Monday, 11 April 2011

SNP deny voters an honest ballot paper

We all remember the problems with spoiled ballot papers in the 2007 Scottish election. So many voters were disenfranchised that an independent report was commissioned by the Electoral Commission to bring forward recommendations to ensure it never happened again. The Gould report described issues raised in its research, set out a number of options for improvement, and concluded with a set of specific recommendations for change.

Unique among the larger parties, the SNP chose to put "Alex Salmond for First Minister" on the regional ballot, rather than a version of the party's name. Here's what Gould had to say about that:
"The use of ‘naming strategies’ by political parties to seek an advantageous position on the regional side of the Scottish parliamentary ballot sheet was raised consistently as a problem by many electoral stakeholders and those who responded to the public consultation.

The ‘sloganisation’ of party names has already been offered as a potential reason for why so many voters (75% of the rejected ballot papers, accounting for 3% of all voters) left one Scottish parliamentary ballot paper unmarked, while marking the other correctly. It may have been, in this case, that voters were attracted by the use of high-profile candidates’ names in slogans on the regional list, such as Alex Salmond who was at the top of nearly all regional ballot papers."

Gould report 23/10/2007, p56
In reviewing options for solutions, Gould went on to say:
"on the regional ballot list, it would be in the interest of voters that legislation be amended to require that registered political party names always be listed first. A party description could then be printed below the party name, preferably without using individual names, if the continuation of such a practice was deemed necessary."

Gould report 23/10/2007, p60
And finally, Gould made a specific recommendation that this practice should end:
"It is our recommendation that related legislation is amended to require that registered names of political parties (rather than their descriptions) appear first on all regional ballot papers for the Scottish parliamentary elections. To provide equitable opportunity to all political parties and candidates to access favourable positions on the ballot paper, we also recommend that a public lottery be held following close of nominations to determine ballot paper positioning."

Gould report 23/10/2007, p116
It's pretty clear, then, that according to Gould the use of "Alex Salmond for First Minister" was part of the problem and should not happen again. In response, the (SNP) Scottish Government said:
"the Government plans to take forward the recommendations of the Gould report"

Scottish Government 19/3/2008
Yet we have now learned that the regional ballots for the 2011 Scottish elections will again carry the words "Alex Salmond for First Minister" instead of the party name. In spite of clear recommendations, and in spite of their own declared intention to follow them, the SNP will deliberately mislead the Scottish electorate again in this election.

[EDIT: This wording was taken from the SNP's own Party Election Broadcast (see 02.30). The SNP are now saying the wording will be 'Scottish National Party - Alex Salmond for First Minister'. I wonder which half will have the bigger font.]

Here's the bottom line: we don't have a presidential system in Scotland. You vote for constituency and regional representatives, and the resulting parliament is responsible for electing a First Minister from among its ranks. You cannot vote for "Alex Salmond for First Minister". And nobody should be telling you you can.

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