by Ben Borland
The battle for Holyrood will turn “salmon pink” this week as parties scrap over the regional second vote, amid fears it could allow Labour to sneak into power through the back door.
With just over a week to go and many constituency contests all but decided, the 56 regional list MSPs are becoming increasingly crucial to the outcome of the May 5 poll.
It is thought all parties this week will put much of the focus on securing these vital second votes, particularly since it could decide who ultimately takes the keys to Bute House.
The debate over the regional vote has even taken a bizarre twist with political leaders disagreeing over the colour of the ballot paper.
Last week, David Cameron urged voters with “common sense” to back the Tories on the “peach” form – even if they voted for another party in their own constituency. However SNP campaign director Angus Robertson insisted the second voting paper’s true colour is “salmon pink”, according to the Electoral Commission, and told Mr Cameron to stay out of the Holyrood campaign.
David Cameron urged voters with “common sense” to back the Tories
He said: “I don’t think most voters in Scotland take too kindly to advice from Westminster politicians, including the Prime Minister.
“I think there is a growing understanding that both votes are key and that the list vote determines the balance across parliament.”
The party has launched a new Internet video, featuring actress Elaine C Smith explaining the importance of voting SNP on both forms. And writing exclusively in today’s Scottish Sunday Express, Sir Sean Connery said: “If you want Alex Salmond to be First Minister you have to vote for the SNP on both ballot papers.
“The salmon coloured one is for the list vote, which decides the First Minister and the government of Scotland.”
A poll last week put the SNP on 45 per cent to Labour’s 34 per cent on the constituency vote, and 42 per cent to Labour’s 32 per cent on the regional vote. Election analyst John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, said the Nationalists feared a poor showing on the second vote could allow Labour in.
“The polling evidence suggests that SNP voters might be a bit flaky on the list, backing the Greens or George Galloway instead. And while I don’t think Mr Cameron would ever utter these words, he is appealing to voters who back the SNP in the constituency to vote for the Tories on the regional list.”
In 2003, a weak regional showing for the main parties led to the formation of the “rainbow Parliament”, with seven Greens, six Scottish Socialists, three independents and one MSP from the Senior Citizens Unity Party.
But this time, the bitter fight for every vote has led some experts to predict that Labour and the SNP will squeeze the smaller parties out of Holyrood altogether.
Prof Curtice said that only around half a dozen constituencies are likely to change hands, meaning the share of the regional vote would again prove crucial.
“In the last parliament the Labour Party won a majority of constituencies even though it had fewer votes overall than the SNP,” he said. “The SNP is trying to put it in layman’s terms by saying the regional vote is a vote for First Minister and the constituency vote is for your local MSP.”
David McLetchie, Tory campaign manager, yesterday pleaded for disgruntled Lib Dem voters to support Annabel Goldie’s party on the regional list. A Conservative spokesman added that the tactic over the coming days would be “think peach, think Goldie”. Scottish Labour’s election co-ordinator, John Park, admitted the party had “missed a trick” in 2007 by not urging supporters to vote Labour on both forms. He said: “Labour are targeting votes on the list like never before. We think we can make serious gains on the lists and have a plan to make that happen.
“We have identified hundreds of thousands of people planning to vote in different ways and will be setting out to them why two votes for Labour will make all the difference.”
Liberal Democrat campaign chair George Lyon said: “We will be urging voters across Scotland to use both their constituency and regional votes right up until polling day.”