Scottish election: massive voting irregularities


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Scottish election fiasco casts doubt over new parliament
By Niall Green
12 May 2007

Use this version to print | Send this link by email | Email the author

The actual number of votes rejected in the May 3 elections to the Scottish 
Parliament is far higher than the already staggering figure of 100,000 
previously admitted to. Earlier this week, Newsnight Scotland revealed that some
142,000 votes had been ruled out‹3.5 percent of all votes cast.

Of these, 85,644 votes were rejected for the first-past-the post constituency 
elections, which account for 57 of the 129 seats in Holyrood. A further 56,247 
votes were rejected from the regional lists, an Additional Member form of 
proportional representation that makes up the rest of the parliamentary seats.

In addition to this total, many more votes were discounted for elections to 
local councils held on the same day. A number of seats in the new parliament 
were won by majorities less than the number of spoiled ballots.

Failures in the system of postal voting also contributed to the disenfranchising
of voters, with hundreds of people receiving their postal ballot too late.

Given that the Scottish count involves the largest number of rejected ballots in
British electoral history, the efforts of nearly all concerned parties to simply
move on to next business is telling. Had such a massive level of voter 
disenfranchisement occurred in Russia, Zimbabwe or Venezuela, the British 
government would be joining the European Union and Washington in condemning the 
election as a fraud and calling for a revote.

Yet in this instance there has been very little serious treatment of the 
election fiasco, beyond the concern that it has proven to be a ³national 

Facing questions at Westminster, Labour¹s secretary of state for Scotland, 
Douglas Alexander, said, ³There is a statutory review, which has begun, by the 
Electoral Commission. I¹ve made clear that where that inquiry touches on matters
directly within the responsibility of the Electoral Commission there will be 
independent assessment.²

This leaves the body largely responsible for the problems in the election 
charged with investigating itself. Faced with criticisms that such a review 
would do nothing to placate public outrage, on May 10 the commission finally 
agreed to appoint an ³independent international expert² to look into the 
disaster surrounding the count.

In many instances, the election fiasco has been blamed on the voters. Reports 
cite enormous confusion amongst people over the various ballot papers and the 
different ways of completing them. There is no question that the ballot was 
confusing, but this begs the question as to why it was organised in such a 
manner in the first place.

Responsibility rests with all the main parties in Holyrood, and, in particular, 
with the Labour Party.

In previous elections to the Scottish Parliament, two separate ballot papers had
been issued for the constituency and regional lists. In preparation for the 2007
ballot, however, this was changed to place both elections on the same ballot 
paper. In addition, it was decided to hold local council elections on the same 
day as the parliamentary vote, using another ballot paper with another 
completely different form of voting‹the Single Transferable Vote system.

It has emerged that Alexander was warned by civil servants at the Scotland 
Office that changing the ballot forms would lead to confusion and a higher than 
average number of rejected votes. Tests were carried out on behalf of the 
Electoral Commission by Cragg Ross Dawson, a market research company, on a 
sample of 100 people. They found that the single ballot paper option was the 
method that produced the most confusion and the greatest number of invalidated 

Despite these warnings, the Electoral Commission and the Scotland Office 
continued with the new procedure, publishing partial results of the survey and 
neglecting to mention the negative findings about their proposal.

Robert Richie, executive director of US-based Fair Vote, which observed the 
election, compared the result to the vote suppression in Florida during the 2000
US presidential election. ³The 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,² he said.

Fair Vote¹s analysis of the rejected ballots has indicated that smaller parties,
especially the Greens, were especially disadvantaged by the high level of 
rejected votes on the regional lists.

Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), has called for an 
independent judicial inquiry and criticised Labour¹s management of the election.
However, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats supported the new single 
parliamentary ballot paper when it was put to them in consultation.

The massive scale of voter disenfranchisement, predicted by the Scotland 
Office¹s own research calls into question the whole election. But Labour, the 
SNP and the Liberals are not prepared to acknowledge this because it would 
jeopardise their positions in the new parliament.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) has a great deal to lose if the election 
result is challenged. It won 47 seats in the parliament, just one more than 
Labour. The SNP are currently in coalition discussions with the Liberal 
Democrats and the Greens to form a government. In addition, their nationalist 
rhetoric is not best served by exposures of incompetence in Holyrood.

The Liberal Democrats, who oppose the SNP¹s policy of holding a referendum on 
Scottish separatism, may opt for a less formal coalition with the SNP that does 
not tie them to voting for the referendum. Labour may also try to form a 
coalition with the Liberals.

However, it is still possible that the result may be brought into question‹and 
by the very party that bears the greatest responsibility for what happened. In 
the constituency of Cunningham North, the SNP beat the incumbent Labour member 
Allan Wilson by just 48 votes. Wilson is consulting with Labour Party lawyers on
whether to launch a legal challenge to have a manual recount of the ballots.

A great deal is at stake, given that a shift of one seat away from the SNP would
make Labour the majority party and potential head of a coalition government with
the Liberal Democrats. If this happened, the SNP could possibly respond with its
own challenge in one or more constituencies where Labour won only a narrow 

Glasgow lawyer Mike Dailly of the Govan Law Centre is also challenging the 
results on the grounds that the parliamentary ballot paper was so complicated 
that it infringed the right to vote.

See Also:

Britain¹s elections: a debacle for Labour and an indictment of nationalism

[5 May 2007]
Election manifesto of the Socialist Equality Party of Britain
[27 March 2007]

Posting archives:
Escaping the Matrix website:
cyberjournal website:

Community Democracy Framework:

Subscribe cyberjournal list: •••@••.•••  (send blank message)

cyberjournal blog (join in):

Moderator: •••@••.•••  (comments welcome)