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

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) 


Serious about active travel?

The difference between stated aims and delivery by government's fascinates me.   We have great statements about promoting Active Travel (walking and cycling to normal people but you need a new buzz phrase).  Now the benefits of this are huge - health from the activity itself and the increase in social interactions - economic from increased use of the local shops - environmental from the reduced CO2 emissions and reduced congestion on roads. 

But then we have the latest Scottish Government budget.  I'm going to focus on Chapter 9

There are three budget lines that relate to Active Travel:

  • Sustainable and Active Travel (SAT)
  • Cycling, Walking and Safer Routes (CWSR)
  • Future Travel Fund (FTF)
But we can not be sure that these monies are all spent on cycling and walking. 

'The budget for Sustainable and Active Travel delivers support for the promotion of more sustainable travel choices, including support for the actions in the Cycling Action Plan for Scotland as well as work to promote sustainable transport to organisations and in communities, e.g. the development of a network of car clubs across Scotland. It includes funding for the core Fastlink scheme in Glasgow (£20 million in 2013-14 and £10 million in 2014-15).'

Cycling Walking and Safer Routes is money given to local authorities.  They choose how much to spend on such and how much goes directly into cycling and walking and how much is used, under the guise of safer routes for e.g. 20mph limit in urban areas.  Some local authorities all money to this fund - but for many this is the only walking and cycling budget. 

'The Future Transport Fund will reduce the impact of transport on our environment, reducing congestion and supporting better public transport, active travel and low carbon vehicles. This investment provides a platform for increasing support thereafter for a range of sustainable transport initiatives, including cycling infrastructure and freight modal shift.'

So it takes a bit of effort working outwhat is the real figure for walking and cycling.

 (figure in £ millions)                             2013-14  2014-15 Draft   2015-16 Plan
Sustrainable and Active Travel              35           29                      15
Cycling Walking and Safer Routes         5.6           8.2                    8
Future Travel Fund                                 7.7          18.7                 20.2
                                      Total                 48.3         55.9                43.2
but there are some things in this mix that have nothing do do with walking and cycling
Fastlink Bus route, Glasgow                  20           10                      0
Electric car charging points                      5             5                     5
Car clubs                                                  2              2                     2
                                     Total                 27             17                    7
so available might be:
Real figure for walking and cycling   21.3        38.9               36.2

For a country of 5.3m people and with a £2 billion (£2,000,000,000) transport budget, this is paltry - especially with an aspiration for 10% journeys to be by bike by 2020.

Blank Backed Ballot Papers.

So you turned up at a polling station and voted.  Or you sent in your ballot paper by post.
But somehow or other, you had been passed an invalid ballot paper without the printing on the back (and yes, they were all the same design - the barcode on the back was unique - see Personation above).
Somehow (as this seems to be about trying to overturn the vote), these blank-backed ballot papers were given only to Yes voters. 
Now you remember that your ballot paper was invalid.

So Polling Clerks were deliberately giving out blank ballot papers to some people - and very cleverly if it was a postal vote, THEY know in advance how you were going to vote.  We are getting into fantasy conspiracy land here. 

Now I watched ballot papers being handed out at polling ststaion and they came from a pad of papers in sequence.   So it'd be impssible to sneak in an invalid paper.  And as discussed in my sister post, the numbers printed on the back of the ballot paper is recorded against your electoral number.  So every Polling Clerk does actually look at the back of every ballot paper. 

Even if people votes were being made deliberately invalid, would these have changed the result?  No.  Look at the number of invalid votes at the official results website - 3,429.

That's right 3,623,344 votes were cast and just 3,429 managed to invalidate their votes - 0.9%.The No majority was a wee bit bigger than this.

I've been to lots of counts and votes are invalid for a number of reasons. At the last European Elections, 4% of votes were invalid.  

I think the blank back ballot paper isssue is total and utter tosh.

As I said in my post on the process at Polling Place and the Count, this was a meticulous ballot. 

No system is perfect and the Electoral Commission was in overall charge of this referendum and continuously considers what changes need to be made. 

Conspiracy Theorists 

Now no system is perfect - Voter Id is required in Northern Ireland but not in the rest of the UK - which says something of the low level of 'personation'.  I think this will change as it's an obvious hole in the process - but with just 10 case in such a high turnout election still tells me this is not an issue and I will lament yet another example of distrust becoming the default in our lives.   

