STV - its not hard

Honest, STV isn't hard to understand.  What it tries to do is let a group of people select several representatives, not on the basis of 'winner takes all' like First Past the Post but allowing a range of views to be represented.  That's fair.

Think of a group of 99 people who are trying to elect 4 representatives.  Four groups of 20 people could agree on 4 different representatives.  The remaining 19 people's views would be disregarded.  That's what STV does.   The counts are boring to do - but they can be done manually and surprising as it may seem, the Returning Officers are taught how to do this, just in case. 

But let's look at how it works.  The paper method isn't quite this but I think this real world description might help people understand what happens. 

Imagine 7 of our 99 people put themselves forward and stand at one end of a room with nice chequerboard floor and we draw a good heavy line 20 squares out.  That's the winning post - in STV jargon, the quota.   All 99 people line up in front of their most favoured candidate. 

Ann is elected and her surplus can be transferred

Now Ann only needs 20 people voting for her to get elected so the extra 10 votes she has gathered can go elsewhere to help elected another candidate. 

I'll grey out 10 of her voters (20 need to stay put with her) and let them move elsewhere.

Ann's surplus is transferred.  Guy is eliminated and his votes are now transferred

So here all 10 of Ann's voters (red) have moved to help elect Fay.  But, apart from Ann, no-one has got to the magic 20.  So at this point, as Guy has the fewest votes, he is eliminated and these voters (orange) can move onto their second choice. 

Extra votes from Guy are enough to elect Fay.  But poor Ben is next to be eliminated.

Transfers from Guy voters are just enough to elect Fay and importantly to make Ben the person with the lowest number of votes and therefore next to be eliminated rather than Eli. So Ben's votes (blue) get distributed.

Votes for Ben are shared but Cal just misses out. 

Ben's transfers go to Cal, Des and Eli but as Des and Eli get most of these, they reach the magic 20 rather than Cal.

But the SNP are telling their supporters just to vote SNP 1 and 2 (or just 1).  Let's imagine that Ann and Fay were the SNP candidates and the other candidates were from the other parties and offered that same advice and people followed it.  STV then breaks down.  Sure we get the transfers to Fay.  But then nothing can happen. 

Does that stop other candidates being elected?  No.  The people deemed elected will be those with the highest votes - so it'd be Ann, Cal, Des and Fay elected rather than Ann, Des, Eli and Fay.  Your second, third and subsequent preferences can change the result. 


This is all rather artificial.  But the aim of STV is to allow candidates to gather supporters and if they gather enough supporters they get elected. 

When counts are actually done, all Ann's votes would have been redistributed at 1/3 of a vote value each so 2/3 of each of her votes would have gone to elect her and 1/3 to help elect someone else.  When people are eliminated, then the full value of their first preference votes plus the value as transferred (e.g. 1/3 of a vote from Ann) of any other votes. 

If you are standing in an STV election, you might be wise not to attack your opponents too much - you want to attract their supporters to you so that if they are eliminated or have surplus votes able to be transferred, they might come to you.  My advice would be to focus on the positive reasons to vote for you - yes, ideally as first preference but don't be too proud to accept second preference votes.  It's what everyone except Ann relied on. 

As a voter, you ranking candidates on your ballot, 1,2,3,4,5,6.... gives the Returning Officer an instruction on how you want your votes to be transferred.  If there is someone you don't under any circumstances want to help be elected, leave them blank. but if you leave 2 candidates blank, then you are saying you don't care.  It won't stop them being elected: you just lose a chance to influence which is elected.

Further reading:

Vote until you Boak

Trump : PotUS : please no.

In Aberdeenshire, we have had, what is in the overall scheme of the world, a minor spat with Donald J Trump. 

He came, he made all kinds of promises with his usual mix of hyperbole and bluster.  Many people, including key politicians and business leaders were taken in.   He got the permissions he wanted.  He has since ignored conditions, blocked accesses, done things and then been forced to apply for retrospective permissions.

In short, he came.  He thought we were hicks.  And he was proven right.

There are honourable exceptions to that but even now our local politicians are rather quiet on the subject of Trump and very uwilling to say sorry to the Menie families whose lives have been severely impacted by the acts of this narcissistic showman. 

And now he want the biggest political job in the world.   Don't make the same mistake on a grander scale that we collectively made here in Scotland. 

Dear USA friends,

Don't.  Just don't.

I know that there is a lot wrong with the world.  But you know that none of the solutions Trump proposes will help.  Isolationist policies : building walls: fostering hatred : none of this will help.  Nor will tax cuts for the already rich. 

The man has no empathy for the little guy.  He cares only for his own narrow interests.  He doesn't understand others points of views. He's not going to 'clean up US politics' - he's been corrupting the political system in his his own interests for decades.  When he says he knows how the system works, I believe him.  But only a fool would believe he will dismantle the same systems that cushion his business interests.

