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Mind the gap

Brian Taylor | 13:33 UK time, Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Charming, it was, to stroll along the boulevards of Dennistoun and Springburn during the Glasgow North-east by-election.

I encountered voters who were exasperated, angry, disaffected, amused, puzzled, busy and bored: sometimes in equal measure.

However, I must confess that I encountered few wails and lamentations over the delay in calling the contest. Courageous souls that they are, most appeared to feel that they could struggle by for a few months, somewhow, without an MP.

Nevertheless, it seems sensible to pay heed to the Electoral Commission when they say, as they do today, that the five month gap was somewhat excessive. The commission says that Westminster should review the rules.

In response, Labour (the victorious party in Glasgow NE) says that the timing of the contest was entirely driven by the intervening parliamentary recess.

Partisan electoral considerations never entered into the calculation. Of course, of course.

The only alternative would have been to hold the by-election during the Glasgow Fair, prompting a rush of postal votes from Rothesay.

Not a good idea. Risks disenfranchising the voters.

And the last time a by-election was held in the summer (in Glasgow East), Labour lost. Not of course that such a thought entered... you get the concept.

It would seem, however, that the SNP are a little less enthralled by the Electoral Commission when it comes to the putative referendum on independence.

Seemingly, they prefer such a ballot to be run by a new Scottish Referendum Commission.

Rivals scent a fix. Rigging the rules. Removing an establishing organisation which might, for example, ask awkward questions about ballot paper wording.

Not at all, say ministers. Not at all. Partisan electoral considerations never entered... It is right to use an ad hoc body which would be directly responsible to Holyrood, not Westminster.

Further, they say, there was a distinct body set up to monitor arrangements in the run-up to the establishment of devolution in 1999.

One might point out that the Electoral Commission was only set up in 2000, via the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act of that year - and thus was in no position to take on the job.

Still, no matter. The Referendum Bill will only be in draft form at this stage, pending further consultation. The SNP's rivals say they will block the bill, if and when it is placed before parliament.

Further, if opposition parties are sufficiently exercised about this particular point, then presumably they can extract a concession as to the role of the Electoral Commission in return for allowing the bill to proceed?

Or not.


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