ALL of a sudden, the Scottish election on May 6 has taken on a whole new dimension with the appearance of Alex Salmond’s Alba Party.

It was a stunning development, even more so because its existence was a very well kept secret until the day of the launch.

The aim of Alba is to “game” the electoral system used for the Holyrood elections in order to gain a supermajority for independence by standing only for the list regional seats and not the constituency seats. That is why many independence supporters are going to have to find out about the D’Hondt system and how it works.


IT’S complicated, and you need to know the history. Proportional representation in any future Scottish Parliament was called for by the Scottish Constitutional Convention from 1989 onwards, and after the historic vote for devolution in 1997, the three men who most drove the actual legislation that created the Scottish Parliament – the then Scottish secretary Donald Dewar, the former Lord Advocate and now a retired judge Lord Hardie, and the former Lord Chancellor Derry Irvine – were determined to create a Parliament that had genuine proportional representation.

The way to do that, they believed, was to have 73 MSPs elected in constituencies by the familiar first-past-the-post system as used in Westminster Parliament elections, with a further 56 additional MSPs elected on a regional basis using party lists of candidates.

This list method of election could have been done through the Single Transferable Vote method that we now use for local government elections, but instead the Scotland Act 1998 enshrined the Additional Member System which used the D’Hondt method to calculate how many additional seats a party will get.


A BELGIAN lawyer and mathematician, Victor D’Hondt was dissatisfied with his country’s election methods and in 1878 he devised his eponymous system as a means of solving the main problem of proportional representation, ie how do you get the correct number of elected representatives to conform as closely as possible to the number of votes cast for a party.

D’Hondt presented his system, based on mathematical calculations, in his publication Systeme Pratique et Raisonne de Representation Proportionnelle, first printed in Brussels in 1882. It has since been adopted in dozens of countries – including 16 European Union members – which use proportional representation to elect their politicians. Its other name is the Highest Averages Method.


SCOTLAND is different because D’Hondt is used only for calculating the additional member seats. There are eight regions, each electing seven additional members.

As simply as possible we’ll try and explain it: every voter gets two ballot papers, one for the constituency where the candidates and their parties are named and one for the regional list. On the constituency ballot paper you put your X beside the name of your favoured candidate – the candidate with the most votes wins.

On the regional list ballot paper you put your X beside the party, or independent candidate, that you favour. This second vote is used to correct the imbalance that first-past-the-post creates – Boris Johnson, for instance is Prime Minister and won a landslide majority despite the Tories only getting 43.6% of the popular votes.

Under D’Hondt, the regional list seats are allocated in a way that takes into account how a party has fared on the constituency seats. So, if the SNP wins all the constituency seats in Glasgow, as happened in 2016, the party gets no additional MSPs for that region. The seven additional seats are allocated by a rolling calculator that aims to reflect the proportion of votes cast for each party.

The person elected on the regional list is usually chosen by the party membership in that area, which is why party managers like it as they can insert their favoured candidates onto the list – as the SNP has just done with its policy of allocating top places on their list to BAME and disabled candidates.


IF a party only stands on the regional lists then it therefore has no constituency votes to detract from its list votes. That “game” should make it easier for, say, the Alba Party to get its candidates elected. Given past results and polls, Alba will need to take 8% to 10% of the list votes to make a serious impact.


AS always, we leave that to readers of The National.