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Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I shall deal first with all the amendments in this group except Amendment No. 44, which I shall discuss afterwards because, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, said, that is in many ways the key amendment.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the noble Baroness need not argue about the other amendments. As I said, they are consequential on Amendment No. 44 because if Amendment No. 44 were to be accepted by your Lordships there would be no provision for individual candidates. I am merely keeping the Bill tidy, which I thought was a good thing.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, if the noble Lord will bear with me, I shall deal with the other amendments as well. They provide the background to our thinking and some of the reasons why we do not agree with Amendment No. 44.
The Government's views on all these amendments will be fairly clear by now from earlier stages of the Bill. We are fully committed to the regional members scheme as set out in the Bill. We consider it an essential part of the arrangements for the Scottish parliament.
As I have said on other occasions, we want to ensure that the electoral arrangements for the Scottish parliament will ensure a fairer balance of representation and will more accurately represent the diversity of political opinion. We also want the parliament to be able to draw on a wide range of talented people whether or not they have a political affiliation. With these amendments the noble Lord is trying to restrict the choice available to the electorate.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, has argued today, as he has previously, that allowing individuals to stand as regional members undermines the proportionality on which the additional member system is based. I have looked carefully at what he has said on other occasions. He suggested that an individual could deprive a political party of proportionality. He spoke of people being mathematically literate and that there should be concern about the results. The noble Lord went on to give examples indicating how bad that might be for the Labour Party. I am touched that he is so concerned about what it might mean for my party. However,
There is a long tradition in Scotland of independents standing in local government. Many people, for whatever reason, do not feel properly represented by the political parties. By allowing independent candidates to stand in the regional election we ensure that fewer people feel disenfranchised and without representation in the parliament.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, has suggested that there is little chance of an independent being elected but that he or she may just receive sufficient votes to frustrate a political party. I am not so sure that the parliament will not have some independent candidates. Clearly much would depend on the pattern of the voting. However, using last year's general election results as a model, an independent candidate who secured some 25,000 votes, which in some regions would be around 5 to 6 per cent. of the electorate, would have been returned as a regional MSP. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that that could happen.
Amendment No. 44 as presented and introduced by the noble Lord offers an ingenious--but I am afraid unacceptable--solution to a concern which he has expressed at earlier stages of the Bill. The noble Lord is concerned that by giving the voter the freedom to the vote twice, once for a constituency representative and once for a party or an independent candidate, we are opening the way for abuse of the system, and in particular the formation of what he has termed "alter ego" or "bogus" parties. We covered this ground thoroughly at earlier stages and I do not propose to restate all our arguments in detail.
We recognise that there is a technical possibility that parties could seek to subvert the arrangements for proportionality. But, unlike the noble Lord, we think that the fear that this will happen in practice is out of all proportion to the real likelihood. We have faith in the ability of the electorate to recognise what is afoot; and it would undoubtedly be pointed out to them by the other parties. In any event, we really do think that there is no remedy for this potential problem which is not rather worse than the illness it seeks to cure. The noble Lord's amendment is, I am afraid to say, a very good case in point.
As the noble Lord explained, this amendment is designed to retain the additional member system, but on the basis of a single vote for each elector. We are not aware that among the very many different forms of voting which exist this approach has ever been tried. I could not help being intrigued at the thought that, if all this came to pass, the noble Lord's name might rank with d'Hondt and St. Lague in the electoral textbooks--but I accept that he is making a serious point. In response to that serious concern I am afraid that I have to say that I suspect the reason why this approach has never been tried is that it cannot stand up to scrutiny.
Adopting the approach in the amendment would mean assuming that all the votes for a party's constituency candidates can be equated with a vote for that party. It would, therefore, overlook the sometimes substantial element of personal voting at constituency elections. It is difficult to see how this could not distort the results significantly, in some cases at least. In effect, it would lead to party candidates being elected from the regional list--which the amendment appears to envisage would continue--on the strength of the high personal, local vote for particular constituency candidates. And indeed the opposite effect could also apply where, for whatever reason, constituency candidates fall out of favour locally.
Yet, given the rationale for allocating list seats under the additional member system, it is critical to be able to identify in a reliable and defensible way voters' party preferences in such a system. The single vote system proposed in the amendment would undermine that and create a result which voters would--I think rightly--challenge as being based on a fundamentally flawed premise that we would be presuming that they voted in every case first and foremost on the basis of party allegiance. Given the attachment of noble Lords opposite to models of voting which leave room for local issues to take precedence over national ones, that seems an odd stance for them to take.
The amendment would also appear to be intended to preclude the possibility of independent candidates being elected for regional seats as it is entirely based on aggregating the votes for party candidates. As we have already made clear, we feel that the opportunity for independents to be elected at regional level is an important aspect of our proposals and a recognition of the variety of Scottish political life. In addition to that, small parties would be forced to contest every seat in a region to be sure of gaining sufficient votes to qualify for an additional member. That seems to us unfair and unacceptable.
Several of the arguments put forward were arguments to points that I made in Committee but did not make this evening. My concern has grown about the misuse that could be made of the system, which would stop it doing what it is supposed to do, which is to right the imbalance of first-past-the-post. The noble Baroness made no attempt to address that point, despite the fact that her right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is clearly extremely worried about it. Perhaps she should have had a discussion with him before today's debate as he seems to be sufficiently worried about the matter to make the points that I have just repeated.
I shall not say much about the alter ego party. I think we can deal with that matter by amendments that some of my clever friends have suggested that I should put down to the Registration of Political Parties Bill. I look forward to the Government accepting one of my amendments or coming forward with their own.
However, the point that appears to be totally lost in the argument put forward by the Government is that, if the top-up system is designed to right an imbalance in the first-past-the-post seats, it should bear some resemblance to the votes in the first-past-the-post seats. In the light of all the academic works devoted to elections, I was amazed to be told that there were substantial elements of personal voting. My understanding is that, based on many elections, David Butler concluded that plus or minus approximately 500 was about the very best and that was pretty generous; in other words, if a candidate was hated he would lose about 500 votes and if he was loved he would gain about 500. Anyone who looks at swingometers on any election night will see that the edges are blurred, as in any statistical exercise, and the result has little or nothing to do with personal votes but may have a lot to do with the make-up of constituencies, local pressures or whatever. It has little to do with personal voting. In any case, even if one member is so hugely popular that he gets hundreds more votes than he or his party would otherwise have got, when taken over a whole region with the d'Hondt divisor it makes no difference at the end of the day. I am afraid that that is not an argument.
The whole point about the top-up is that it is designed to deal with party balance. The people who say that the second vote is the way to do it have lost sight of that. Initially, Germany had the system that I have suggested. It is not true that it is not used anywhere. Germany moved and in doing so did two things. Germany has very large regional lists; they do not have seven but sometimes 150 and the same number as the first-past-the-post. Therefore, in Germany it is a very different ball game that cannot be equated with the majority being first-past-the-post and then a limited number of seats providing the top-up. The change made by the Germans was based on a quite different arithmetical system.
However, I do not believe that I shall make any progress this evening. I concur with Donald Dewar's worries. Next May I may have to return to the Government and say, "I told you so". I shall not relish it, because the last thing that I want is to see the Scottish National Party winning and taking my country out of the Union. I shall not have touching sympathy with the Labour Party if it happens to be the loser in this process. My touching sympathy is with the Scottish public, Scotland and the Union. For that reason I believe that we should look very carefully at the design of these systems, especially in light of the kind of campaign that so worries Donald Dewar. If he is worried, I am worried. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.