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Take five

Brian Taylor | 11:26 UK time, Tuesday, 9 September 2008

By the end of this week, Scottish Labour will have a new leader. Or a new leader for Labour in the Scottish Parliament. (See sundry previous blogs.)

Thousands of Labour members will have cast their votes. Many of them several times over.

I expect that, if you thought about it at all, you were presuming that the new leader was to be elected by the fabled OMOV: One Member One Vote. Well, up to a point, Lord Copper.

In this ballot, votes are allocated across three sections: elected members, party members, unions and affiliates.

By a process of weighting, each section adds up to one third of the final vote.

If you are seeking a source of innocent merriment, ask your Labour MSPs how many votes they have in this contest. The top total I've discerned so far is five.

Huge influence

Here's how that breaks down. Labour MSP - one vote. Co-op MSP - one vote. Union member - one vote. Party member - one vote. Affiliated society, such as the Fabians - or the Socialist Health Association - one vote. Five in total.

Co-op? That is the Co-operative Party which works in partnership with Labour. It is supporting Cathy Jamieson and Bill Butler in this election. There are nine Labour/Co-op MSPs.

To be clear, the Co-op votes are not counted in the MSP section. If they were, that would give huge influence to the Co-op vote as the choice of elected members counts, proportionately, for more than other sections.

That is because the votes of the relatively few elected members are weighted to represent one third of the final total.

Co-op MSP votes are reallocated to the affiliated societies section. That gives them a lower weight, comparable to that of union members.

Talking of the union vote, bear in mind that those who take part in this ballot need not be members of the Labour Party. They must simply have paid the political levy.

Substantial compromise

Indeed, Alex Salmond has indicated that three Nationalist MSPs are entitled to take part in the Labour vote because they are suitably paid-up members of affiliated unions.

He said, drolly, that he would guide them to vote for one each of the three contenders. However, to do so, they would have to participate in a rather more substantial compromise.

To take part in the union section vote, they would have to tick a box declaring that they share the aims and ambitions of the Labour Party. Ballot papers lacking that tick go in the bin.

I have discussed the complexity of this election with a number of Labour figures. Mostly, they stress the voting method reflects Labour's origins: growing up from the unions and Socialist societies.

It would be wrong, they argue, to deprive the wider movement of a vote.

But is it really necessary to have a situation where an MSP receives five ballot papers? Fills five envelopes?

Bear in mind this doesn't just apply to MSPs. Multiple voting will affect those who, for example, are both party and union members: a rather common combination.

Vote early, vote often.

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