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.