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Gie’s peace!

Brian Taylor | 11:13 UK time, Wednesday, 24 October 2007

I try to keep a fairly calm sough, both personally and professionally. (The exception, of course, is while viewing united - although that has become a decidedly less pressurised experience in recent weeks.)

Mostly, I affect an air of gentle Scottish detachment. Think Blandings combined with the Broons.

But, on occasion, the mask slips. On the night of the Scottish elections in May, I was angry. Angry on behalf of the voting public.

What a guddle! They couldn’t get the postal ballots out in time, the voting papers for Holyrood were so complicated that folk couldn’t make sense of them - and, if people contrived to overcome these hurdles, then the authorities couldn’t count the blasted votes with their brand shiny new system.

Well, of course, it was over-egged. And Ron Gould, who conducted a review into the elections, is attempting to maintain whatever the equivalent of a calm sough is in his native Canada. (Given the Caledonian influence, it’s probably "a calm sough".)

Launching his report, he reminded us that fully 96% of voters managed to surmount the hurdles placed in their way. “Only” 4% stumbled.

Secondly, he appeared to me somewhat bemused by the extent of the fuss surrounding these elections: demands for judicial review and the rest.

Then again, the vastly experienced Mr Gould has run and supervised elections around the world.

But still one phrase jumps out from Mr Gould’s excellent and thorough report. The voter, he says, was “treated as an afterthought” in planning and organising the May 3 elections.

The prime concern of politicians was . . . politicians. Quite.

And the instant reaction of the political parties? Blame rivals, exonerate themselves.

For any sake, gie’s peace! Give it a rest. Cease. Desist. Enough.

Yes, Labour Ministers appear primarily culpable. They were in office. At Westminster or Holyrood, their decisions meant the local and Scottish Parliamentary elections were run on the same day, with different voting systems.

Crucially, the UK Ministers also insisted on the regional and constituency Holyrood votes being crammed into a single ballot paper: the key practical problem, according to Gould.

But hang on. The report also criticises the SNP for “sloganising” (Gould’s word) on the regional list: setting out their cause as “Alex Salmond for First Minister”, rather than simply using their party name. That was potentially confusing.

And let’s be blunt. The big parties knew what was happening when the regional and constituency votes were lumped together. It was designed to ditch the Greens and the SSP, to end the impression that the regional vote was a “second choice”, a chance to take a risk.

They knew what was happening - and they acquiesced. (Incidentally, it worked.)

Remember, too, the atmosphere in the Holyrood committee which settled the ballot paper for local elections. It was utterly partisan - and the Executive position was defeated.

Remember too the earlier agitation for and against various forms of electoral change. Each and every demand from political parties was informed by partisan interests.

Ron Gould’s verdict, in an interview with me? They were all at it. All of them.

Ah, but, were Labour most at it? Yes. They were in power, in a position to act. QED.

Well, Scotland collectively can continue to pick over this. Or, as a nation, we can focus now on Gould’s suggestions for sorting things.

Transfer control to Holyrood, separate the council and Parliamentary elections, put the regional and constituency votes on separate papers, get a single body to take charge.

With any luck, we might regain voter trust in the electoral system. And I can maintain a calm sough at the next elections. Which, if Ron Gould has his way, will be counted the day after polling.

For any sake, gie’s peace! Give it a rest. Cease. Desist. Enough.


  • 1.
  • At 12:16 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Sandra wrote:

We tried hard to keep a 'calm sough' as postal votes arrived late; as we heard of those who did not get 'em and before that, tried so hard to find out what those blasted papers looked like! It all appeared to 'the voter' that it was a guddle before the Day. Here the Day actually went fairly well until the Count - well maybe! We had been told several arrangements and those machines prevented the normal scrutiny by 'the public'. The whole process was a guddle, muddle. secret,failure to inform the voters. I never liked the idea of LA and Holyrood on one day anyway, but the whole thing smacked off trying to manipulate the voter to one way of thinking with the 'others' trying to keep the thing open.
Let us hope and pray that the whole process becomes more open and transparent which it certainly came across as being far from it in May 2007! You were not alone in your anger - far from it!

  • 2.
  • At 12:37 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Murray wrote:

I think you have hit the nail on the head Brian - they were all at it, and if the powers that be had been SNP (or Tory or Lib Dem etc) then they would probably have acted in much the same manner Labour ministers did. Only 4% slipped, but that 4% could have made a difference, and this does not take into account the several tens of percent that did not bother to vote because 'they don't care about us, only about themselves'... it seems that this may have been the case.

