Saturday, May 05, 2007

Put Up, Or Shut Up

I posted earlier tonight about one Labour candidate's apparent threat to challenge the outcome of last Thursday's Scottish elections, but took it down again since the only outlet carrying the story at the time was the BBC News 24 Headlines. However, since it's now on the BBC website, I'll go ahead.

Let me say this - if anyone from Labour does decide to challenge any result from the Scottish election, then they'd better have two things:

1. Compelling evidence that the result was flawed.

2. A very good explanation as to why the result was not challenged with the Returning Officer concerned before a declaration was made.

If any would-be challenger lacks these, they should think very carefully before invoking any legal processes. Quite frankly, the last thing Scotland needs now is a prolonged period of Florida-style brinkmanship, simply because someone doesn't like how the vote went and sees a possible party advantage from creating uncertainty and instability.

Any allegation of this nature should not be allowed to hang around and for that reason, Labour should state their intentions immediately. If they neither put up or shut up in the next few hours, I don't think I'll be the only one who suspects darker motives than personal disappointment at work.


Bill said...

Whilst I agree that it would be better for Labour (collectively and individually) to 'put up or shut up' over potential challenges to any particular result, rather than being seen by some (me, for example) to be showing themselves to be sore losers, I wonder whether your attitude would have been exactly the same (try to be honest, now! ;) ) had the knife-edge result been the other way round with Labour having 47 and the SNP 46?

Iain said...

of course not, but that's just one of the spoils of victory!

We're operating in a flawed electoral and political system and in a supposedly "representative" democracy rather than a participatory one. So we can arrive at the situation where despite the fact that 60% of Labour voters beleive in independence, they will never be given that option by that party.

With a "bloc" manifesto that can be rewritten at any time after an election to suit those in power, protracted parliamentary debates that run out of time, pushing decisions into limbo, and all the rest of these sorts of games, its not wonder many people are disaffected.

In such a system, one could argue that even those who vote are effectively "disenfranchised", since the vote is essentially a statement of "just ask me what I think every 4 or 5 years and do want you want in the interim".

Greater imagination and a deeper commitment to an active democracy that encourages participation and involvement would be an excellent project for a new Scotland.

Maybe we can talk about this on Pat Kane's new site ??

Richard Thomson said...

Bill, I can honestly say that my view would be exactly the same, even if the situation were reversed.

If there was 'compelling evidence that the result was flawed', or evidence of this which subsequently came to light, then yes, I would say that a challenge was in order. From what I can gather, though, the basis of any challenge would be the number of spoiled ballots. Now, throughout the count, the party counting agents had the chance to scrutinise each 'suspect' paper as it was considered by the returning officer. Since Wilson's representatives (and those of every other candidate in Cunninghame North) presumably accepted the outcome on the night, it's hard to see what new evidence could have come to light since then. It's not as if they've just found a ballot box sitting unopened at the back of the hall, for instance.

There were a few challenges before results were declared (The SNP asked for a recount in Aberdeen North, for example, while the returning officer for the Highlands and Islands by all accounts was ready to allocate 4 list members to Labour and none to the SNP, before someone pointed out that his arithmetic was faulty).

Labour was warned time and time again that trying to run two different voting systems on the same day was a recipe for disaster (I was one of them when I used to sit on the Electoral Commission Party Panel for the SNP). Instead, they pushed on regardless, trying to screw out the same advantage that they perceive themselves to get whenever local and national elections are held together.

From what I saw of the spoiled papers in Dundee East and West, as well as the conventional spoiling of papers, there was some double voting on the constituencies. Genuinely, I saw no trend which would have disadvantaged any one party over another.

As I said, if Wilson has evidence that all is not what it should be, then he should bring it forward and do so quickly. Otherwise, he should get to grips with the fact he lost, however narrowly, and start scouring today's recruitment sections.

Richard Havers said...

Richard, this is my take on the situation. Naturally I am not in your nationalist camp, but to try and being impartial on this I do think that if the boot was on the other foot then the SNP (or any other party) would be behaving in exactly the same way.

Having said all that you must be really please with the result. Your efforts were far from in vain!

Richard Thomson said...

Thanks, Richard. I'm guessing that even if you're not very enamoured with the national outcome, that you're finding some consolation in the result from Roxburgh & Berwickshire!

I'm pleased that the SNP came out on top, albeit by the narrowest of margins. While you might be right about how the SNP would have reacted were the boot on the other foot, my view certainly wouldn't be any different.

Interesting to see that we now have the following to go on from Wilson's agent:

"I expect to see that the vast number of them show that people made the mistake of voting for Labour but then not voting for the candidate."

And from Campbell Martin: "A lot of people saw the Scottish Labour party on the regional list and thought to themselves that they were voting for Allan Wilson. People were so confused. So many of them voted on the regional list but left the constituency one blank."

According to the Electoral Commission guidance notes (links below), it is not stated that a ballot should be rejected if an intention is expressed for the regional ballot but not for the constituency.
(See point 3.21 in Section 'F')

As I understand it, that means that the vote should be counted for the regional ballot, but not for a constituency candidate. Given the amount of 'ticket splitting' which can go on, or the converse situation that not every party stands candidates on the list and vice-versa, it is not possible to say that a vote for a party should automatically be counted for that party's candidate in the constituency.

As such, even if these votes were passed to the returning officer for adjudication, they would likely have been counted on the list but counted as void for the constituency. If that's what was happening, then I fail to see how any competent challenge to a result could be mounted on these grounds. It also doesn't explain why if that was what was happening, that no representative of the Labour Party chose to challenge these adjudications at the time.

Iain said...

gosh. the level of detail in this discussion has pu me to shame for my earlier frivolous remark!

Interesting stuff. However, I hear that they are now claiming that they requested a recount which was turned down on the night. Of course a reount isn't the same as a re-adjudication over "spoilt" papers.

The whole thing is unfortunate, to say the least, but it's funny how its only a concern when they lose and they are not seeking a re-examination of seats which they won.

If such an appeal was to be accepted then it would have to apply to all ballots and would cast doubt on previous elections that used the same system, albeit with the questions swapped around.

Anyway, apart from the first puerile comment in my earlier post, I still would argue that its about time someone considered more active forms of democracy that really engages people and empowers them to make a greater contribution to decision making. Maybe then we'd get better turn outs and less confusion over ballot papers.

Anonymous said...

They did have a recount - which increased the SNP majority to 48.

What Labour demanded was a MANUAL recount. That would not have made any difference whatsoever. The rules would have been applied in exactly the same way - every single vote that was adjudicated was adjudicated by a person not a machine. And counting agents for every party were able to watch every decision and challenge any they did not agree with.

Labour thenfed a story to the press (which was reported as fact) that there was a discrepancy between the number of votes recorded for Arran and the number of votes counted. The Returning Officer said that there was no discrepancy.

Richard is right - it is a very serious matter to bring into question the integrity of the Returning Officer and his staff. And no, the SNP would not do that no matter how close the result. The only possible basis for action of that kind would be clear and incontrovertible evidence that there had been wrongdoing.

Richard Thomson said...

Thanks for the info, anon, although the story seems to have gone very quiet. I wonder why?