Single Transferable Vote: 2012 Scottish local elections

This project examined how voters behaved in the second set of Scottish local elections under the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system in May 2012. Researchers focused in particular on how many and what kinds of voters exploited the opportunity afforded by the system to do more than simply cast one vote for one party.

This evidence was used to inform the debate about whether STV should be introduced to the House of Lords. the argument for doing so is that it would allow voters to choose candidates as well as parties and would consequently help reduce the risk of the chamber becoming overly partisan.

However, overseas experience of STV indicates that voters vary considerably in how they behave under the system and do not necessarily exercise the opportunity to express a view about individual candidates.

The best guide to how voters in Great Britain would vote under STV comes from local elections in Scotland, where the system was introduced in 2007. This experience raised questions about voters’ willingness to use the system effectively, with some in particular apparently simply ranking candidates in the order in which they appeared on the ballot paper. This may have happened because the elections took place under the shadow of a contemporaneous election to the Scottish Parliament – a circumstance that would be repeated if, as proposed, Lords elections were to be held on the same day as a general election to the House of Commons.

The evidence from this project will help produce a more detailed understanding of the likely implications of using STV to elect members to the House of Lords. 

Project details



Prof. John Curtice, Scottish Centre for Social Research

Prof. Michael Marsh, Trinity College, Dublin

Ms. Rachel Ormston, Scottish Centre for Social Research

Grant amount and duration


April 2012 - December 2013