So many times in fighting DJT over the Menie golf course, did I hear that his own experts had advised against actions : but he did them anyway.  When asked by the Scottish Parliament how he knew something, he had the arrogance to reply 'I am the evidence'. 

Now for a businessman subject to the normal rules of commerce, that's not so bad.  For a would be world leader, its a disaster.  I'd rather put the average 5 year old in the White House than an adult with his character traits.   At least a 5 year old might be persuaded out of something. 

OK - so you don't fancy the alternative and 'feel it's time for a change'.  Well, that kind of thinking promoted the UK vote to Brexit - and the economy here is tanking, only partially disguised by changed exchange rates.

Voting is not a game.  It changes things. 
Make sure the changes are in favour of the values of decency, working with others, sharing and distributing our wealth not in favour of hate, barriers, and furthering big business.


Rather belatedly : Why I resigned from the Scottish Greens

Letter to Patrick Harvie
Co-convenor, Scottish Green Party

16th February 2016

Dear Patrick

This letter is to let you know why I have decided to leave the Scottish Green Party.

I have been involved in Scottish politics for over 30 years. Throughout that time I have sought to advance democratic, environmental and liberal values in accordance with my belief that those in politics should be committed to principles of honesty and public service.

This is not the first time in my political life I have found myself a member of a party that has put expediency and short-term advantage ahead of the principles it claims  should guide its behaviour.  That doesn't make it any less disappointing to discover that in the Scottish Green Party, the Party's rules can be selectively applied by - and to the benefit of - senior figures.

My concern about whether the Party was following its own stated beliefs started about a year ago as I became more and more worried by the shambolic conduct of the selection ballot for the 2016 Holyrood candidates. As you know, I made my concerns clear at the time and later lodged a formal complaint. It was subsequently acknowledged, for example, that the ballot papers, though apparently randomised as the rules required, were actually alphabetic starting with the third letter of the surname, an ordering method that ensured the Party's co-leader, Maggie ChApman, came first on the North-East ballot paper. My complaint about the conduct of the ballot was delayed by the obstructive behaviour of senior Party figures.  The process as eventually concluded was not conducted according to either the principles of natural justice or the Party's own rules. By the time a verdict was delivered no-one was surprised it endorsed the selection of Maggie Chapman as lead North-East candidate.

Of course, no political party can be held responsible for the day-to-day, individual, actions of all its members. But a party is responsible for requiring its candidates to meet certain minimum standards. For me, and I believe most people, one essential is that a candidate for public office must be honest with the public. Maggie Chapman's clearly untrue statements in relation to a Ph.D. actually abandoned many years ago therefore seriously call into question her suitability to be a Green Party candidate. But that has not been the Party's response. Candidates on the North-East Holyrood list were told they must give unequivocal support to Maggie Chapman as lead candidate. Those who said they were not prepared to publicly defend dishonesty were given an ultimatum to resign (which three did) or face immediate deselection. Effectively, it would appear, the whole Party is expected to act in the interests of senior figures - and not according to the principle that rules should apply equally to all, regardless of position.  That is not healthy or wise. 

I have been privileged to be co-convenor of the Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Green Party branch for the last two years.   It has been very saddening to me to see the devastating effect on the Green Party in the North-East of the events and actions described above. Experienced and committed Party members have left or stopped participating. The branch now rarely meets and barely functions at all.

I have now also reached the point where I believe my best chance of advancing the political causes I support is to campaign as an individual or as a member of various environmental and other organisations.  I shall not be voting for the Scottish Green Party this May.

Yours sincerely

Debra Storr

Trump - the great environmentalist* - and hypocrite.

* according to Trump

Today we have the news that Trump has lost his appeal to the UK's Supreme Court in his attempt to halt the development of the Aberdeen Offshore Wind Deployment Centre.  Good.    This development, held up by over two years by Trump's legal games, is not merely an offshore wind farm producing renewable energy but 'will allow offshore wind farm developers and associated supply chain companies to test new designs, prove existing products and receive independent validation and accreditation before commercial deployment.' (Note 1).  This is an important part of the transition of Aberdeen from Oil City to Energy City. 

But apart from my natural joy in a defeat to Trump, I want to talk about his hypocrisy.   The Supreme Court judgement says

'TIGC does not dispute that (subject to an argument about the final words of the condition, which I discuss below) condition 7 requires that the development be constructed and operated in accordance with,among others, the environmental statement and the supplementary environmental information statement.' (Note 2)

Trump style sensitive development
But TIGC itself ignores disregards and simply bulldozes away Conditions at Menie. 

One is in regard to a monitoring group supposed to oversee the development as a whole - known as MEMAG (Menie Environmental Management Advisory Group).    'Aberdeenshire councillors Paul Johnston and Martin Ford have been advised that the Menie Environmental Management Advisory Group (MEMAG) is still not operating, though it is a requirement of the legal agreement associated with the planning permission for a golf resort on the Menie estate.' (Note 3)

The operation of MEMAG is not just a planning condition; it is part of the legal agreement underpinning the development at Menie. (Note 4)

But here's the rub :

1.  Trump has demonstrated that his deep pockets means he is willing to take spurious arguments all the way to the Supreme Court and frankly Aberdeenshire Council hasn't such deep pockets.  

