Scottish council elections: SNP boosted by 'battle within unionism', expert says
Voting advice issued by parties questioned ahead of May 5 contest
Unionist parties cannot beat the SNP at the council ballot box unless they back each other's candidates, a leading elections expert has told Holyrood.
Political scientist Professor John Curtice has said that the divide between pro-union parties is "even sharper" now than it was at the time of the last council race in 2017.
In the latest edition of Holyrood magazine, the Strathclyde University expert said that this schism will continue to divide the unionist vote on May 5 — because anti-independence parties will not work together to use the voting system to their advantage.
He said: “The politics of the unionist movement have become more complicated. The parties are all saying ‘we are the only people who can defeat the SNP’. This is completely and utterly wrong.
"The most effective way to do that is to make sure you put a preference vote for all the unionist candidates and don’t give any votes to others.
"The internal political battle within unionism means that is not happening.”
The exact outcome of council elections is difficult to predict due to the single transferrable vote system used.
Voters are asked to rank candidates in numerical order, with much riding on the allocation of first preference votes.
While the public is being asked to choose which councillors to send to their town halls, the constitution remains a key campaign point for many parties.
The SNP, their Scottish Government partners the Greens and Alex Salmond's Alba Party are amongst those fighting for pro-independence votes. Nicola Sturgeon has urged Scots to use their ballot papers to "send a message" to Boris Johnson.
Meanwhile, the pro-union Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems have each said they are the only party strong enough to defeat the SNP.
The SNP secured one third of first preference votes in the last council election, with the Conservatives taking around one quarter of first preference votes. Labour was in third place with 20 per cent.
Curtice predicts that the SNP's percentage share of the vote will rise to "the high 30s", but this may be affected by voters lending their first preference votes to the Greens or other pro-independence challengers. Meanwhile, there are question marks about how well the Conservatives and Labour will do.
He said: "All the opinion polls since last December have suggested that Labour are leaning ahead of the Conservatives, both for Holyrood and Westminster.
“National popularity doesn’t necessarily translate into local votes exactly, but the broad contours of where the parties are standing usually do. The most interesting question about the election is whether or not Labour or the Conservatives are the second most popular party in Scotland. Labour are really trying to rebuild after the disaster of 2015. If they do move into second place, it will be more of a commentary on the Conservatives than the revival of Labour."
Tory MSP Miles Briggs said: "The reality is that if pro-union voters truly want to lock the SNP out of council chambers, the only safe way to achieve that is to vote Scottish Conservative.