stage calculation (unaccountably, I mixed up my dividers) hence any changes you might detect in the charts or their interpretation.


  1. I may be wrong, or it may simply be that whatever you produced your graphical representation on doesn't show the situation subtly enough, but I'm pretty sure that the divisor after the allocation of a second seat becomes 3. The graph makes it look like the SNP's already-divided vote is divided by 3 following allocation of the second seat in 2009, effectively dividing the original vote by 6. My memory of 2009 was that the SNP weren't all that far off getting a third seat, at the expense of Labour getting a second.

  2. I found it a bit odd to see Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh in the running, since she's on the Yes Scotland board of advisers. If she succeeds in getting elected as an MEP, that would give the SNP two elected politicians on the advisory board, giving opponents more reason to conclude that Yes Scotland = SNP. I'm not sure I want that. (Besides which, I recall Tasmina speaking at the spring conference last year, and I felt distinctly underwhelmed. At the time I thought maybe she just hadn't done much public speaking, but that seems doubtful if she actually stood as a Tory candidate in 1999...)

    I was actually hoping the Greens might steal the Lib Dem seat, if only because having a Green getting elected in 2014 would be a nice little reminder in the run up to the referendum that the SNP aren't the only pro-indy party, and Maggie Chapman is most certainly pro-independence. I also suspected the SNP would need quite a lot more in order to get a third MEP anyway, so was even considering voting for the Greens myself. I'll maybe wait and see how the list pans out before deciding for sure.

  3. Ah, for heavens sake. Absolutely right, Anonymous. Despite describing the process correctly, I unaccountably totted up the divider incorrectly in the last round. Updating now.

  4. think you may have soubled-up in the second graph as well... By my reckoning, and all things being equal, if the SNP vote goes up by 5% it almost guarantees a third seat

  5. or even doubled-up! Doh!

  6. I have to say I am more than a little disappointed that Mrs Tasmina Sheikh Ahmed who is obviously a carpetbagger of no shame is deemed to be so politically desirable.She must have jumped the queue in front of many hardworking candidates! And as for her daughter getting the honour of 25000th member! If the cause was not so important I'd bring her down to being the 24999th member by resigning!!!!

  7. Another point of interest is that if Scotland votes for independence in 2014 and manages to complete the revision of the EU membership terms (or admission to the EU, as the case may be) before 2019, Scotland's representation in the European Parliament will jump up from 6 to 13 members, and the easiest way to find these would be to pull in people from further down the list from the 2014 elections.
    Because of this, it could become important who's ranked 4 and 5 for the SNP, 3 for Labour, etc.

  8. Thomas - here's a thought. If Scotland has to join the EU as a new member state, then surely the 6 MEPs who would currently be sitting in the Espace Léopold as UK MEPs for the Scotland constituency would lose their seats, and Scotland would have to hold its first ever European election? The very existence of these 6 MEPs surely highlights the fact that Scotland is already in the EU.

    Either way, surely a sort of Scotland-wide by-election is not beyond the realms of possibility? I'm not really sure I want people representing Scotland who were elected while trying to stop Scotland becoming independent.

  9. Also worth noting the rise in the Green vote in the latest Panelbase poll - giving them 8 List seats at Holyrood on the Scotland Votes calculator.

    That might be interesting for EU elections.

  10. Thanks for spotting that and speaking up, Anonymous. Saved me (albeit a bit later than would be ideal) from further propounding my error! Hopefully the new charts should reflect the underlying assumptions I made and the allocation rules now.

  11. Doug, Fourfolksache,

    I suppose it remains to be seen how the membership will rank the remaining six. Who knows whether Tasmina will prosper there, though through conference and other mediums, I gather she's been garnering some useful exposure which may weigh with the most active part of the party's membership (who are presumably also most likely to vote). In idle moments, was swithering about a Green vote too, depending on the circumstances. Maggie is a personal friend, a wonderful fierce woman, and would I'm sure make for a grand MEP.


    Interesting point. Heaven knows how we'd work that out. Muddle on through, no doubt, or wait till the next Europe-wide poll in 2018, two years after we embark on life as a fully independent nation-state? It isn't a terrifically long period of time.


    I've got several pals in the Scottish Greens, but remain pretty leery about enthusiastic expectations that they'll significantly expand the vote. Like many (and I dare say, many in the party) their failure to capitalise on the Liberal drift was quite startling. Lesson: maybe we need to revise our ideas about who votes Liberal, Green, and why.