2. Aberdeenshire Council must have known that MEMAG wasn't operating : I've correspondance from mid 2012 when it still existed and more from mid 2013 when it wasn't.  And they have a representative on MEMAG.  

Well over two years to spot there is a problem is not exactly careful monitoring of this sensitive development. 

Note 1:

Note 2:

Note 3: 

Note 4: Extract from Legal Agreement between Aberdeenshire Council and Trump:

7.1 Prior to the carrying out of the masterplanning exercise required in terms of Condition 3(i) of the Planning Permission, the Developer shall establish MEMAG in consultation with the Council.
7.2 The remit of MEMAG shall be to provide advice to the Developer and the Council in respect of:
a) "best practice" environmental management and operation;
b) monitoring of the environment including ecology;
c) the minimisation of unanticipated adverse changes in addition to those already recognised in the Environmental Impact Assessment;
d) Full compliance with the relevant conditions attached to the Planning Permission and related reserved matters approvals.
7.3 The membership and structure of MEMAG shall be as set out in Appendix 6-6 of the Environmental Statement, the terms of which are set out in Schedule 3 of this Agreement.
7.4 The policy committee of MEMAG shall agree the locus and maximum estimated costs of their operations and activities, including the cost of administrative and secretarial support on a three year rolling basis.
7.5 For the avoidance of doubt, MEMAG shall operate as an advisory body only and shall not have the power to veto any proposal or action proposed by the Developer or the Council;
7.6 The Council, as planning authority, shall remain responsible for the statutory development management of the Site
7.7 The Developer shall be responsible for the total costs of MEMAG's operations and activities including the cost of administrative support and any professional or other fees and outlays incurred by MEMAG.

Who is the National Disgrace now?

 Suzanne Kelly who has been a tireless opponent of Trump from almost the earliest days, launched two petitions. 

One, launched 10 days ago, asked that Robert Gordon University revoke the honorary doctorate he was awarded in 2010. 

Today RGU revoked his doctorate saying that 'In the course of the current US election campaign, Mr Trump has made a number of statements that are wholly incompatible with the ethos and values of the univeristy.' 

I still don't think Trump should have been awarded the degree : it was a shameful act of abasement to this bully and in 2010 it was clear that his US business practices were to be applied here, notably his attempts to gain control of the properties owned by the Menie residents.   Does Sir Ian Wood have a few questions to answer about his role in awarding this degree?   I proposed Sir Ian for a Dick of the Year Award in 2010: I don't see any reason to change my mind. 

But that wasn't the only dismissal for Trump today.  At long last, the Scottish Government removed Trump from his role as Global Scot.  The amazing Andy Wightman has been following calls for Trump's removal from this business ambassador role for many years.  His tenacity will be helpful when (and I say when not if) he is elected as a Green MSP for Lothians. 

But we all still risk meeting Trump either at Menie or Turnberry and I really would rather not.  I've been near him and his henchmen enough often enough to know he doesn't improve on acquaintance. 

Suzanne launched another petition yesterday and in just 24 hours, it's gathered a quarter of a million signatures - and rising.

Do sign this petition at

His hate filled remarks to women, non-whites, and non-Christians and his mockery of a disabled journalist show a remarkable lack of empathy.  Some therapists believe he suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. 

One explains his behaviour:
'He’s applying for the greatest job in the land, the greatest task of which is to serve, but there’s nothing about the man that is service-oriented. He’s only serving himself.'
Some in Scotland spotted the danger of this self serving bully a decade ago. The rest are learning fast. 

Let's do what we can to undermine his ability to bully in the US and Scotland and I can think of no better way than bracketing him with other who spread hatred.  
Meanwhile: Thank you Suzanne.

Update: the petition passed the half million mark in the early hours of 11th December 2015.  It currently holds the record for both the speed of reaching 100,000 signatures and the most signatures on the government petitions site.

Regional Predictions for Holyrood 2016 as at August 2015

Original post 13/10/15.  Editted 14/10/14 using August and September data combined.
Editted again 13/11/15 - H&I have 8 constituency MSPs and NE 10. 

Now in my previous posts, I have argued that its important that we vote accordance to our beliefs in policies - see Vote for what you believe in - and also that with the SNP riding high and likely to do a clean sweep Constituency seats there is an opportunity to 'game ' the List vote to minimise the unionist and conservative (small C) old parties.

Some people get very excited about this: I dont think we are going to get mass switching of list votes from SNP in the List as return for Greens voting SNP in the constituencies.  But that's life.  But if we look at the detail, we see that small shifts can deny unionist seats with no risk to SNP List seats in four of the eight regions (You can't risk a seat you aren't going to get!).

