Sunday, 6 May 2007

Election Aftermath

During the election campaign, I always said it would be like getting our lives back after the election! So it was really good yesterday to have a day almost devoid of elections, politics and the Council. Our older son was off to Rome on holiday after wearing out much shoe leather in the run-up to 3rd May so having dropped him at Edinburgh Airport, we had a nice day out in South Queensferry (see picture!), where my late grandparents lived for many years. Great lunch too!

There was great hilarity in the Macpherson household yesterday morning when we read Steve Bargeton’s column in the Courier. He’d picked up the spelling error in the letter sent by my campaign to postal voters. I think anyone who has received the 60 FOCUS newsletters I have produced in the West End over the past 6 years knows that my spelling and grammar is pretty good; so just for the record, if you click on the headline above, you can see what was sent as a PDF to party HQ who were undertaking the mail merge to personalise the letter. Some ‘helpful’ party worker decided to retype it to convert the document to MS Word; unfortunately what was then produced was not exactly a faithful replication of the original! Such is life.

The reality of election campaigns is that, whatever party you are standing for, it is an exceptionally busy and demanding time, and mistakes happen in all campaigns. The Labour Party in Coldside Ward managed to produce a leaflet urging people to support “Cowan” on one side, but “Cowans” on the other. I do not doubt that Dave Cowan knows perfectly well how to spell his name!

In reality, there were more serious errors which simply didn’t help the electorate get to grips with the new STV electoral system. The Tory candidate in East End Ward (“a well known haridresser in Broughty Ferry” – we assume that is a hairdresser) made this amazing statement :

“The new method of electing Councillors by Single Transferable Vote means that you have three votes at this election … All she asks is that you give her one of these votes.”

Absolute rubbish and no wonder some voters put three Xs on their Council voting paper. I was speaking with a Labour councillor yesterday who (although he won comfortably) said how infuriating it was to see X against his name & that of his running mate, and with a couple of Xs on the paper, the paper was made void.

The information to voters was simply not done well enough. And although I have mentioned above the confusing messages from a candidate, fundamentally the official information was too late, too confusing and ultimately the fault of the Scottish Executive.

There were only 88 rejected papers in my West End Ward (but I can tell you that many of these were people genuinely trying to make a vote/preference, not just spoil their paper). In Coldside Ward, where the LibDem candidate was last to be eliminated and lost by a whisker, there were 256 “spoilt” papers.

Back to the Steve Bargeton column … Steve gets it absolutely right when he says the electoral administration across Scotland was “an absolute shambles.” Dundee’s election administration was probably the best in Scotland (our Count ran really smoothly and the electronic counting here did actually work) but even then I have some real concerns about the postal vote administration and have already been in touch with the Council’s Chief Executive about this. I stress the fault lies fairly and squarely with the Scottish Executive and their contractors DRS, not with the City Council. Indeed, here in Dundee, City Council officers saved the day in getting the postal ballots posted out.

There have been calls for the Council elections to be held on a different day than the Scottish Parliament. I do not agree with this. The voters are now asked to vote for local councillors, MSPs, MPs, MEPs and the occasionally referendum – it is all overkill. The problem was three different electoral systems on the same day :

First past the post for the MSP constituency members
Regional list vote for the “top up” MSPs
Single transferable vote for local councils

A single voting system (ie moving the parliament to STV) would mean that there would be two votes only & the ballot papers would be filled in the same way. It would also remove the “two classes” of MSP – it is difficult to defend the “regional members” system, many of whom are simply people who failed to get elected in the “real” election.

One last thing. I won’t weep at the departure of many of the minor “parties” from the Scottish parliament, but I do agree with John Swinburne of the SSCUP about the way in which “Alex Salmond for First Minister” appeared at the top the regional ballot paper. Swinburne says in the Herald yesterday, “If you saw Alex Salmond’s name on the top of the list you would presume that you’re voting for him, wouldn’t you? Of course you would. It’s sharp practice.” I am of the view that registered political parties should not be allowed to name individuals in any of the party descriptions they register for use on ballot paper. One for the Electoral Commission I think, but having had dealings with that organisation in the past, don’t hold your breath!