Scotland’s former first minister Alex Salmond says his new party, Alba, can help deliver a pro-independence “supermajority” in the Scottish parliamentary elections on May 6. But Financial Times analysis of polling data show he could also weaken pro-independence representation at Holyrood.
Nicola Sturgeon, Salmond’s successor as first minister and leader of the Scottish National party, has suggested her former mentor's new party is trying to “game” Scotland's election system and is putting at risk SNP hopes of winning a parliamentary majority in its own right.
Under Scotland’s “additional member” system of proportional representation, voters select both an individual MSP to represent their local constituency, and the party they would prefer to represent their region. Alba is not contesting any constituency races and Scotland-wide polls show the party, which Salmond launched in March, appears set to receive between 2 per cent and 6 per cent of the regional list vote.
The calculator below demonstrates how the Alba vote share within that wide range of possible outcomes and its distribution across Scotland’s eight electoral regions could determine if the new party wins any seats at all. It also shows whether its gains would come at the expense of pro-union parties or those that support leaving the UK.
Current polling averages
The FT is tracking opinion polls about voting intentions ahead of the elections to the Scottish parliament on May 6.
Determining how many MSPs each party is likely to win is a two-step process.
Step 1: Estimating the constituency winners
The MSP for each constituency is elected first-past-the-post, as in Westminster elections, so it is possible to roughly estimate the likely winner of each seat by assuming a “uniform national swing” — that the national change in party support shown by recent polls applies equally in each constituency. Using the FT constituency poll average, this currently suggests that the SNP could gain 3 seats.
Step 2: Estimating the regional list members
The proportion of the seats a party wins in each of Scotland’s eight electoral regions, including those won in the constituency races, should roughly correspond to the share of the list vote it receives. This is achieved using the D’Hondt method for allocating seats, which uses repeated rounds of counting. In every round each party’s vote is divided by the number of seats it already has plus one, and the party with the highest value gains the list seat in that round. This process is repeated until all of the region’s seven additional MSPs are allocated.
Though polls suggest the SNP will easily win the most regional votes, most of these seats will go to the other parties because the SNP’s vote would be diluted by the large number of constituency seats it is already likely to have won.
Applying the FT’s current regional poll average, a uniform swing in all regions shows the likely result. This calculator allows you to see the impact of different levels of Alba support. It assumes that votes for Alba come entirely at the expense of the SNP, although the new party will almost certainly draw some votes from other parties as well.
Combining the projected constituency and additional member seats shows that the SNP would be 3 seats off of a majority.
But support for Alba is not necessarily uniform across Scotland, and this could be vital. Alba is most likely to succeed in increasing the overall number of pro-independence MSPs in regions where the SNP is projected to win all of the constituency seats, like Glasgow. At about 6 per cent of the vote, Alba could win its first seat in this region, likely at the expense of Labour or the Conservatives.
Alba vote in Glasgow region
This scenario could play out in the Highlands and Islands region, where the Liberal Democrats are likely to retain the island constituencies of Orkney and Shetland, reducing the SNP’s initial disadvantage in the additional member allocation. Here, only a small number of SNP voters switching to Alba could be enough for the SNP to lose a seat without Alba gaining at its expense.
Alba vote in Highlands and Islands region
The default assumptions in this calculator will be updated as new polling data becomes available.
Additional reporting by Mure Dickie