Sunday, May 06, 2007

Scotland's election descends into injustice as Labour threatens legal challenge.

Even though the Scottish National Party won Last Thursday's election by one seat, Labour have, it seems, decided to mount a legal challenge against the SNP win by only 48 seats, of Cunninghame North - making this constituency the focal point for how we progress after the election.

The point of challenge, will have to include these spoiled papers of course, but probably, these ballot papers were tested on people before they were used .. with results similar to what we just got in the election - so some people knew we would be in for a bit of trouble, particularly since the system used by DRS, the company at the heart of all this, has caused problems before in elections - famously in the last Mayoral election of London which produced around 100,000 spoiled papers too ...

However, with the SNP putting "Alex Salmond for First Minister" on the ballot next to their party symbol, rather than just the name of their party, this move clearly caught the other parties off guard and may well have limited the outcome which some had hoped for - that being most of the spoiled ballots & voter confusion affecting the SNP & independent vote .. which is a plausible explanation, given the circumstances we now face.

It should also be noted that Labour peers are directors of DRS, the firm which handled the voting .. the coincidences are coming out thick and fast .. and I wonder how long it will be until we learn of the fate of all those 'spoiled ballots'. and whether they have been held securely since the date of the election

Losing gracefully doesn't seem to be in the vocabulary of politicians these days ... and we can only expect more fireworks and plotting as the lawyers become involved in now deciding who we vote for.

No doubt, if this challenge succeeds, the legal profession in Scotland will be demanding a few more favours from Labour if they get back in .. and when lawyers ask for favours - we already know they ask for big ones !

Of course, all this begs the question of what now of Kenny MacAskill and his appalling attitude towards members of the public who suffer injustice at the hands of his esteemed legal colleagues ? Will Mr MacAskill still be calling victims of the law "malcontents" or will he now, as a member of the SNP, have a bad experience of injustice to tell if lawyers overturn his party's victory at the polls ?

Feel the power of your legal colleagues, Mr MacAskill, the power to decide who runs Scotland and to determine who we vote for. Is that a reasonable power ? I think not.

Since there is too much to say, and many saying it, here are the links to articles in Scotland on Sunday, 'This is London', & the Sunday Herald - with interesting debates you can join in, to be followed on the newspapers own discussion boards.

Labour to challenge poll result

THE Labour party is planning to snatch electoral victory from the Nationalists by preparing a legal challenge over a Holyrood seat which the SNP won by a handful of votes.

Labour party lawyers are planning to contest the result in Cunninghame North, which the Nationalists won by just 48 votes, giving them a one-seat victory.

But with an estimated 1,000 spoiled ballot papers having been declared at the count, and amid allegations of missing ballot papers, the party has begun moves to have the entire election reviewed and, if necessary, taken to an Electoral Court.

Labour party managers in the constituency have also written to the count's returning officer to demand that all the spoiled ballot papers be made publicly available and re-examined.

They believe the errors disproportionately affected the party in the count, and led to their loss.

Any review of the result would throw last Thursday's dramatic election into chaos. If Labour managed to overturn the result in their favour, they would overtake the SNP as the biggest party, handing them four more years as the leading party at Holyrood.

The SNP branded Labour "sore losers" over the attempts last night, and insisted that there was no way that any legal challenge would be accepted.

But a senior Labour party source insisted: "Our lawyers are poring over this and aren't ruling out legal action. Last year, the Respect party took the results in three local government elections to the Electoral Court. There is established law in this area and we will look into it."

The action was confirmed by the agent of Allan Wilson, the defeated Labour candidate in the constituency.

Pat McGlynn said: "I have written to the returning officer asking that we can manually inspect the ballot papers. 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." "There was total confusion about this," he added.

The Cunninghame North count is now mired in claim and counter-claim about further problems. It is said that 100 votes cast on Arran were not accounted for.

Independent candidate Campbell Martin said: "There were discrepancies of around 100 votes between those that were counted in Arran and those that were counted in Irvine [where the count was held]. But the returning officer said he would go ahead anyway."

There were also claims that some of the votes from Arran were soaked during the journey by ferry and may therefore have been unable to be counted.

Martin added: "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."

The failure to mark the constituency vote is now being seen as the main reason for the staggering number of spoiled ballot papers which were recorded. As many as 100,000 votes were not recorded, out of the electorate of just over two million.

International observers yesterday condemned the Scottish election as "totally unacceptable" and compared it with the fiasco of the 'hanging chads' in the US elections of 2000.

However, the winner in Cunninghame North last night hit back at Labour's claims. Kenny Gibson, the SNP candidate, said: "This is sour grapes by the Labour party. If they want to waste their time on this then that is up to them. Everyone knew about these problems on the night and they accepted it then, so I don't know why they are going to legal action now."

The reason for the high number of spoiled papers is now to be the subject of an inquiry. The fiasco has been blamed on the fact that council elections using a new voting system were held on the same day as the Scottish Parliament elections. Also blamed is the design of the Scottish Parliament ballot paper, which critics claim was not clear enough for voters.

Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University has calculated that if the Cunninghame North seat was handed to Labour, they would win the election, as the SNP does not have enough votes to be compensated with a regional list 'top-up' seat.

Election chaos unacceptable, say observers

INTERNATIONAL observers last night labelled the Holyrood election voting chaos "totally unacceptable".

Robert Richie, executive director of US-based Fair Vote, was among more than 30 experts from North America who watched Scottish democracy in action. But he said the difficulties, which saw one in 10 votes rejected, amounted to Scotland's version of the "hanging chads" fiasco in Florida which marred the 2000 US presidential election.

Meanwhile, Scotland on Sunday can reveal that government chiefs pressed ahead with disastrous reforms to Holyrood's voting system despite dozens of warnings from councils, experts and citizen rights groups that the plans would throw the elections into chaos.

Richie said the difficulty arose from the design and instructions on the ballot papers and lack of consistency in judging which ballots were spoiled.

"The most fundamental flaw was the ballot design of the party and constituency votes in two columns on the same page, rather than on separate pages.

"Also, it seems confusion was caused by the change in the rules which allowed parties to use the names of leaders, rather than the party, in the first column. We saw this with the SNP's 'Alex Salmond for First Minister' and 'Tommy Sheridan Solidarity'. Some people may have thought they were voting for candidates."

The delegation of foreign observers was in Scotland at the invitation of the Electoral Reform Society, which has condemned the problems that engulfed the Holyrood polls.

Richie, from Washington, said he did not believe the problems were caused by holding two separate elections - for parliament and councils - on the same day. He also said the introduction of a new system of proportional representation voting in the local authority poll was not to blame.

He added: "There are undoubtedly lessons to be learned. It's totally unacceptable to have so many votes spoiled. There are parallels with the problems in the presidential election in Florida."

Richie also expressed concern about a lack of uniform standards in judging which votes were rejected and which were deemed to be valid. "It seemed that votes on one side of the room that were thought to be OK - on the other side of the room would have been rejected."

Scotland on Sunday has verified that more than 81,000 votes were spoiled following Thursday's vote - equivalent to the turnout of three entire constituencies.

Ministers in the Scottish Executive and the Scotland Office pressed on with reforming the ballot to have two Holyrood votes on one page and local government elections on the same day, claiming it would make the election fairer and increase turnout. But they are now facing allegations they did so in the full knowledge that they were risking catastrophe.

Sir John Arbuthnott, who led a commission into voting arrangements two years ago, issued a statement last night restating his opposition to the way both the Scottish Parliament election and Council elections were held on the same day.

Arbuthnott said: "We recommended, supporting previous views, that the Scottish Parliament and local government elections should not be held on the same day, partly to reduce voter confusion. However, this was not accepted by the Scottish Executive."

Mike Russell, elected as an SNP MSP on Thursday, and a member of the commission, said: "This decision alone proves to me is that at the very least they aren't fit to govern. They did this for party advantage, thinking that they could get the vote up in councils."

Experts say that the problems were then compounded when the election ballot paper was drawn up. A draft of the paper was circulated to experts who insisted that it was entirely unacceptable.

Aberdeen City Council warned that the paper "would lead to confusion".

Both Capability Scotland, which represents disabled people, and the Electoral Reform Society said the paper should be increased in size, to avoid confusion. South Ayrshire Council said the paper was "unnecessarily complex" and would "be confusing for voters".

Sources in the Scotland Office insisted last night that the paper had been much clearer when it was finally produced.

But one insider close to the negotiations said: "We put it to them that the paper should be bigger, to make the text easier to read. But they said they could not do it because it would be too expensive and that the papers would have to fit the machines they had already chosen. They had already selected the company and the machines and everything had to fit in around that. It was like talking to a brick wall."

The confusion was compounded in Edinburgh and Glasgow after the Scotland Office - which was in charge of the election - dropped a set of arrows telling people where to vote. The decision was taken because of the large number of parties on the regional list.

Party activists said many papers were spoiled because people did not realise they could mark two votes on their Holyrood sheet. Consequently, thousands of people left their constituency vote blank.

Professor of politics at Strathclyde University John Curtice said: "It seems that the biggest problem was with the design of the ballot paper, which at the top said that you had two votes and then said further down, mark one X in each column. It seems that a lot of people may have been putting two Xs in the same column, which would cause their ballot papers to be rejected."

Stephen Purcell, the Labour leader of Glasgow City Council, said: "It's surely not a coincidence there were so many spoilt papers at the same time as a new electoral system was introduced. This is unacceptable."

Labour sources said that none of the other political parties objected to the changes, apart from the Scottish Pensioner's party.

A spokesman said: "We went back to people time and time again and held focus groups all over the country to test this."

Ministers within the Scotland Office are known to be angered at the claims they are to blame for the problems because, they say, they were only following recommendations.