  • 3.
  • At 12:38 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Peter, Fife wrote:

I appreciate changes are required in the system of those decision making processes both in Westminster and Holyrood.

I feel most of the problem on the ground was caused by two issuing officers, one issuing two papers and one checking the credentials of the voter, if this system had been duplicated with separate issuing officers then the voter would have been dealing with one paper at a time.

The first paper would be required to be completed prior to the issuing of the second paper, each paper would be ‘marked’ in custom designed booths each with their own individual guidance for which ever paper is being marked.

Simple logistics and increased staffing could accommodate these changes, the costs will be greater but they will be less than two separate polling days; one cost that could be reduced is that of voter apathy.

  • 4.
  • At 01:08 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • sandymac wrote:

Politics unfortunately is all to do with self interest, we know that. Yes it's time to move on and learn lessons, though trust would have quickly restored if all political parties declared a re-run. They did not because of self interest. I will move on, though I will never forget the politicians who ignored democracy to save their skin. I'm sure they all could afford the cost of a re-run in money terms!

  • 5.
  • At 01:21 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Ross wrote:

Brian, unfortunately Scotland can't get on with sorting it becuase the british still have control over the area. This will not change until GB decides to concede this to Holyrood

I hold London Labour responsible and Alexander should go!

  • 6.
  • At 01:28 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Scotsman wrote:

Why not shift the Holyrood elections to STV?

All of these problems would thus be resolved, bar the electronic counting. But I don't believe that was the main problem anyway. We could even end the argument about 2 different classes of MSP.

Also, why not end the insanity of staying up all night counting the votes?

Ballot boxes can be gathered and guarded, and the votes counted the next day- and we can all get some sleep!

Quite rightly Douglas Alexander is getting it in the neck, and quite rightly "Alex Salmond for First Minister" is being criticised. But isn't the main story the shameful collusion by the bigger parties to dissuade people from voting for smaller parties or independents in the list vote?

The machinations in the Local Government and Transport Committee - in private as well as in public - are where the serious gerrymandering took place, and all four big parties deserve opprobrium for it.

  • 8.
  • At 02:21 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Martin wrote:

Can't wait to hear Wendy Alexanders excuse for her brother's attempt at gerrymandering gone bad!

Even more ammunition for the SNP to use aginst her, she may now regret taking the labour job so early with her brothers wake still being felt and being anything but beneficial for her!

  • 9.
  • At 04:13 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • The genie wrote:

yes, the larger four parties were extremely successful in screwing the smaller parties with the design of the ballot paper, only the greens hung on in there because they had solid support. I think 'acquiese' is the wrong word though Brian - they all agreed it with gusto!

  • 10.
  • At 04:22 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Dr. A. P. Conway wrote:

Until the ultimate control of ALL elections within the UK (as it now exists) is given to an independent election monitor with initial oversight by the parliament/assembly concerned in the election, the problem will persist. Above all we do need a UK wide "supreme/constitutional court" to hear and resolve disputes within the existing federal (actually, semi-federal) model. The various "devolution acts" were nonsense without this.

In particular, as someone born in England but resident in Scotland for almost 40 years, I strongly believe in the need for an English solution to internal problems as much as a Scottish/Welsh/Northern Irish solution for national problems.

I do not oppose a vote in the future on independence for any of the constituent countries within the UK Union. But, surely, not before a clear case is made and the existing problems have been solved. We do live on a very small island in a very large and increasingly hostile world. The "oil money" is fast running out!

To Brian Taylor:
Please carry on with the good work!!


  • 11.
  • At 04:34 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Douglas Eckhart wrote:

Douglas Alexander and Labour take most responsibility for this of course, as they should.

The issue of Alex Salmond using 'Alex Salmond for First Minister' on the ballot is not nearly as serious so please don't try to set this up as some kind of 'equal responsibility'.

Are people really so dense that they don't know that choosing 'Alex Salmond for First Minister, will result in Alex Salmond as First Minister? If so, then they shouldnt even be allowed on the street, never mind anywhere near a ballot box!

Tommy Sheridan also used his own name as leader of his party in this election and in England, David Cameron also chose his own name in a local election... and still lost.

The Electorial Commission allows for use of candidates names as representitives of their parties... if the electorial commission want to change this then fair enough, but there is no accounting for some peoples stupidity.