But those predictions made so far look at the national picture and what we have is a Regional series of situations.  I've always said we need to look at the detail.  

The problem is that the data on such isn't very robust.  When a poll of 1029 people is split into the 8 regions, there aren't many people asked in each region.  A rule of thumb is that a poll of 1000 will be accurate +-3% - better for big parties and much worse for small parties.  Once the sample gets split between 8 regions the figures are much less reliable.  However having done that health warning, let's have a look at the regional situation - but I'm tempted to say 'Just a bit of fun - these are just predictions'.The data used can be found at and

The sample sizes are very small but the overall results seem to be fairly stable: there isn't a great trend showing.   So what I am going to do is add the actual numbers sampled between the two months together to get a more reliance number.  It is still a small sample and all results must therefore be treated with caution. 

 Constituency predictions

The SNP vote is holding up very well in the constituencies - very much in line with the General Election results.  Of the 73 constituency seats, the SNP are predicted to win 71. 

Overall result

Now the model for allocating the regional seats I will use can be found at

For each region, we need to know the number of seats for each party and the regional list vote.  Plugging in these two sets of figures gives us the numbers of additional member seats allocated. 

But we have a problem.  ScotlandVotes doesn't tell us which two constituency seats are not won by the SNP.   Well, I'm going to assume that the LibDems hang onto one seat in the Highlands (let's not get into which one!) and that the Tories hang onto a seat in the South of Scotland.  I hope the SNP do better than this but let's go with the prediction and my assumption. 

Highlands and Islands

There is an extra constituency seat in Highland and Islands as Orkney and Shetland each have a constituency MSP.  And I am going to assume that the LibDems hang onto a seat in this, their traditional last redoubt in Scotland.  

Tiny sample warning! Number of Additional seat for SNP = zero - the level of support for the SNP in the Highlands simply isnt high enough to give a Regional Seat.    With 9 UKIP supporters found in the September sample,, they get allocated a seat.   You all know what to do. 

In practice with the well known and well respected John Finnie topping the Highland list, I'm pretty confident that the Greens will have enough votes to have a Highland Regional List seat.  The question is whether the Tory and UKIP voices can be overcome to quash UKIP.  

North East

Tiny sample warning! This is an SNP stronghold with in addition to the 10 constituency seats, the SNP predicted to win 2 List seats.   It's very much up to Greens to improve their own performance to win a List seat here at at present they are not close.  

Mid Scotland and Fife

Mid Scotland and Fife
Tiny sample warning! Again a strong performance by the SNP means that theygain a Regional List seat after the LibDems.  Greens need to target suurplus LibDem votes to deny Tories the last seat.  


Tiny sample warning! The SNP don't pick up any List seats and the Greens pick up two. A better than expected performance by Labour or Tory would put that at risk.   Greens should be appealling to SNP voters to help them.  


Tiny sample warning! A strong performance from the SNP means they pick up a List seat as do the Greens. It would take a lot for either to be able to deny the Tories the last seat. 


Tiny sample warning!  Labour pick up lots of List seats, the SNP none and the Greens one.  Greens would need an extra 4% on their vote to gain a second seat to the detriment of Labour.  So Glasgow is a place where SNP supporters could switch to Green to reduce the unionist seats.   I think that is more likely than Greens switching to SNP and risking their one list seat - the SNP have nothing to lose by switching.

It's embarassing having UKIP showing on the poll and 4% for Tories is VERY low.  


West of Scotland
A strong showing by the SNP means they pick up two list seats.  The Greens fails to achieve one.  Each must present their own cases to reduce the unionist parties further.


South of Scotland
Here I assume a Tory hangs onto a constituency seat.  I know.  Miserable, isn't it?

The SNP pick up one Regional List seats and the Greens gain one.   The Greens should be targetting the LibDems to try to deny Labour a seat.  

Summary and Conclusions

In three regions, the SNP are highly unlikely to gain any List seats but they have a good chance in the other five.  Where Greens are strong: Highland and Islands; Lothians; and Glasgow, small switches of SNP votes to Green could dent unionist voices.   

Worth doing? - well SNP supporters in these three regions need to ask themselves if they want an extra unionist or an extra Green.  

Holyrood: How does the Additional Member system work

Members of the Scottish Parliament are elected by a proportional system know as AMS (Additional Member System).    The official explanation is here but I'm going to try to explain with a minimum of maths and in as simple a way as I can. 

Scotland is divided into 8 regions and as well as 73 constituency MSPs being elected, each Region elects 7 list MSPs.    The constituency MSPs are elected by first-past-the-post, the same system used for UK General Elections.   But in addition voters cast a vote against a Party on the Regional List. 

The list MSPs in each Region are allocated to adjust the total number of MSPs (constituency and list) to reflect the party share of vote as cast in the Regional (list) ballot.  Sometime people refer to the constituency as the first vote and the list as the second.  I think that confuses.  

