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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 April, 2003, 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK
Electoral system: How it works
On 1 May, 2003, voters will go to the polls to elect the members who will form the second Scottish Parliament session of the modern era.

Pressure to cut the number of MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament) in line with a scheduled reduction in those sent to Westminster has been resisted.

There will be 129 MSPs who will sit for a fixed four-year period.

The members will be elected in two ways.

  • 73 members will represent individual constituencies and will be elected under the traditional first-past-the-post system.

    These are the same as the 72 Scottish constituencies at Westminster with the exception that Orkney and Shetland is divided into two, each electing its own MSP.

  • In addition, 56 members selected from "party lists" in the country's eight electoral regions.

    These regions each will elect seven MSPs through the Additional Member System, a form of proportional representation.

Electors will therefore have two votes on separate ballot papers.

One is for a candidate in their constituency and the second is for a party list in their region.

Parties will be keen to dispel the common confusion over the two separate votes.

Some people mistakenly believe that they must vote for the constituency candidate belonging to the same party they supported at regional level.

Members of the Scottish Parliament
There will 129 MSPs
Elected from constituencies 73
Elected from regions 56

Others wrongly think the opposite, that the regional vote is a "second choice" and that they must therefore vote for a different party to the one they voted for in their constituency.

Both these views are wrong.

It is up to individual voters to decide whether or not they "split" their votes.

They can vote for the candidate at constituency level who represents the same party or a different party to the one they voted for at regional level.

The Additional Member System

The constituency MSPs are chosen according to the traditional system used in Westminster elections. A candidate needs simply to poll more votes than any other single rival to be elected.

The system for electing the Additional Members is more complex.

Electors will cast their second vote for a "party list".

This is a list submitted by registered parties with their candidates in order of preference.

If the party succeeds in winning one of these "top-up" seats, the person named as first on its list will be elected.

If it wins two top-up seats, then the first two will be elected, and so on.

Common confusion
Some think that their two votes must be for same party
Others think their two votes must be for different parties
In fact, voters can cast their two votes however they wish

It is important, therefore, for candidates to be near the top of their party's list for them to stand a realistic chance of being elected.

There are two complications to the lists.

First, a "party list" can be an individual person who is standing at the regional level rather than in a constituency.

Secondly, a candidate can stand both in a constituency and on a regional top-up list.

If they succeed in a constituency this takes priority and their name will be removed from the regional list so they cannot be elected twice.

The all-important divisor

The formula for deciding which parties win regional top-up seats is known as the d'Hondt system and is used widely across Europe.

First, party list votes are totalled from each of the constituencies making up the region.

These totals are then divided by the number of seats each party has won - plus one.

The party with the highest resulting total elects one Additional Member.

The regions for additional member seats
Central Scotland
Highlands and Islands
Mid-Scotland and Fife
North East Scotland
South of Scotland
West of Scotland

That party's divisor is then increased by one (because of its victory) and new figures calculated. Again, the party with the highest total wins a seat.

The process is then repeated until all seven Additional Members are elected.

The aim of the system is to compensate parties which pile up votes in constituencies but fail to win many MSPs.

Under the d'Hondt system, they are much more likely to gain Additional Members. Conversely, parties which do well in constituency elections will do less well in the top-up seats.

Vote Scotland 2003

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