On May 6, Scotland heads to the ballot box to cast votes for the next Scottish Parliament following a campaign unlike any other. 

In an election campaign under social distancing rules, Covid restrictions and a questionable amount of Atomic Kitten, each party leader has outlined their vision for the future of the country.

Amid all the talk of splitting votes, result delays, supermajorities and more, one thing that has remained the same is Scotland’s voting system.

What is a List Vote?

While Scotland utlises First Past the Post in UK elections, it borrows elements of this for its own elections, with the Additional Member System (AMS)

Scotland is divided into 73 constituencies and each constituency elects one MSP. These MSPs are elected by 'first past the post' (FPTP) system, the same voting system which is used in Westminster.

READ MORE: 2021 Scottish Election: What is the voting process? Everything you need to know

People in Scotland however are represented by 8 MSPs. One representing the constituency, with the other 7 representing the region. 

The List vote, or regional vote, brings back 56 MSPs - sometimes dubbed around election time as List MSPs. 

There are eight electoral regions, each with seven regional MSPs. These are:

  • Central Scotland
  • Glasgow
  • Highlands and Islands
  • Lothian
  • Mid-Scotland and Fife
  • Northeast Scotland
  • South Scotland
  • West Scotland

With the FPTP voting system often more votes are wasted than the winning candidate actually obtains. However, the regional list vote is seen by many as a way of ensuring proportional representation.

When voters head to the polls in Scotland they have two votes. The constituency MSP is elected under the First Past the Post system. The 'second vote' is used to elect 56 additional members made up of regional MSPs.

In the second vote the voter votes for a party rather than a candidate. The parties are then allocated a number of additional members to make the overall result more proportional. The regional MSPs are selected from lists compiled by the parties. 

Do List Votes work against parties who have a constituency MSP elected?

It is a common question asked by many, but in order to try and create a more proportional chamber, the total votes received by a party on the regional list is divided by the number of candidates elected for the party at a constituency level (plus one).

As a result, this means smaller parties that have perhaps not done as well on the constituency ballot can win seats - but those who have secured constituency ballots have a reduced chance. 

If you look at the Lothians in the 2016 Scottish Election, the SNP secured 6 MSPs through the constituency vote using the FTPT system.

As a result, the list vote was divided by their 6 candidates plus 1. Their 118, 546 votes then delivered 16,935 votes and resulted in no regional candidates. Conversely, the Scottish Conservatives only elected 1 constituency candidate so their 74,972 list votes results in an effective vote of 37,486 with the breakdown resulting in the Conservatives getting another 3 MSPs in the Lothians as the second round saw the 74,972 divided by 2 plus 1.

This process was continued across the board with all parties until all MSPs for the region were elected.

Is AMS proportional?

AMS is not entirely proportional but does return more accurate results than a system such as FPTP. In  2016 for example the SNP polled around 44% of the vote over both ballots but returned 49% of the MSPs. However, the system was introduced in an attempt to make it more difficult for parties to have an overall majority and to encourage parties working together in coalition or ‘king-maker’ governments. 

Why has the List vote been a talking point ahead of the 2021 election?

With the formation of the Alba Party, who are only standing as list candidates, many have called for pro-independence supporters to “split” their vote, effectively delivering their constituency vote for the SNP and their second vote for the Alba Party. This principle would also work for other pro-independence parties however, Alex Salmond has been the most vocal in calling for a “independence supermajority” 

READ MORE: Pro-independence supermajority 'within reach' despite Alba set to flop

While some argue that this would put independence at the heart of Scottish politics, others believe that it could hinder the independence campaigning message. The creation of a list party or cause is not a new concept in Scottish politics. At the start of the Scottish Parliament, Labour considered running Co-operative Party candidates on the list to be able to win seats that it did not due to its FPTP success.