Jack waits in the wings

JACK MCCONNELL is trying to cling on to his job in the hope that coalition talks between the SNP and the LibDems break down. The Scottish Labour leader believes he can still bere-electedasfirstminister, despite losing last week's Holyrood election to the Nationalists. He will try to engineer a third coalition deal with the LibDems if they walk away from a pact with the Scottish National Party.

McConnell's plan follows Labour's disastrous loss at the hands of the SNP, where the Nationalists defeated their ancient enemy for the first time.

However,despitelosingtheelection, McConnell is convinced he can still carry on as Labour leader and become first minister.

A source close to McConnell said the SNP victory is akin to nothing more than "winning the toss", while he himself is claiming the Nationalists have no "moral authority" to pursue their policies.

He has also flouted the well-established convention of congratulating the winner in the election, by failing to contact SNP leader Alex Salmond since Friday.

The Sunday Herald understands McConnell is banking on the SNP and the LibDems being unable to strike a coalition deal, which he believes could founder as a result of Salmond's independence policy.

The Scottish Labour leader is said to be "biding his time" and will contact LibDem counterpart Nicol Stephen in the event of talks breaking down.

Hisdeterminationnottoresignwas reinforced yesterday at a meeting of Labour MSPs, where several of his colleagues urged him to stand firm.

A statement released by the party noted: "Given the divided parliament and the uncertainty created, Scottish Labour recognises it would be wrong to make an immediate judgement about our stance on the next steps towards the formation of the next Scottish government.

"We have to do the best for Scotland, and it is Labour's responsibility not to let the people of Scotland down."

It went on to add that the SNP only won by the "narrowest possible margin", adding that an anti-independence majority existed in parliament.

McConnell'sdeputy,CathyJamieson, further reinforced this message by saying her party was "standing in the wings", waiting to govern. However, one Labour source told the Sunday Herald thatMcConnellclingingtohisjob was a reflection of Chancellor Gordon Brown's opposition to Salmond becoming first minister.

The source suggested that Brown, along with UK LibDem leader Sir Menzies Campbell, may be keen to engineer a third coalition deal between their parties.

Another suggestion was for Brown and Campbell to ensure the LibDems stayed out of an SNP-led Executive, thus givingHolyroodoppositionparties space to "kill" a minority Nationalist administration.

However, opposition to McConnell stayingonasleader,regardlessof the circumstances, is growing within the party. One senior party figure said he should "go immediately", while another source said McConnell's resignation was a "priority" for Labour.

An SNP spokesperson said: "Labour appear to be in denial about the results on Thursday. "Labour are out of touch with the mood of Scotland. What Scotland needs and wants is a new progressive coalition to take the country forward, and that is what the SNP will seek to deliver."

Kinnock's £33,000 job with computer firm in poll fiasco

Neil Kinnock has been drawn into the Scottish election debacle as it emerged he had been paid £33,000 as a director of the firm responsible for the faulty vote-counting machines.

The former Labour leader faced embarrassment after the £8.9million system supplied by DRS Data Services was blamed for critical delays and errors in the ballot for the Holyrood parliament.

The Electoral Commission has launched a full-scale inquiry into the reasons why 100,000 ballot papers were recorded as 'spoiled' and seven counts had to be suspended.

Neil Kinnock caught up in poll fiasco

DRS, where Lord Kinnock is a non-executive director, has already admitted its system struggled in the later stages of vote counting.

The Labour peer and former European Commissioner was hired by the Milton Keynes-based company in 2005. A year later, DRS won the lucrative contract with the then Labour-run Scottish Executive to provide electronic counting machines for both Scottish parliament and local elections.

There were claims that the presence of a senior parliamentarian gave the company a crucial edge over rivals pitching for the contract.

Angus MacNeil, MP for the Scottish Nationalists, who narrowly beat Labour into second place last week, promised his party would hold a second separate inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the award of the contract.

He said: "This system was meant to speed up counting but it did nothing of the sort. Once we form a government, voters can be assured there will be the fullest possible investigation."

Problems with the DRS voting machines were compounded by the confusing nature of the new proportional representation voting systems. On ballot papers for the Scottish parliament, many voters failed to realise that they should vote twice - marking an "X' first for a local candidate and then for the regional top-up list.

Adding to the complexity, a different voting system had been adopted for Scottish local councils, where voters were required to number candidates in order of preference.

DRS, which last year had sales of £16million, has also been involved in elections for the Mayor of London and the European Parliament, which were hit by delays.

Lord Kinnock stepped down from his EU job in 2004 but his wife Glenys remains a member of the Brussels Parliament.

On Friday, shares in DRS tumbled in the wake of the chaos, falling around 12 per cent to 30p.

A spokesman for DRS Data Services said: "There was a blockage at the end of the counting process that stopped the consolidation of the data.

"The issue was not widespread and was resolved quickly. We will be holding our own inquires into what happened. We appreciate a review needs to be done of the system."


Anonymous said...

troublemaker !

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter,

How did SACL get on in the election?