The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

Democracy under threat!

Well, that’s my bit done for the democratic process until the next time. Today was election day for the Scottish Parliament, and a referendum on the Alternative Vote system for the next UK General Election.

Down at Castle Douglas Town Hall, in section 3, one of the booths for marking the Xs on the ballot papers had broken. Was it an Al-Qaeda operation aimed at disrupting notions of Freedom in the West by chipping away at the plywood, as revenge for the recent death of Osama Bin Ladin? It’s unlikely we will ever know the full truth – there are no CCTV cameras inside Castle Douglas Town Hall. And if the authorities deny it, well, then we will know for certain there is a conspiracy at work. Especially if that plywood booth ends up being dumped overboard off the Scottish coast.

We had 3 different ballot papers to mark. The first was for the constituency MP. Unlike some parts of the country, where there are interesting and bizarre candidates, like the Monster Raving Looney Party, here there are only 4: Labour, Liberal Democrat, Conservative and SNP (Scottish National Party). And in this region, the sitting Conservative MP has quite a reasonable majority. SNP were about 8 points behind in the last election, Labour were another 8 points behind them and the Lib Dems got about 4% of the vote.

So if you want to feel your vote has any chance at all of making the slightest bit of difference, you have to tactically vote either for the sitting candidate, or his/her next nearest rival. It’s hardly democracy.

BUT today we were also given the chance to vote on whether to change the UK voting procedure from the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) to using the Alternative Vote (AV) system. This means we would number our preferences rather than put an X next to our tactical choice. Some say its too complicated for most people. But most people can count to 3, so I don’t really see what’s complicated.

However, as a pseudo-proportional-representation system, everyone agrees it’s the worst of all choices – AV, STV, AV+ etc – which is why it was agreed on. The 2 biggest UK parties don’t want any kind of PR, so they agreed to offer the worst option to the public to vote on, because they felt it was the one most likely to lose.

Further confusion was possible in that the colour of the Constituency ballot paper was lilac, while the referendum on AV was on grey paper. And in the dull light of a wet Thursday afternoon, they were awfully similar. For a brief moment, when I went to put my marked papers in the appropriate boxes, I couldn’t tell which was which. I wonder how many “spoilt papers” will be dismissed because they were slotted into the wrong ballot box.

Here in the Scotland, however, as well as a Constituency Vote we also get a Regional Vote, and this is a much more proportional system – the number of votes a party gets is directly related to the number of seats – not something that happens under FPTP. So the Scottish Parliament is made up of 50% Constituency candidates and 50% Regional ones. This means over all it is much more representative than the UK Parliament.

While pondering all this, standing in the queue to collect my ballot papers, I noticed an unattended bag off to one side. If we had been in London, I am sure anti-terrorism units would have swooped in, the building would have been evacuated and a controlled explosion would have taken place. As we shuffled past I took a quick look and saw a loaf of bread, a carton of milk, a packet of Frazzles and a copy of the Galloway News.

Frazzles are a bacon-flavoured snack, so I guess that would have ruled out either Islamic or Jewish terrorists.

But I did notice a great deal of pensioners about, and on the Regional Voting List was the All Scotland Pensioners Party. Perhaps I should have investigated them further in case they are likely to harbour radical extremists capable of loosening screws on ballot booths...

In this corner of Scotland, the Conservative MSP, Alex Fergusson, has retained his seat, although with a much reduced majority.


Eryl said...

Oh god, is it that time again? Seems we're constantly being asked to validate our outmoded, highly corrupted political system.

Lilac or grey, sounds like the only two choices a vindictive hairdresser gives an old lady.

Pat said...

MTL voted - I didn't.

hope said...

And I thought our voting was a screwy system! You win. ;)

Charlene said...

All those cap letter acronym's look like abbreviations for STD's.

In America, more specifically Florida, people can't vote using a punch system that creates hanging chads. A better statement would be people in Florida cannot count those kinds of ballots.

Voting should be open to all citizens and simple to do. That's my opinion.

angryparsnip said...

I vote for a "none of the above" on any ballot.

cheers, parsnip

nikgee said...

Our vote is our voice It troubles me to see even the thought of tampering.

Anonymous said...

I'm certain we have an equivalent to the "Monster Raving Looney Party". Actually I think we have several.

Guyana-Gyal said...

Soon it will be elections here too. Argh. Finger dipped in dreadful purple ink which feels stiff and dead for days after. And one party's supporters behaving like al qaeda. Bleah.

Kim Ayres said...

Eryl - I did look, but there wasn't a Scottish Vindictive Hairdresser's Party. I might have voted for them if there had been...

Pat - you were with the majority of people in the UK then

Hope - no, yours is screwier. I stil haven't figured out how in 2000, George Bush got 1 million fewer votes than Al Gore but still got to be president

Charlene - as you say, the voting is simple, it's the counting that is the place for confusion or corruption

Parsnip - I really wish there was a None of the Above option. I would certainly have used it a lot over the years.

Nikgee - unfortunately it's only our voice if we live in a marginal seat and we support one of the 2 leading contenders

Allen - the Monster Raving Looney Party is at least honest about being so :)

Guyana-Gyal - I'm afraid I don't get the purple ink reference - care to elaborate?

Jayne Martin said...

Bush got to be president because we have a thing called the electoral college that actually elects the president. My head would explode if I had to explain it. It's how JFK beat Nixon who had the majority of the popular vote, as well.

Of course, had the Supreme Court not ended the counting of the ballots, Florida's electoral votes most likely would have gone to Gore. That one makes my head explode, too.

At this point, I'm for just throwing politicians in a ring and letting them mud wrestle for the win.

Kim Ayres said...

Jayne - given it was Florida where all the troubles happened, I think throwing politicians to the Aligators and seeing who wins would be a better option...

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