  • 12.
  • At 05:21 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Archie wrote:

Actually, under the previous system of two ballot papers, thousands of voters were misled into thinking that their regional list vote was a second peference (remember "Second Vote Green" ?) - although their votes may have been counted, the effect of their votes were quite different to what they intended.

Personally I've never seen the need for a separate ballot paper for the regional lists anyway : just add up the constituency votes that each party receives. Nothing to stop the Greens/SSP/etc standing as constituency candidates on a level playing field with everyone else.

  • 13.
  • At 05:40 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Ian Johnston wrote:

The issue of running two elections with different systems at the same time is a red herring. It has happened before: the very first Holyrood Election (Additional Member) happened simultaneously with a European Election (STV).

The main problem is the Additional Member system itself. Nobody, absolutely nobody (I include myself, and I have a doctorate in mathematics), has any idea in advance what effect their second vote will have. As a result, nobody has any idea how to vote to make a difference - and the system is therefore by definition unfair.

AM was chosen for three reasons: to entrench party power, to allow unelectable numpties to slip in on the list and to crush out the tradition of independent representation (which was normally conservative). It has done all those things admirably - look at the quality of list MSPs ye voters, and despair - but at the cost of any democratic legitimacy.

  • 14.
  • At 05:44 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Poppaea wrote:

#2 Scots are British too, you know, no matter how some people try to deny it, or take that away from the rest of us.

As for the ballot - all the parties made idiots of themselves (Alex Salmond For First Minister being a particular source of laughter chez moi) and they all deserve a good kicking for it (verbal, of course).

And what's a 'sough' when it's at home??

  • 15.
  • At 05:54 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

Perhaps it's time for a new game show (lame show) called "Strictly Come Voting" - it would be about as serious and relevant as politics (North or South) is regarded by the pols themselves.

  • 16.
  • At 07:18 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Alastair wrote:

Scotsman wrote:
Why not shift the Holyrood elections to STV? (sic)

Richard wrote:
Perhaps it's time for a new game show

I think if you combine the two, we might be on to something!

  • 17.
  • At 08:12 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • PMK wrote:

I see no reason why "Alex Salmond for First Minister" is being attacked on an equal footing with Dougie Alexander's incompetence and the way in which the Scottish Executive based decision primarily on partisan considerations. Does anyone seriously believe that (taking the more hysterical headlines of the final week in to accout) anyone went to the polls thinking Alex Salmond led a party other than the SNP? Labour and the others were more than welcome to run with "Jack McConnell for First Minister" or equivalent ... they simply (and understandably) decided not to.

Dont find the original tag funny - the truly hilarious variations that spring to my mind would be "Nicol Stephen for First Minister" or, worse still, "Wendy Alexander for First Minister"!

Dougie Alexander should go for this. He wont, but he should. Were he not Wendy's brother and one of Gordon's henchmen he likely would have been mentioned by name in the report. A decision was clearly taken not to apportion blame to individuals at all.

  • 18.
  • At 09:05 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • alan gray wrote:

Could brian explain what he means when he says that "Alex Salmond for First Minister is potentially confusing". It seems perfectly logical to me what you would be voting for if you ticked that box!

Annabel Goldie for First Ministress! Huzzah!

  • 20.
  • At 10:39 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Rhi wrote:

Frankly I think the ballot should have been made more complicated. It was simple enough to understand if you took ten seconds to read the clearly printed instructions, anyone too thick to do that shouldn't have been allowed to vote anyway.

  • 21.
  • At 11:18 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Paddy Byrne wrote:

I'm surprised at Brian Taylor's assertion that the Gould report 'criticises the SNP for sloganising ...'. As far as I can make out, the report does nothing of the sort. It merely criticises the rules that authorised the use of names other than official party names on ballot papers and thus prompted this "sloganised" presentation. There's nothing scandalous about the SNP's capitalisisng on its leader's popularity while sticking to the rules!

Brian Taylor for First Minister!

  • 23.
  • At 08:42 AM on 25 Oct 2007,
  • Morris wrote:

OK, it was a bit of a cock-up but anyone with even half-a-brain was able to vote and there were impartial advisors at the polling stations to assist anyone in doubt. Maybe that's why 96% of us did get our votes counted. I don't recall such an almighty fuss BEFORE the election - perhaps because the four big parties apparently agreed the procedure. Instead of all the political points scoring and calls for heads to roll can we please start acting like adults, sort things out for the future and get on with more important issues like health, transport, jobs etc etc etc.