Now, you'll quickly realise that with only 7 seats to adjust a result, it's pretty likely that the result will only be roughly proportional.  Typically a Region has 8 constituency seats (the pre 1999 Westminster constituencies, but with Orkney and Shetland each having their own MSP) so with 7 List seats, that is a total of 15.  Roughly speaking a party should get a seat if they can gather more than about 6.5% of the vote (100%/15 =6.66%).  So it'll be a bit 'lumpy' and until a party starts getting over the ~6% bar, their votes wont get them a seat even on the list.

But we currently have one party, the SNP running at about 50% for the constituency vote.  That should enable them to make a near clean-sweep of the constituencies.  Most estimates put the actual likely number at 67 to 68.   That would given the 53% of the seats. 

The SNP do not do as well on the Regional list vote.  There is no reason to tactically vote in the Regional list (unless you know your preferred choice will stand no chance of getting more than 6.5% of the vote).  So, we have developed a remarkable sophisticated electorate who are very clear that while they will vote SNP 49% in the constituency, that drops to 43% for the Regional List.  Fr the Greens, only 2% will vote for them in the constituency vote if they are given the option, but that rises to 8% for the Regional vote - reflecting the reality that Regional list seats is where a small party is likely to win.  

Take an average Region (if there is such a thing!).  The SNP win all the 8 constituency seats on 50% of the vote.   That gives them more than their fair share of the seats so they shouldn't be entitled to any of the top up list seats.  These 7 seats then get allocated between the other parties in proportion to the other parties list vote. 

So imagine that the Regional vote is 43% SNP, 25% Labour, 15% Tory, 8% Green, 5% LibDem and 2% UKIP. 

We can ignore the SNP as they already have more than 43% of the seats and therefore shouldn't get any extra. 

So how do we divide the 7 seats between the others? 

Let's just guess at a fair distribution (there is something called Modified D'Hondt that is the mathematical way to do this but I'm not going there).   Let's give Labour 3, Tories 2, and 1 to the Greens. 

Now what % of each Party is needed to get 1 MSP on that distribution?  8.33% Labour, 7.5% Tory, 8% Green.  But we've only allocated 6 of the 7 MSPs available. 

So who gets the 7th?  The answer is whoever it makes the least difference to the % per MSP figure, which in this case would be Labour - who then get 1 MSP for each 6.25% of the vote.  Not too far off the one seat per 6.5% of the vote we calculated above.    

Let's just check the SNP wouldn't be entitled to the 7th list seat 43%/8 = 5.35% already so Labour have higher % per MSP even before a 9th SNP member.  The 9th SNP member would be behind the LibDems in the queue at 43%/9 = 4.8% of the vote.  

The SNP Regional vote doesn't come into the equation.   These votes have no effect on the number of SNP seats gained.   However, they could have an impact if they voted for one of the other parties.

Imagine that enough SNP voters realised this to mean that instead of 8% of the vote, the Greens got 16% of the vote. 

Our first off guess of seat allocation would then be Labour 3 (8.33%), Tory 2 (7.5%), Green 2 (8%) and that neatly uses the 7 seats.   The net effect is to deny Labour a seat and add one to the anti-austerity pro Indy voice to the Scottish Parliament.    

Hearts and Minds 2: Gaming PR?

Proportional Representation is supposed to ensure that the seats gains is roughly in proportion to the voting support and eliminate the need for tactical voting.  Some systems are rather better at this than others. 

I'm not a great fan of tactical voting : I'd rather people vote according to their beliefs and that this was represented fairly.    But as I've argued in Part 1: Vote for what you believe in

maybe an SNP- Green partnership would, for once, reflect the actual desires of most people. 

2011 Election
2011 Votes and seats
It so happened that in 2011, the SNP won a clear majority of seats, 69 out of 129, 53% on just 44% - 45% of the vote.   That wasn't particularly outrageous - Labour won 43% of the seats on 33% of the vote in the first elections to the Scottish Parliament in 1999.  But it's worth noting that the system is only roughly proportional.    This lack of proportionality is a result of there being only 7 top up additional members in each Region.  As its perfectly possible for one party to dominate a region, they may win a disproportionate number of constituency seats to the level of popular support - but also get top-up seats from a region where their support is weak. 

2016 Prediction

Since 2011, the constituency level of support for the SNP has grown and now runs as some 49% (March 2015) as demonstrated at the General Election performance of 50% of the vote, winning 56 of the 59 seats.  The SNP are therefore on target to win the vast majority of constituency seats in 2016.

2016 prediction based on YouGov poll, March 2015
As you can see, the rough proportionality more or less works.  The SNP, on about the same Regional Vote (43%) gains 69 seats.  They are not the same seats : there are more constituency seats and fewer regional top up seats and the decline in the Labour, and LibDem votes is reflected in fewer seats, with the Tories showing a modest increase and the Greens replacing the LibDems as the fourth party of Scottish politics in terms of both seats (8, 6% of seats) and votes (8%). 

Gaming the system

But with the SNP gaining most of the constituency seats, some have suggested that it would be possible for voters keen to see a strong showing for the pro-independence parties in the Scottish Parliament to game the system.  Those confident that the SNP can more or less, take the bulk of the 73 constituency seats (67 is the figure on a 49% constituency vote), could, the argument goes vote SNP in the constituency vote and for another pro-indy party in the Regional Vote.  

The logic runs, that if the SNP win few or no top-up regional seats, then those 43% voting SNP on the list are throwing their vote away and helping the unionist parties to win more top up seats.    

So what happens if SNP supporters split their vote between SNP on constituency and Greens for the List?  Let's shift 10% so the SNP are 33% on the Regional List and the Greens are on 18%.   

Gamed prediction - if SNP voters split their votes between SNP Cosntituency and Green on the Regional List.
On these figures, the SNP lose a seat overall - but the Greens gain 9 overwhelmingly at the expense of all three unionist parties.    The pro-Indy balance in the Scottish Parliament would be 85 to 44 seats. 

Now, a lot can happen between now and the Holyrood elections in 2016, but if you a voter wanting to see a clear pro-Indy majority at Holyrood and are, like many, broadly favorable to both SNP and Green policy (see Hearts and Minds 1: Voting for what you believe), then there is a clear path ahead.

No Party is going to advocate this and indeed you can expect the SNP to be very vocal in asking their supporters not to risk their seats by splitting the vote.   And the Greens officially are unlikely to ask supporters to support the SNP in the constituency vote and Greens on the Regional List.  That's politics - we have a long tradition that is hard to break of parties being unwilling to co-operate outside single issue campaigns.  So it's up to individuals to make their own minds up and tell parties what they want to happen.

The difference between the support for parties in the constituency and Regional List Votes shows we have a remarkably sophisicated electorate.  They have shown themselves willing to support the SNP in constituencies, where they are likely to win.   But the SNP's underlying level of support is lower and the public know it and are willing to promote the plural multi-party politics that the a feature of most of northern Europe.    Let's join them!

I'm of course a partisan in this, so do try out the scenarios for yourself.  The notes below show the data I used from the opinion poll and I'll try to remember to add new polls as they are published.  And you can use the same model I did and see the results. 


Voting intention data
YouGov for Sunday Times, 12th March 2015

Seat prediction (Sponsored by Sunday Times)

Hearts and Minds 1: Vote for what you believe in

That's what we all would like to do.

Vote according to our beliefs, confident in the knowledge that we then get our fair say in how we are governed.  

But that simple ideal is currently polluted by fears of our votes not counting, a desire than X shouldn't win, overwhelming the desire to vote for the real preference, etc.  

The Greens sister party in England and Wales ran with a strap line on their literature that seemed to resonate :

Vote for Policies: Scotland
But realistically, people vote on impressions of parties, history, family associations, knowledge of individual candidates (but not half as much as most candidates believe!), and all kinds of other things.  Few sit down and do a line by line comparision of policy.

But there is help.  They aren't by any means perfect but sites like Vote for Policies and Vote Match try to advise individual voters how in a blind (ish!) comparision of their stated preferences match up with parties. 

Now it could just be that Greens are rather more inclined to complete such surveys that other parties - or it could be that there is a genuine wish to see a shift away from the neo-liberal concensus that seems to be breaking apart anyway.

The more detailed analysis of surveyed people's choices by topic is very interesting indeed.  

Vote for Policies: Issues
Across a range of topics, Greens have a strong showing and Greens or SNP are the most preferred party on every topic.  If - and on some issues (fracking?) - it is a big if, Green and SNP co-operated with each other on issues, arguing out differences, would we really have a government that reflected our collective heart and mind?

It's a thought. 

Part 2: Gaming PR?  discusses how we could help make that a reality. 

Many nations - a challenge for federalists

OK.  It's clear that Scotland and England are different but it's a wee bit more complicated than that as the above graph shows. 

Would federal solutions help better reflect the aspiration of the different nations and regions?  Possibly but I'm not sure Tories would like to see their natural power base eroded to the southern counties. 

Will the SNP work with Plaid, Greens and others who want to see the dispersal of power?   We can only hope but it will require making common cause across parties and some generosity of spirit  to avoid the frustrations of Manchester. 

Can we get a new constitutional settlement for all the nations and regions of the UK?  Possibly - there are signs of some interest.  

But when they get into the reality of giving away real power, I think Westminster will cling onto every scrap it can. 


What can you do to ensure elections are properly conducted?

I got really hacked off with the daft vote rigging stories that circulated after the IndyRef and wrote one calm post and one less calm as people shifted ground. 

This post explains the basis process.  

Each step of the entire process can be observed by people appointed by the various campaigns.  In addition, the staff at the polling station and count are drawn from a range of people : council staff and beyond and they are rarely left alone.  Any intent to subvert the process would require an awful lot of people to stay quiet.  

I've given references to the main source documents at the end for those who want to read more details.  


The most important thing you can do is check your own ballot paper for an official mark on the front of the ballot paper and an unique identifying mark on the back.   

Official Mark

An appropriate security mark - the ‘official mark’–is required by law to be added to the ballot paper. The mark should be distinctive and does not have to be a perforation added at the time of issue of the ballot paper, although stamping instruments may still be used to create a perforating official
mark. It could be a printed emblem or mark or a special printing device such as a watermark. It should be capable of being seen on the front of the ballot paper so that it can be seen without having to turn the ballot paper over.

By law, the official mark can be the same for all ballot papers at an election or different official marks can be used fordifferent purposes at the same election, for example, one for postal votes and another for polling station ballot papers.
The official mark cannot be re-used for seven years at a UK Parliamentary election to the same constituency

Ballot paper numbers and the unique identifying mark

Ballot paper numbers should run consecutively, but do not have to start at ‘1’.
The unique identifying mark can be letters and numbers and could be a repeat of the ballot paper number with the addition of a prefix or a suffix. Also a unique identifying mark can be, but does not have to be, a barcode. It is not the same as the official mark.

The unique identifying mark should be unique for each ballot paper and must be printed on the back of the ballot paper.

In addition to the unique identifying mark, the following information is required by law to be included on the ballot paper reverse in the following
  • Number
  • [Other unique identifying mark]
  • United Kingdom Parliamentary election in the constituency of [insert name of constituency]
  • on ........................20....
 If in doubt, ask the Presiding Officer or Polling Clerk to point out the Offical Mark and the unique identifing number to you before you cast your ballot.    


 These are people outside the polling place, collecting information on who has voted as people arrive.  There should be no more than one per candidate and they must no impede voters in any way and have no rights to insist on being told anything.   

They are collecting information for political parties so they can 'knock up' supporters who haven't voted yet later in the day.  They are not there to persuade people to vote : if someone asks question, take the person outside of the Polling place to answer.  

Tellers should wear coloured rosettes of a reasonable size, as this assists electors by making it clear that they are party workers and not electoral officials. The rosette may display the name of a candidate and/or a registered party name, emblem or description.  Tellers must not wear, carry or display any headwear, footwear or other apparel that carries any writing, picture or sign relating to any candidate or party apart from a rosette.

Sometimes polling agents are also tellers but anything learnt while inside the polling station must not be divulged to anyone.  

Tellers have no scrutiny role or rights.  If the Presiding Officer thinks you are being a nuisance, you will require you to leave the Polling Place.

Polling Agent

Agents can appoint more or less as many of these as they like.  Don't however volunteer unless you are willing to take the duties seriously.  If you reveal how anyone voted or indeed that someone has voted from information gained whilst inside the polling station, you are commiting a serious offense.    Names and addresses need to be given by the Agent for candidates five days before the poll.

The main rights of polling agents on polling day are summarised below:
  • To be present at their designated polling station before the opening of the poll to observe the Presiding Officer showing the empty ballot box prior to sealing.
  • To detect personation and prevent people voting more than once at the same election. Voters who are believed to have committed the offence of personation or who attempt to vote twice should be challenged before they leave the pollingstation. To do this effectively, the polling agent should require the Presiding Officer to put the statutory questions to the elector before they are issued with a ballot paper. No further enquiries beyond the statutory questions may be made.
  • To report to their election agent/candidate any improper occurrences and retain notes for use in giving evidence to a court, if required.
  • To be present when the Presiding Officer marks ballot papers at the request of electors.
  • To be present at the close of poll when the various packets of documents are sealed.
  • At the close of poll, the polling agent may attach their seal to any packets made up by the Presiding Officer, including the ballot box. (Please note that polling agents’ seals cannot be attached to ballot boxes at the commencement of or during the poll.)
  • Polling agents must maintain the secrecy of the ballot. They must not give information to anyone as to who has or has not voted, or a person’s electoral number, or the official mark. Although polling agents may mark off on their copy of the register of electors those voters who have applied for ballot papers, if they leave the polling station during the hours of polling, their marked copy of the register should be left in the polling station in order not to breach the secrecy requirements.
Polling Agents may wear a rosette in their party colours with its normal symbol on it.  

There are also Postal Vote Agents who oversee the opening of the envelopes, the checking of the signatures and other ID and then witness bundles of postal votes being sealed into ballot boxes ready to be taken to the count.  This takes postal votes to the verification phase.  

Counting Agents 

There are two main stages to a count: verification and the actual count.


Staff must open the ballot boxes in the presence of any counting agents and observers
that are present. When a box has had a seal attached by an agent at the close of the poll, particular care should be taken to show to any agents and observers present that this seal
is still intact prior to it being broken. The ballot papers should be carefully tipped onto the table, ensuring that none have fallen onto the floor and that the box is empty. 

There is a legal duty to keep the ballot papers face up at all times during the verification and count. 
The empty box is shown to the agents and observers so that they can be satisfied that it is indeed empty. The counting assistants should then unfold the ballot papers and count them into bundles. Accuracy at this stage is vital, so bundles should be passed to another assistant for rechecking. Any tendered ballot papers that have been mistakenly placed in the ballot box during the day should be removed and handed to the supervisor.

The totals given on the ballot paper account must be compared against the number of ballot papers counted and recorded as being present inside the ballot box. The total number of ballot papers in the ballot box should agree with the total on the ballot
paper account.

At this stage, party counting agents will often by busy tallying - doing a quick sample of ballot papers to see how many votes they are getting - and how many their opponents have.  This is the finest levfel of electoral infrmation available to parties so they are keen to know.  So they will know very quickly if there is good news or bad news for thei candidate.  

A good tallying operation can get a 50% + sample and with a bit of care, can predict the result with a high degree of accuracy. 

Once a ballot box has veen verified, the papers will be put into a big pile ready for the next stage : the actual counting.  


Ballot papers must be kept face upwards throughout the counting process in order to prevent the number and other unique identifying mark on the back of the ballot paper being seen. The ballot papers should be visible at all times to any candidates, agents and observers present.

Counting assistants should sort the ballot papers into votes for each candidate. Doubtful ballot papers should be placed aside for adjudication.

Counting agents will watch carefully to ensure that none of the own candidates papers are added to the wrong pile and in particular that the top of the pile matches all the papers in the pile.  

Counting Agents are able to make reasonable requests that any paper is regarded as dubious and they may agree that the intention of a paper is clear and it doesn't need to go for adjudication to the Returning Officer and the Agents.  But they mustn't touch ballot papers or interfere with the Counting assistants.  

Source Guides

Electoral Commission Guidance for Candidate and Agents
Electoral Commission : Administering the Poll
Electoral Commission: Verifying and Counting the Votes

Scare stories re voter registration

I’m going to start this post with a few very definitive statements for the benefit of people who won’t read further.
Letter from my local ERO
confirming that my partner
and I are both registered.
  • If you were on the electoral register for the IndyRef, you will NOT be removed from the register until December 2015
  • Under the new system of individual registration, many people will be asked for extra information, usually a NI number.  This is not an identity fraud scam.
  • You cannot check whether you are registered or not online.  You have the right to have your name not published for commercial purposes and if there was an online facility to check, then this would get quickly broken by a robot.  
 Lots of the Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) are very aware of the unfounded concern about people not being registered and are sending out letters to each household advising who are registered.  This is very helpful of them.  

Please read these letters carefully. 
If everyone is registered, then great.  
If someone has been missed off, then do register them.

What has happened?

This cat is under 18 and
not entitled to vote
Last June, in England, the system of household registration for the electoral register changed to individual registration and the system was tightened up to ensure than only real people are registered (at the height of the poll tax protests, I registered my cat to vote).

The introduction of individual registration was delayed until after the IndyRef in Scotland so avoid any issues.  It was agreed in Scotland that the register used for the IndyRef would be used (with monthly updates) until December 2015. 

Some people who don’t match up with other information (e.g. if your name on the electoral register isn’t an exact match with the name on your NI record), will be asked for extra information.  If that information isn’t provided – and you should be asked at least twice – your name will be deleted from the register in December 2015 which may mean you can’t vote in the Holyrood elections in 2016.  

The rumours

The site where you can apply to register to vote, isn’t linked to the local electoral register, so if people put their details in there, it gives a message that people aren’t registered.  What they mean is that the application will be passed to the local ERO who will proceed with the registration.  It’s not a helpful message and some people have got the wrong end of the stick and think it means they weren’t registered or their registration has been deleted.  This is not true.  It doesn't know.

The most paranoid think this is a plot to rig the forthcoming General Election.  It’s not: it’s just a misunderstanding of what this 'postbox' system can do.   It simply doesn’t know whether you are registered or not so treats every registration as if you are a new registration. 

You wouldn't expect the parking meter to tell you how much is in your bank account.  This dumb system doesn't know who you are or whether your are already registered.  It just fills in a form and sends it to your local ERO.

What happens if I use

If you register through this site, it will be treated by your local ERO as a re-registration – and any duplicate existing record will be deleted.  Hopefully the new registration will be fine, but if there is something wrong, then you might not be on the register.

The safest thing to do is simply do nothing if you were registered for the IndyRef.

I'm worried anyway.  How can I check I am registered?

If you don’t get a letter in the next few weeks and are worried, then do contact your local ERO.  If you type your postcode in here, you will find their phone and email. 

There is little reason to hurry: the deadline for new registrations for May's General Election is Monday 20th April.  But it would be kind to people who need to register because they have moved or are registering for the first time to have priority so if you are worried, then ask sooner rather than later. 

More detail on the individual registration system is here  and how it is planned to be implemented in Scotland is available here.