Tactical voting: another democratic choice

Tactical voting. Not openly celebrated by most political parties but ‘compromise voting’ is common practice in plurality elections so we better get used to it. According to no less an authority than Lord Ashcroft it could save Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy his seat. A cross-party group seeking to stem the SNP tide – and perhaps a second referendum too – has issued a detailed guide on how to do it.

While Labour publicy rejects the strategy, it’s interesting to remember that tactical voting came of age back in 1997.   Hands up who remembers G.R.O.T.?

Get Rid of Them (or G.R.O.T.) was a tactical voter campaign established by Bruce Kent with the help of the Democratic Left. The open and unembarrassed aim was to prevent the Tories gaining a fifth term in power, and although it might not have been responsible for Labour’s landslide victory it is generally credited with bringing a new dimension to democratic choice. Voters were given clear advice on how to use the ballot box to achieve their ultimate aim – even when it went against their tribal instinct. As Paul Routledge explained on 27 April in The Independent:

The principle is simple: where Labour or the Liberal Democrats – or, in Scotland, the SNP – are best placed to beat the Tories, then pocket your political pride and vote for the candidate most likely to rob Michael Heseltine of his.

Times change. In 2015 Scotland, Tories are no longer the only (or main) target but willing participants in a tactical voting strategy to prevent the predicted SNP landslide on 7 May which many fear could lead to a second referendum and breakup of the UK. In key constituencies a cross party alliance of Better Together campaigners is issuing clear instructions on how to place their votes. Contradicting the polls, this reflects what political scientists call ‘disapproval voting’ (instead of voting FOR the party you want, you vote AGAINST the result you least favour). And there are hints it could be working in some parts of Scotland.

According to Lord Ashcroft the narrowing gap between Mr Murphy and his SNP opponent “seems largely down to Conservative voters”. The Herald observes that Labour doesn’t seem to be returning the favour in the Borders. But who’s to say voters are telling pollsters or papers their true intentions?

How does tactical voting work?

Here are two leaflets produced by a Better Together alliance in Aberdeenshire under the  Country Before Party banner. The first gives an interesting perspective on the state of play in Scottish constituencies  The second lists six reasons for not voting SNP.  By interesting coincidence three of them (Education, Health and Centralisation) feature in John McDermott’s critical analysis of the Scottish Government in this weekend’s Financial Times: The SNP’s record in power: less radical than you might think

But it’s worth remembering that tactical voting is a strategy being emplyed by UKIP in an attempt to persuade Tories in England to exchange votes with the aim of keeping Ed Miliband out of Number 10 Downing Street. Nothing in politics is simple.

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