The Gould report reviewing the Scottish elections (and the result of thousands of papers being rejected – discussed previously here and here and here) has been published today. It lists a series of systemic problems and failings, calls for the professionalisation of the returning officer system, a consistent approach to the rejection of papers, a return to folded ballot papers (yes, folks – in the election we couldn’t maintain secrecy in the ballot when putting the paper in the ballot box as it had to remian unfolded (and in my polling station) placed face upwards), separate ballot papers rather than one unified paper, local government and parliamentary elections should be on different days, and an end to overnight counting as quality of count is more important than speed (an inevitable consequence of PR and STV I would have thought). The report has been quite well covered by the Beeb (with Newsnight Scotland about to have a special in the next 5 minutes (I type at 10.55)). The report also calls for only one place to have control of Scottish elections rather than the divided role for Executive and Scotland Office in May.
Why Douglas Alexander should resign
Worth a read is the press release accompanying the report (available here). Most interesting passages are these:
“Our consultations showed that the Scotland Office and the Scottish Executive frequently focused on partisan political interests, overlooking those of the voter and the operational realities of the election timetable,” said Ron Gould. “Changes were introduced with the expectation that they would simply fall into place. However, there was no effective planning process connecting legislative and operational timescales.”
This is damning. I have never read an official report as critical (aside from the auditors examination fo Westminster Council policies under Dame Shirley, although Ron Gould stops short of using the expression gerrymandering). The motivation in the preparation of the ballot paper was “Partisan political interests” – the interests of the Scotland Office and Executive, the Labour party and Lib Dems. Now, the principal issue here is the parliamentary ballot paper – whcih is control of the Scotland Office. The Labour party felt they had suffered under the previous split paper – with a perception that the electorate used the list vote as a second preference, the second choice (something which had benefited the SSP and Greens in 2003). The motivation of the Labour party was to avoid that happening. As well as this partisan motivation there was also an issue of timing. The decisions in relation to this ballot paper were left late.
The report notes,
“There were too many changes and not enough time to adequately incorporate them into the electoral process. “
But where did these changes come from? The report notes,
“The execution of the VoteScotland campaign was, for the most part, commendable. However, the campaign’s efforts were frustrated by an inability to provide more detailed information to voters due to the late decisions of Ministers on ballot paper design. “
Now, what ballot paper was this? The parliamentary paper which was in the hands of the Scotland Office under the control of Douglaz “with a z” Alexander – notorious Liza Minelli and Miss Hoolie impersonator. The same Scotland Office that Ron Gould described as manipulating the ballot paper for partisan purposes.
The combination of these allegations should finish the minister responsible – but the report does not apportion blame. It does not seek to name individuals. Well, allow me. It was under Douglas Alexander’s watch. It was Alexander’s Scotland Office that manipulated the ballot paper for partisan purposes. It was Alexander’s Scotland Office that left the changes until a late stage in the process. It was Alexander’s Scotland Office that effectively disenfranchised an electorate equivalent ot the population of Scotland’s fourth city. To that, there should be only one response. Alexander should resign.
But he won’t.
Alex Salmond for First Minister and other alphabetical games
One other matter got my attention and may be of particular interest to my regular reader: that the SNP and Solidarity tactic of using the party leader name to increase visibility, or ensure a favourable place on the ballot paper (“ALex Salmond for First Minister”) is discouraged. The press release mirroring the report, notes that
“In order to prevent future confusion, the report recommends that registered names of political parties rather than descriptions should appear first on all regional ballot papers for the Scottish parliamentary elections and that a lottery should be held to determine ballot paper positioning. “
The risk of a yellow pages plumbers type approach to naming parties
(eg “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA – Liberal Democrats”
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA – Labour Party”
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH it’s the Conservative Party”
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAlex Salmond for First Minister – SNP”)
should accordingly be ditched (and a good thing too).