  • 24.
  • At 09:11 AM on 25 Oct 2007,
  • Ed Gray wrote:

Once again, a reluctant apology has had to be wrung out of the London Labour government following another disastrous illustration of their political conniving.

Can it be simply pure coincidence that the Holyrood Building project was also planned and executed by London Labour, before the Scottish Parliament as a body ever came into being, and that the resulting fiasco stemmed directly from decisions made by them at that time?

Coincidence that both the Holyrood project and this year's electoral farce have both become badges of major international shame, which in each case strikes at the very heart of Scottish democracy?

Of course, London Labour will shrug this off, and move on, as has been the case with both the Hutton enquiry and the Cash for Honours enquiry, since it appears there is no single body big enough or with enough clout to bring the UK Government to account over chicanery at this level.

Des Browne says he is 'not convinced' of the case to transfer control of Scottish elections to Holyrood.
He would.

In the wake of another betrayal of the people's trust on such a scale, how can London Labour still have a leg to stand on??

  • 25.
  • At 11:12 AM on 25 Oct 2007,
  • Leuchars wrote:

Hmmm, I'm a bit cynical about all of this. First of all we have people trying to spread the blame across all the parties. Understandable but frankly it won't wash.
Then we have the attempt to "draw a line under the whole thing/gie us peace brigade."
Seems a harmless enough request unless you are of the opinion that the opposition in Westminster have seized on this ally of Browns as a very weak area where the Prime minister can be undermined. He showed yesterday at PMQ that he is very touchy about it.
My guess is that the "gie us peace" brigade have an agenda themselves which involves protecting Gordon from further harm.
And for why?
I'll leave that to you political experts.

If “sloganising” is not allowed then then the 3 unionist parties will all have to drop the word Scottish from the ballot papers as none of them are registered as seperate parties with the electoral commission - check the website.

There is no such party as "Scottish Labour" and its the same for the other 2, They are technicaly party descriptions just like "Alex Salmond for first minister". So they are just as guilty of “sloganising”.

  • 27.
  • At 07:51 PM on 27 Oct 2007,
  • Dave "Boy" wrote:

No 18, you've made the point perfectly although I suspect you don't realise it. You WERENT voting for Alex Salmond. You WERE voting for your constituency MSP, and your Regional List candidate. Unless you were in Gordon constituency, neither of these people were Alex Salmond. As your post clearly shows, people were very easliy misled by the placing of his name on every ballot paper in the country.

  • 28.
  • At 11:37 AM on 28 Oct 2007,
  • Quietzapple wrote:

Whatever the intentions the biggest error was to make the thing too complicated, by putting ballots for two elections on one piece of paper.

Dim people deserve a vote as well as the 96% who managed.

Had the method been explained to any practical Constituency Agent he/she would have picked up the difficulty I believe.

These sorts of matters, at any level, ALWAYS bring out the attentions of the interests involved, crazy to imagine otherwise.

So political parties, and also independants on councils, will always wonder, sometimes out loud, how chnages will affect them.

To turn the whole matter over to the Scunner Salmond would be to compound a bad situation you may be sure; even if there were moderation by other Scotish parties it is best left to the national Parliament, who are unlikely to want to look so foollish next time.

  • 29.
  • At 01:47 PM on 28 Oct 2007,
  • Quietzapple wrote:

As a couple of very unsucecssful candidates were allowed to stand as "David Camaron's Conservative Party" candidates will the Electoral Commission really stop parties from adding Scottish to their names?

In the distant past I ran local election candidates with a local placename as a prefix to one of the main party's names, quite legitimately and within the rules of those days.

The real problems will arise when online voting comes online.

Screen optimisation etc will endanger the whole result, as some candidates, or their descriptions, are left off some voters' screens you bet.

Just look at what the Royal Mail's site can do to attempts to print postage on a sheet of paper with a non standard browser and computer!

  • 30.
  • At 11:36 AM on 29 Oct 2007,
  • mairi macleod wrote:

hi brian,
well this is just typical of labour
is'nt it pass the buck, equal blame
not me guv, all discriptions of no responcibity, take massive wages,
big names in politics, and sit on
backsides telling US we never did
anything wrong.
you could'nt make it up, what i saw
was some little squirt passing all
expectations of reality into a farce
the comedy of errors, dispite
GLEN CAMPBELL'S attempts at getting truth, on politics show, instead of
we accept the recomendations,like alex salmonds did

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