The SNP are past masters at divide and rule so tactical voting as a general election version of Better Together, most recently commended by Jenny Hjul in this paper, has an obvious appeal – at least in theory.
However, it ignores both the unprecedented political ructions Scottish parties are undergoing and the particularities of constituency battles. Without a stable playing field in which voter intentions can be reliably predicted, tactical voting becomes as risky as Russian roulette. Labour and LibDem votes in Scotland are in meltdown, with both parties facing a general election wipe-out in Scotland. Past voting behaviour in Scotland is no longer a safe guide for a tactical vote.
Take the example of NE Fife, held by the Liberal Democrat former leader Sir Menzies Campbell since 1987, and with a majority of 9000 odd in 2010. On the surface, a tactical vote for the LibDems might make sense. But consider this. In the last year’s EU elections in Fife, the Lib Dems finished fifth in Fife, only just ahead of the Greens. They also lost their only MEP in Scotland.
In the last general election Sir Menzies’ share of the vote fell by almost 8%, reversing its previous upward trajectory. Nationally, the LibDems are polling at just 4% when in 2011 they polled at 11% in Scotland, with a recent Ashcroft poll finding that only 12% of the party’s 2010 supporters said they would vote Lib Dem again.
Then there are the particularities of the NE Fife list. Sir Menzies is retiring, and he likes to behave as if his personal vote can be handed on like a Pay & Display ticket when leaving a car park. But a personal vote isn’t like that, and in any case there wasn’t much credit left on Sir Menzies’ ticket, after the LibDems’ coalition performance in general, and Sir Menzies’ failure to save RAF Leuchars in particular.
Sir Menzies has anointed Councillor Tim Brett as his successor, but he not only lacks his predecessor’s charisma and stature, he is far from universally popular. Plenty of Fifers remember his previous checkered career with the NHS, and party-line voting on local issues such as his automatic support for wind turbine applications.
On the other hand Conservative support in Fife has been showing signs of recovery, with the Conservative vote up in the 2010 general election, 5000 ahead of the LibDems in last year’s European election and a strong factor in Fife’s 55% NO vote in the referendum.
In the past many voters in NE Fife regarded Sir Menzies as an honorary conservative, but coalition politics has altered everything. Vince Cable has already signalled he’s up for a rainbow coalition with the SNP. If all the Unionist and small-c conservative voters in NE Fife were to vote with their hearts, Huw Bell, the conservative candidate, and the only one to promise no deals with the SNP, would win.