  12. Here's what Wikipedia says: "It is conventional for countries acceding to the European Union to send a number of observers to Parliament in advance. The number of observers and their method of appointment (usually by national parliaments) is laid down in the joining countries' Treaties of Accession.
    Observers may attend debates and take part by invitation, but they may not vote or exercise other official duties. When the countries then become full member states, these observers become full MEPs for the interim period between accession and the next European elections. From 26 September 2005 to 31 December 2006, Bulgaria had 18 observers in Parliament and Romania 35. These were selected from government and opposition parties as agreed by the countries' national parliaments. Following accession on 1 January 2007, the observers became MEPs (with some personnel changes)."
    If I understand this correctly, as soon as Scotland starts negotiating the terms for EU membership, the 6 Scottish MEPs will be replaced by 13 observers. Or will the 6 MEPs remain, and there will simply be 7 additional observers?

  13. Thanks for the reference, Thomas. Since university, I've not been terrifically hot on EU matters, so that was news to me. Interesting.

  14. On a related note. Apportionment and the European Parliament is an interesting area.

    If you look at the table a little down the page on this link and click to organise it by number of MEPs (from lowest to highest) and/or "influence" (highest to lowest) it paints an interesting picture as to how different the position in this body might be for an independent Scotland.

    Inhabitants per MEP is an interesting read as well.


  15. Hmm at betternation there was an argument that UKIP might actually nick a Scottish MEP seat -


    I dislike analogies with fitba - an increasingly irrelevant phenomenon in Scotland - but just as no one seems to know exactly why we have become so dire at booting balls, so no one fully understands our politics. We all think we know why the far left has conked out, but is our politics really so entwined with personality that the dissipation of Sheridan means that Scottish Spartism is dead? And I share the bafflement that the Greens seem to have entered the Shadowlands in Scotland - why for heaven's sake?

    As for the rise of shape shifters such as Tasmina, alas 'twas ever thus. We can expect to see much more of the placepeople realigning their bums onto comfy seats, and their beady eyes shining from fresh platforms.

    Oh and hi Thomas - we used to work together!

  16. Edwin,

    Not a convincing analysis from Better Nation, to my mind. Scanty chance of Scotland electing its first UKIP MEP any time soon, by my reckoning, and I think the data bears this out. Plenty of other folk to profit from Liberal difficulties, before Nickel Foorage's crew...

  17. Ach you're probably right LPW.

    For entertainment, here is Tasmina's Tory pitch for Govan back in 99 -

    'For Ahmed-Sheikh, who has translated her manifesto into Urdu and Punjabi, the alternative is obvious. Labour has become complacent, the SNP is referendum-obsessed; Tory values are Asian values, she argues.

    'The strong sense of the family unit, the desire to bring up children in a stable environment, that's very similar to Conservative family values. All those who came over here from the Asian nations 30 or 40 years ago had to sustain themselves without any handouts: if you wanted to put food on your family's table, you had to find a job.'


  18. The latest SNP newsletter dedicated an entire page (in a four-page newsletter) to Tasmina, talking (if I remember correctly) about getting more women into front-line politics. I think it's fair to say the leadership want her pushed to the front of the queue.

    It's a shame she's the only woman on the shortlist. I would have liked Natalie McGarry on there as well - at the very least she is SNP through and through, and while I had misgivings about Tasmina's speech at last year's Spring conference, Natalie's contribution to the NATO debate was excellent.

  19. Edwin,

    A neat spot, showing the peril of the internet record. While the candidate may seamlessly, forgetfully transition from party to party, her old convictions are laid bare.


    Indeed. And I understand that there was some helpful timing on that score at Conference too. The evening before the European vote, as the party's Women's Officer, Ahmed-Sheikh was given the opportunity to launch the SNP's "women's college" - no, I'm not entirely sure what that means either - in an evening which all female delegates were invited to. Again, just a happy accident I'm sure.

  20. Agree about Natalie McGarry, one of the very few other Scottish political blogs I look at. Fair and argues her case well.

  21. Edwin, Doug,

    Natalie's a personal friend of mine, so I can't pretend towards impartiality in her case. A grand belle, she. Sorry not to see her in the final six.