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Look to the future

Brian Taylor | 10:24 UK time, Monday, 19 May 2008

Fair deal of blatt chat this morning re the report by the Scottish Select Committee into the hideous guddle that was last May's Holyrood elections.

Much of the coverage focuses upon the issue of whether all of our elected tribunes should, strictly, be in the Scottish Parliament; whether their wins were legitimate.

I understand this focus. It was spotlighted in the report - and it must be furiously frustrating for the losers.

However, I find myself more interested in the dog that didn't bark. The MPs on the committee disdain even to argue the case for retaining legislative control of Holyrood elections at Westminster.

They say, simply, that there is no need to transfer control to Holyrood. They neglect the finding in the Gould Report that such a transfer was merited, preferring to spotlight Ron Gould's later concession that it was not utterly essential.

So MPs agree. Power over Holyrood elections should remain with . . . MPs.

Status quo

They reach that conclusion despite excoriating the Scotland Office, which handled the ballot on behalf of the UK Government.

Now, there may well be a case to be made for the status quo. There may be - but we do not learn of it from the Scottish Select Committee.

They skip this task in a report which, otherwise, is searching and thorough.

Re the questionable seats. As I pointed out on the night of the election, there are several seats where the majority was lower than the number of rejected ballot papers.

By simple definition, these seats might have gone another way if all or even most of the rejected papers had featured a vote for the loser.

But, after a degree of disquiet, all the parties accepted the results. They could do no other.

After all, they were collectively and severally involved in the discussions which generated the voting arrangements.

Poorly placed

Discussions which, according to Ron Gould, concentrated on partisan interest and ignored the voters.

Labour is particularly poorly placed to complain. Their ministers were in overall charge at the Scotland Office in the UK Government. Their ministers were in the majority in the then Scottish Executive which offered advice to Whitehall.

I say again: look to the future instead. In that regard, the select report makes several useful recommendations including the prospect of appointing a chief returning officer to take administrative charge of Holyrood elections.

However, they should have been prepared to defend their case that legislative control should stay at Westminster. Scotland has had a sufficiency of silent presumption when it comes to the voting system.

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