Boxing the political compass


By Peter Thomson

I came across The Political Compass web site serendipitously. For fun I did the test, human interest being what it is, and discovered I came out as a left wing libertarian; a stance that did not surprise me in the slightest, as folk who may have read my odd offerings to Newsnet in the past might attest.

It was, as I went through the analysis first in general then looking at the UK in particular I saw patterns in the academic data on the UK’s political parties that made sense, if sometimes in some surprising ways but made sense.

The ipsative test asks you questions, number crunches the different permutations of the questions and the answers you gave into statistical means and pitches your result according to where on the political scale you lie (Left /Right) and whether you are Authoritarian (fascist) or Liberal (anarchist).  The result ends up in a ‘quadrant’ hence the test defined me as a left-wing liberal.

If you score a zero for both axes then you have no political view as you move out along either axis you are becoming more and more extreme.  Hitler, unsurprisingly, scores big on the authoritarian / Fascist axis but surprisingly turns out to be less right wing than the current Lib Dems, Labour or Tory parties being only just on the right wing side.  Stalin also scores as high on the Authoritarian axis but is also quite a way along the left wing axis, level with the SSP and ‘Respect’ when you superimpose the UK party graph over historical and political figures.

Given my own results Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and I should be supporters of the Greens but I am not; so there is clearly a difference between how you see yourself as a political animal and how you vote.  The graphs produced can thus only give you a guide to the party nearest your political aims.

If you look at Labour and the Tories you do find that Labour remain left of the Tories but to the right of the Lib Dems and all three are on the right wing side of the graph.  The number crunching suggests the last time Labour were meeting the requirements of a socialist party was in 1982 prior to their thumping in 1983.

Thereafter their drift rightwards accelerated and closed the gap between them and the Tories, and by 1999 any left wing assertions Labour had were well and truly dead.  As Labour came to the right the Tories drifted further to the right.  The Lib Dems had, surprisingly, stayed fairly true to themselves and moved slightly to the right but remained in the liberal quadrant until 2008 when the mouse tried an authoritarian roar.

By 2010 the three main parties were all presenting themselves as right wing, authoritarian parties.  The most authoritarian right wing party overall being Labour, with UKIP and the Tories battling to be the most authoritarian extreme right party.  It is not that difficult to understand from this data why many on the left of this political graph could hardly tell where Labour stopped and the Tories/UKIP started.

A sufficient number of the UK electorate did not like the stridency coming from either main party so opted for the Lib Dems in the hope this would pull UK back to slightly right of centre authoritarian politics the UK electorate appear to desire.

So where are the SNP?

The Political Compass site only started tracking the SNP in the run in to the 2010 election, so the data available is small but their number crunching puts the SNP on the lightly authoritarian, slightly left wing side of the graph well to the right of the SSP and Respect, firmly in Social Democrat country.

A quick straw poll of half a dozen friends indicates they share similar political views to me but all support the SNP.  Given the expectation that the Scots electorate spread is reflected in the May 2011 results which were about ‘What is best for Scotland’ you can estimate the vast bulk of Scots live on the left wing side of the quadrant graph with probably most in the lower, left wing / liberal sector.

The Scottish vote should, you would think, be spread amongst the two Authoritarian left wing parties (Respect and the SSP), the left wing/ liberal greens and the SNP.  This did not happen – the SNP acted as the focus, the other authoritarian parties all lost out and the Greens picked up fewer seats than maybe they should have.

Based on this data it is unsurprising the SNP did so well because Scotland is a conservative socialist country, much happier voting for parties around the zero datum point on the graph, parties which are not to left or right wing and have a bit of gumption but not too much.  This explains the Liberals long love affair in Scotland to some extent and why by 2011 their move to right was so disastrous for their Scottish region.

The Tories drift rightwards has alienated even their core Scottish vote as has Labour’s attempts to follow them.  The main parties have moved themselves away from a Scottish electorate which still, by and large, is not enamoured by political excess in any direction.  The Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems are now as far to the right as the SSP and Respect are to the left.  The impact on vote share does not lie about how Scots see themselves and the main Westminster parties.

For me this says something different about the 2011 election win.  While it was a strong endorsement of the SNP Government as a safe pair of hands, working in Scotland’s best interests, I do not think it was any sort of full endorsement for independence.  In this the SNP are right to wait to ‘do what it said on the tin’ and hold their referendum in 2014.  To have rushed into an independence referendum could have backfired with the Scots reacting to what they may have considered as SNP hubris and slapped them down.

Westminster forcing their hand could have been a boon though if Beltie George Foulkes and his pal Jim Wallace get their way; the Scotland Act Amendment Bill may yet become the starting gun as constitutional issues begin to untangle.

While the majority of readers on Newsnet Scotland are sure that independence is the right and only way ahead for Scotland there are still too many of our fellow Scots sitting on the fence sucking their soor plooms with their paper under their arm watching the way the wind is blowing, not just in Scotland but across the world.

We have to go at the pace of the slowest if we wish to bring Scotland’s sovereign people with us, yet over the next financial quarter there are a number of nasty looking fiscal storms of hurricane proportions  heading the UK’s way and only time will tell if they back behind independence or veer away to give Westminster sea room.

My New Year’ s resolution for all bloggers on Newsnet is patience, smile at your opponents, listen to them with grace, answer them with humour and if you have not got something valid and informative to say to them, keep your counsel.


Data taken from The Political Compass web site: