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
Scotlandvotes.com (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 www.gov.uk 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 www.gov.uk/register-to-vote?

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. 

How popular are Green policies?

Since the middle of last year, the Green parties have been growing with an explosion of members aroudn the time of the IndyRef in Scotland.  And still they come. 

We've always known that, at least amongst people who like that kind of thing, 'blind shopping' of Green policies against other parties has produced very favorable results.    But until now, the Scottish Greens have been lumped in with our sister party in England and Wales (OK - but we are different) and the SNP shamefully hasn't tended to be included at all.

www.votematch.org/ agreed to include Scottish Greens for their new version due to go live in March.  Fantastic. We are really looking forward to the launch.  The process of being included was made very easy.

Vote for Policies 2010 for Gordon
But www.voteforpolicies.org.uk, after first being keen to include us, then decided that as we didn't have an MP or MEP in Scotland, we wouldn't qualify.  Rachel Waugh and I made a bit of a fuss on Facebook and lots of others joined in by email and on twitter - and within hours, a decision that look immoveable through January and most of February, was reversed : they did #invitethegreens.

Thank you. 
Vote for Policies  21st Feb 2015

But how would we Greens fare now?

Well, not bad. See that nice big patch of Green.  That's us.  It's a small sample so far - but very promising.

It's difficult to compare the others as VoteforPolicies 2010 didn't include the SNP. But if I were UKIP or the Tories, I'd be worried: the purple and blue areas are shrinking.

No analysis of the situation across Scotland is yet available (I've asked) but on the UK scale, the picture is very interesting indeed.

There is the Green Party of England and Wales, sitting at the top of the leaderboard on 26.5% of the UK national vote - and with the Scottish Greens 3.2%, the Green total is 29.7%.  WOW!

On a UK national basis - and therefore a Scottish basis as neither party stands candidates outside Scotland - the Scottish Greens, narrowly defeat the mighty SNP.  WOW!

So we have a serious challenge on our hands.

We have to convert that good will towards our policies into a belief that those policies can be implemented and that it is worth voting Green to get them implemented.

See you on the doorstep. 
We've work to do.
We've seats to win.

It might take a while but we will win.  And so will the country.  

National disgrace, scoundrel and extremist

The untouched dune system.
The mobile sand sheet moved 5-15m north each year, leaving behind a time series of botanical
colonisation, one of the finest examples of such in northern Europe.
I'm often asked why this blogs normal title is National disgrace, scoundrel and extremist.  This phrase evokes to me a significant change in my political life.  And explaining that might also explain how money-politics works. 

In 2005, I was approached by representatives of Trump who wanted to outline to me, as local councillor, their plan to turn the shooting estate of Menie into a golf resort.  What they outlined was a 250 bedroom hotel, a golf course, maybe some staff accommodation and perhaps some other housing.  At this stage, it was clear that they'd been in discussions with the council planners and up to Chief Executive level for some time.

In March 2006, they went public with an announcement that they were in May going to submit an application for a 250 bedroom hotel, two golf courses and a holiday home complex, valued at £300 million, creating 400 jobs and in piled the local business interest saying this would put the north-east of Scotland on the map with Shiona Baird, Green MSP being the only cautionary voice.   

By the summer, the resort has grown to a £1 billion investment with a 450 bedroomn hotel and a thousand holiday homes.  Even more ra-ra from local business interests - obviously £1 billion is three times better than £300m - and there couldn't possibly be any downsides - could there?.

The resort proposal
When finally submitted in November 2006, the resort consisted of a 450 bedroom hotel, 950 holiday apartments, 36 golf villas and a village of 900 open market houses.

Now as councillor, you are stuck with making no comment on planning applications, as you could be deemed to prejudge the application.  So silence from me and meanwhile an enormous PR effort.

In the summer of 2007, I was lobbied by both local MP, Malcolm Bruce to the effect of 'You must pass the Trump thing, else the SNP will get the credit' and in favour of Trump by the then local MSP Nora Radcliffe. It was clear that the Trump PR machine was working at all political levels.  The Scottish Government has already added Trump to Global Scots - a group meant to promote Scotland's interests abroad.   MPs and MSPs had been intensively lobbied.  So had many -but not all - councillors.  And the business and tourist community had been fully briefed and were raising their voice loudly in support. 

Trump 'sensitively' resculpting the sand
dunes to make his golf course.
The problem with the application was simple: it trashed - literally bulldozed - a site of scientic interest in order to build a hotel and holiday complex.  And it built 900 houses on farmland where no village had been planned into order to pay for it.  Talk of £1 billion pound investment was fantasy - it was the sale of open market housing paying for the development.  Lots of environmental damage.  A thousand, mainly low pay,  jobs - in a area where unemployment was less than 1%, house prices are high and there is a shortage of affordable housing.  None would be included in the 'exclusive' Menie estate development.

In October 2007 there was a planning hearing lasting some 5 hours and in November, there were two meetings, first of the local Area Committee which approved the development and then famous Infrastructure Services Committee where Martin Ford used his casting vote to turn down Trump rather than sending the applicaion back for renegotiation - few councillors wanted to grant outright. 

And that was when all hell let lose.

The leader of the Council vowed 'I will do everything in my power to keep this application alive'.  The media went in to frenzy mode.  Martin took the brunt but I answered the phone to media and did countless interviews that day.   At 8am the following morning, I was scheduled to do a live interview with Radio Scotland.  A woman appeared on my doorstep shortly before this and, shouting obsenities at me, tried to assult me on my own doorstep.  I was too shaken to do the interview.   It was awful.  Thousands of emails.  Front page of the local newspaper with Traitor as the headline.  

By the end of the following week, Martin was no longer the chair of the Infrastructure Services Committee, the application had been called in by the Scottish Government - an unprecendented step for an application that had already been properly determined - and there was a deep rift in the LibDems on Aberdeenshire between those that opposed Trump and those that supported him.

Aberdeenshire Council agreed to permit a 5m tall bund
to built around the Leyton Cottage on the Menie estate

I battled on, doing my job as councillor, especially to protect the rights of the Menie residents not be be harrassed and hemmed in and to maintain open public access to the Menie Estate (see here and here).

It was at this period when Donald Trump, a bit touchy at my opposition, wrote an open letter to the press (and sent me a copy some 6 hours later) where he called me a national disgrace, scoundrel and extremist.  I am patently none of those things - but I rather like the accolade from this birther and climate change denier.   
Eventually the rift in Aberdeenshire Council grew so deep and the behaviour of some councillors was so vile, that I left the LibDems, followed by Martin.  Martin joined the Greens immediately: I didn't join the Greens until October 2009.  I loved the welcome I got.  Linda Hendry, who I'd known for years from when I lived in Edinburgh said 'You've taken your time', which I took as a welcome and an indication that she'd regarded me as a green for a long time.  It was coming home.

What happenned at Menie was simple.  Lots of people, whose job it was to contain a crocodile, didn't do their job.  The zookeepers helped the crocodile rather than keeping it in its enclosure.  Why? Because they were blinded by a slick PR campaign and the idea that a couple of golf courses could replace the oil industry.  Laughable, if it wasn't so sad. 

But out of a very horrible time comes good:  

People know who I am.  I am still recognised and approached by people who tell me that I did right in regard to Trump - including by some who say they thought I was wrong at the time but now understand.

People know what I stand for.  I spent weeks looking at the evidence.  The 'right' of the matter was very clear to me at the time and I haven't changed my mind.  And I was left as one of the few voices raised to oppose Trump.  People - the Menie residents - and the environment matter.  And the economy, while important, must make sense in terms of actual benefit and actual investment not just be a matter of £000000000.

And they know I mean it.  Trump doesn't cope with No very well - he doesn't often meet it.  He tried every trick to intimidate me.  It wasn't pleasant but it didn't work. I survived and can smile about it now.  It's good to know that when presented with a choice, I did what was right not what was easy. 

Local - Experienced - Proven
The fallout thereafter at Menie is documented on this blog (Earlier material was lost as I blogged on the LibDem's own platform).  Click on Menie or Trump in the Cloud to the right to read more.  And if you want a fuller, less personal picture, then there are excellent papers by Martin Ford and Andy Wightman.

Tripping Up Trump continue to support the Menie residents.
Trump continues to harrass the residents.  Please support them on the Tripping Up Trump Facebook page.  While a golf course is built and Menie House and the adjacent steadings have been converted to holiday accommodation, the club house is about a third of the original size.   The Menie development hasn't been a success and Trump is now stamping his mark on classic Turnberry and Doonbeg in Ireland.    

Cycling needs infrastructure built for cycling.

As I have posted before, we have a government promising significant modal shift to walking to cycling for doing almost nothing to make it happen, even when spending hundreds of millions on major roads.  

At most we seem to get some shared path signs on existing pavements - which no-one supports as good practise - or dotted white lines on roads.

Rachel Aldred researched the views of people on different types of infrastructure.   While the majority of respondaent were regular cyclists, they were not only asked whether they would use teh various types of infrastructure, but whether others would.  The results are not exactly surprising - but they give a clear indication.

Cycling needs infrastructure built for cycling
Not infrastructure designed for motor vehicles. 
Not infrastructure designed for walking. 
But for cyclists:  8 to 80 cyclists 

Winter cycling in Copenhagen - along a separated cycle lane.
People supported substantial separation from motor traffic, in various forms. Separation by kerb or by car parking was very popular, as were park routes and streets closed to through motor traffic.

Separation by white lines was not popular - especially for people with children, children on their own or older (perhaps wobbly) cyclists,

Change is partly a matter of will - but also a matter of money.  And commiting money is the clearest indication of will available.

So if you meet and candidates for Westminster or Holyrood, perhaps you'd like to ask them when they are going to match Dutch levels of per capita spend on cycling.

See Rachel's blog at http://rachelaldred.org/research/children-and-cycling/ complete with a link to her first publication from her research. 

Strength, Functionality and Beauty - returning to Dundee

Dundee is a city that has evoked mixed feelings in me.  My mother was born there but left as a teenager.  For many years she would smile ruefully at 'Dundee is a great city to come from'.  That view was shared by Mike Galloway the Head of Planning for Dundee who said in December 2014 'A return to Dundee focused on an urgent need to tackle the central waterfront: “an embarrassment but a fantastic opportunity”. 

Dundee is one of the great examples of urban regeneration in Scotland and is increasing held up not merely as a model of what to do but how to do it.  As a councillor with an interest in planning and now an planner, I've been tracking the changes but hadn't taken myself for a tour - until my birthday on Sunday. 

There are no quick fixes in Dundee - no single project - but a complete approach to city planning and revitalising a city whose tendrils extend beyond urban design to facilitating business growth including spin offs from the universities.

Of course, nothing is perfect and there are controversies and difficulties but what has been achieved and what is being achieved is a superb demonstration of how a city can change. 

Before redevelopment. 
Concrete, roads and pedestrians not welcome here
I was most interested on this short trip to look at the central waterfront.  When I first visited Dundee the waterfront was only accessible from the city centre if you were willing to run the traffic gauntlet or used the foot bridge.

The dominant features were the roads - the Tay Road Bridge and the roads that served it.  And a rather ugly tower block.  And if you crossed the roads - well no-one would have called the hotel and swimming pool complex architectual delights and they each blocked off the waterfront.   

Overview of new Central Waterfront
The plans look beautiful with the Tay road bridge being contained between development rather than dominating the land. The art is to accommodate traffic withouit letting it dominate and it looks like there is a decent prospect of that. 

The new openspace will run from the Tay to the back of the Caird Hall and the new V&A museum and new railway station are strong architectural statements to the east of this sector. 
Main route continuing from Castle Street to the Tay
(east side of new open space)
The reality on the ground at present isn't great.  The sight of ripped up heaps of tarmac pleased me.  There is mess and confusion and uncomfortable routings for walkers and cyclists.   But there is a real attempt to reclaim space from the car to the benefit of people so we will need to be patient.

New housing at the Quays helps bring
vitality to the waterfront and city centre

Good things have been delivered in the Quays area to the east of the Road Bridge.  Great things are promised for the central waterfront area.  On her last visit, my mother was impressed at the changes she saw: I'm looking forward to seeing how Dundee changes next.  

Let's all hope that Vitruvius' three principle of design hold firm:  firmitas (strength), utilitas (functionality), and venustas (beauty). 

Let's build a better future. 


Local Planning? Let's not bother.

Aberdeenshire Council has debated and approved new planning policies for inclusion in its proposed new local development plan (LDP). The policies in the Local Plan had been developed through a lengthy process of public consultation, consideration by Area Committees but were then redrafted to comply with revised Scottish Government planning policy, published in June 2014, and later guidance.

Planning documents used to be weight tomes - an inch or more thick A4 document - and then more documents with details of conservation areas etc. 

It looks like the Proposed Local Plan will be about 50 pages long, with another 10 pages showing detail of green belt boundaries and another couple of dozen pages with details of phasing of house allocations and details of conservation area limitations.
It is remarkable how very slim local plans have become.
While concise policy is helpful to everyone, this Local Development Plan departs from the national polices on only two issues:
  • a more cautious approach to flood risks and, in response to our very high property prices, and
  • a significant requirement for affordable housing contributions from larger developments.  
That's great forward planning for flooding and might stop some of the mistakes of the past and we certainly need more affordable housing in the very expensive Aberdeen Housing Market Area.
But I worried that with just these two variants, this local plans isn;t fully reflecting all our local circumstances and priorities.

If this trend to merely echoing national policy continues, then perhaps planning will go the way of police and fire with everything controlled from the centre.

This centralising approach is entirely contrary to Green principles which focus on local responses to local circumstances.   Beware! 

No thought for cyclists

Shortly, to the north of Aberdeen, there will be oodles of money spend dualling the A90 from Balmedie to Tipperty and starting to build the AWPR.   

You'd like to thing that those in charge as well as thinking about motorists would spare a thought for other road users.  Everyone knows that designing things right int he first place is cheaper than retrofitting later. 

It can be done - look at the path coming off the away from the
feeder lanes.  So build in.  So hard - and expesive to retrofit.
But no.  The new A90 junctions at Balmedie and Blackdog will be grade seperated junctions - like motorway jucntions, designed for motorised vehicle to accelerate into the flow of traffic and decelerate only as they start to turn left.    Great for fast moving traffic. 

But lethal for cyclists.

There are cyclists who regularly use the A90.  Their needs have simply not been included in the design process.

Transport Scotland point to NESTRANS who point to the Councils.

I've news for them - safety of all road users is the responsibility of all of them.
Let's hope they don't learn the hard way.

More details at
http://aberdeengreens.org.uk/news/campaigners-angered-by-lack-of-thought-for-cyclists and
http://aberdeengreens.org.uk/news/green-campaigners-highlight-need-for-cycling-investment and even - the Aberdeen Evening Express - http://www.eveningexpress.co.uk/news/local/call-to-consider-cyclists-in-aberdeen-to-tipperty-a90-upgrade-plans-1.814916

Smith Commission

Last Friday was the deadline for submission by the five political parties to the Smith Commission, charged with trying to make a silk purse out of the sow's ear that is the aftermath of the Independence Referendum. 

I have made an attempt to summarise the five submissions as a Google Doc so people can see the areas of concensus and dissent for themselves.  It's not perfect but I hope it helps and if it is useful  please do copy freely.  

I also have made my own submission and copy this below for your information.  If anything I say is useful, please do plagiarise freely.

The deadline for submissions is 31st October.   Email submissions to haveyoursay@smith-commission.scot

Submission to Smith Commission

I have read the Command Paper and the submissions of the SNP Scottish Government and the Scottish Green Party with interest.  I sympathise with anyone attempting to deal with these conflicting submissions particularly where positions are entrenched by self-interest. 

I am also concerned that the timescales adversely impact opportunities for public engagement (as opposed to mere consultation).  I understand that the Electoral Reform Society and others in civic society are making representations to you on this subject and seeking ways forward.  Constitutional Convention concepts are useful and may be helpful to you if the political parties prove intransigent. 

The Party positions

The three Westminster parties have used their several Commissions as their submissions to the Smith Commission which I feel fails to reflect the realities of

  1. A relatively narrow 45%/55% vote in the Independence Referendum;
  2. Promises made by the Westminster parties promising substantial new powers/DevoMax/Home rule and even the dreaded word federalism.  The party leaders did not distance themselves from even the most extreme of these statements; and
  3. Poll information on range of powers people feel should be controlled at Holyrood including the long running Social Attitudes Survey data. 

There is real mood for change and those aspirations are long standing and deeply felt.  Significant new powers, up to DevoMax (to use an ill defined shorthand) is the ‘settled will of the Scottish people’.

In this context, it is disappointing the Labour and Conservatives have not proposed any changes to their Commission proposals of earlier in the year.   The LibDems have made more substantive proposals and considered how the wider implications across the UK could be managed via federalism.  This produces more of a process towards DevoMax that might release some logjams.
The SNP Scottish Government has asked for the ‘next best thing’ to independence, with foreign affairs and defence, monetary policy and citizenship and borders reserved to Westminster.  They do not seek any influence on monetary policy.

The Scottish Green Party has made an attempt at DevoMax, importantly highlighting the important of a written constitution and joint/partnership arrangements between the two layers of government for some issues.  They do seek influence over monetary policy and seek representation on management board level of the Treasury, Bank of England and HMRC.

Both SNP and Green proposals seems to be roughly in line with public opinion as ascertained by recent polls and the on a longer timescale by Professor Curtices’ Social Attitudes Survey.

While the Commission is under excessive time pressure to come up with concrete proposals with wide agreement, I would suggest that some of the pressures can be managed by phasing proposals over a period and setting out a road map as to how the UK constitutional pressure can be managed, while meeting the aspirations of Scotland to proceed as quickly as possible.  The danger in such process is any delays : the timetable would need clearly to beat at the pace of a Scottish not a Westminster drum. 

A declaration that any part of the UK could, in principle, take to itself similar powers and matching responsibilities may allay some tensions and would be attractive to many outside Scotland – although it is not for Scotland to dictate the form of government in other areas of the UK.  But if the UK is to follow that route, the inevitable consequence will be the surrender of powers to devolved bodies and the lessening of the current over-wheening power of Westminster.  That will be uncomfortable for Westminster politicians but their comfort is not part of your remit.


There appears to be a broad consensus towards entrenchment of the Scottish Parliament and the development and formalisation of mechanisms for joint working/joint policy making/ policy co-ordination.    I can only see this as a written constitution for Scotland.  But we will always have the conflict between the concepts of ‘sovereignty lying with the people’ and ‘the crown in parliament’.

It is hard to argue against the submissions by the Greens and the SNP seeking for powers over Scottish elections and governmental arrangements but the proposals from the Greens towards managing additional powers via public participation and internal devolution within Scotland are attractive and act as a counterweight to the criticism that Holyrood would be a ‘wee Westminster’.

The submissions by the Greens, SNP and Liberal Democrats provide a solid foundation for agreement here.


Money is the root of all evil and is a crucial part of this debate.  Spending powers are inextricably linked to tax raising powers.  Subject to any arrangements to provide some sharing to resources to address the inequalities that do exist across the UK, the aim must be to allow the Scottish Parliament to fundamentally raise enough revenue to meet its spending requirements and tailor those taxes to meet Scottish policy aims and specific Scottish concerns. 

Too few powers and insufficient flexibility to apply those powers make limited taxation powers a poisoned chalice.  But as Scotland will be bound to the UK currency and monetary policy, agreements are needed.  The SNP seem to be happy to continue with no real say – and thereby scant responsibility.   Greens and, via federalism LibDems, are more willing to engage.   

But, with formal management arrangements and perhaps ultimately federalism, the Green/LibDem axis here have a vision to move forward in a way that is coherent and consistent.


The SNP argue that all the main spending areas except defence and foreign affairs should be devolved.  The Greens see similar vision but would add pensions to that list.

The main argument is around welfare.  The economic, social and housing state of Scotland is different from especially southern England and therefore the appropriate policies vary.  Just as there seems to be wide acceptance that the city-regions of England should gain more powers of their economic futures, there should be wide acceptance that Scotland should determine its own future.  Labour’s attempt to salami slice powers in this area seem muddled. 

In this instance, I commend the SNP and Green submissions.

Other Issues

Within this heading I include all the issues mentioned by the submissions that do, of themselves, entail major spending implications.   Where any of the submission have made the case for devolving powers, then you should accept this. 

In particular
  • It seems perverse for Labour to argue against the devolution of powers relating to Health.  I would hope that the Scottish Parliament would seek to retain the excellent services of the UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.  The Scottish Parliament has shown itself attuned to these emerging realities.
  • As a peripheral area within the UK and with a much lower population density (outside the Central Belt), Scotland’s transport needs differ from the UKs.  The SNPs submission on powers relating to Transport should be supported. perfectly capable of considering sensitive and complex issues.  
  • As is illustrated by the current fuss over Leader’s debates for the UK General Election 2015, it is clear that current arrangements for broadcasting do not represent the legitimate concerns of the constituent parts of the UK.  I therefore commend the suggestions of the SNP and Greens: we need a more plural view of broadcasting to reflect the realities as the differences between Britain and England sharpen.   Consider: the Westminster remit for Health only applies to England and therefore (UK) Leader’s debates should avoid this issue.   Repeat for all devolved matters and we get a very complex situation that would be better served by plurality with much more emphasis on the nations and regions and less on a London/Westminster centric model.  The Greens suggestions are closely attuned to the emerging realities.
  • Employment and Employability issues bring a welcome consensus between LibDems, the SNP and the Greens.  These issues so closely relate to the local economic circumstances and elements of economic development and welfare, that they need to be seen as a coherent package with the Scottish Parliament. 

I reserve the right to make a further submission(s), particular if the Conservatives and Labour revisit their timid proposals in the light of the new political realities, and of course will seek to comment on any proposals you make.

Meanwhile I wish you success in hammering out a proposal that meets the legitimate aspirations of the majority of the Scottish people.

Debra Storr
(contact details removed)