I have seem claims that Polling and Couning Officers (note the incorrect term) were instructed to change Yes to No or to deliberately put Yes votes into No piles. 

I've seen claims that this was on the instructions of MI5, the CIA, Buckingham Palace.

I've discussed the process with people, who once they realised that the videos of the count were bunkum, switched to the blank bank ballot papers issue. 

I assume at this point that I am part of the conspiracy - perhaps a stooge of the Palace.  I have after all been to three Royal Garden Parties and have developed a taste for the rather nice lemon tarts and the strawberry sandwiches.   If only they would serve green tea .... 

But anyone demented enough to believe this rigging nonsense wouldn't believe an independent inquiry, a recount or anything else.   It would be another establishment fix. . 

But those banging on about the ballot being rigged make the whole Yes movement look absurd.  So I'll risk the conspiracy theorists believing I'm part of a plot with Mrs Windsor. 

If you are a conspiracy theorist, please don't join my party, The Scottish Greens.  Spend your energies inside Conservative or Labour : I am sure your energy and devious mind can find a way to make them implode.  

Scottish Referendum Fraud - unlikely.

There are a number of YouTube videos and petitions calling for a recount or a revote on Thursday's Scottish Independence Referendum alleging widespread fraud.

I have been responding to these on Facebook but find myself typing the same thing over and over again.  My view is that this the most meticulous conducted ballot I have witnessed. 

Let me explain a few things.  Parties to the election (those putting up candidates or in the case of this referendum campaign groups) appoint Polling Agents and Counting Agents.  I was each for Scottish Greens (Yes) in Aberdeenshire.   Across Scotland there were thousands for Yes and No groups plus there were international observers and observers from the Electoral Commission roaming about. 


Inside each Polling Place (the building) are one or more Polling Stations.  At each Polling Station there is one and only one ballot box.  For this election each Polling Station served something less than 1000 people - at least in Aberdeenshire so widespread queues were unlikely. 

Polling Agents can, if they wish, watch everything going on in the polling place from start to finish:  They can turn up at 7am and check that the ballot box starts out empty.  They can stand and watch every voter being issued with a ballot paper and putting it in the box.  They can watch the box being sealed at the end of the day.  And they can follow the van taking it to the count and watch it being unloaded.  The boxes are accompanied with a small sack of paper - stubs of ballot papers, the marked register, etc - all the paperwork you'd have seen at a polling station. 

It's unusual for anyone to actually do this. Usually Polling Agents dot in and out. 

Polling Agents also check that there isn't anything in the Polling Place which shouldn't be - e.g. literature from the other side and that voters are not hassled by the opposition (tho that is strictly the job of the Presidening Officer and the Police).

Outside the Polling Place, you may find representatives of campaigns.  They must stay out of the Polling Place while wearing/ displaying any propoganda and they shouldn't interfere with voters in any way.  But they can ask people to identify themselves (you don't need to give this information) and can answer questions.   If they are collecting details of who has voted, this is so that those people are not called upon later in the day to ask them to go and and vote (known as knocking up).

There is always more than one polling clerk/presiding officer at each polling place and they to some extent check up on each other.  For anything to go wrong, here would need collusion of presiding officer, polling clerk and polling agents.   

Postal Votes

For postal votes, these are collected over a longer period and kept securely.  Periodically, a batch is opened and the signatures checked against the application.  Bundles of papers from that batch are then put in sealed ballot boxes to await the count.   Counting Agents can turn up and watch all this. 

The pictures of neat bundles of ballot papers being taken out of ballot boxes are these postal votes - all ready verified: a known number of papers in each box.

At the Count

At the Count, the paperwork is first checked and then the ballot box is opened and the number of papers inside checked against the number of ballot papers issued.  Lots of the videos showing Yes being put under Noes are really this first verification count.   Counting agents watch this process and you often see them making a tally of the ballot papers,  If any box (and remember this is from a known location) has an unusual split of votes, the Counting Agents should notice at this point. 
Counting agents will know the total number of ballots in each box - and hence the total number of votes cast if these are all added up. 

Sometimes there aren't the same number in a box as was issued.  But I've never seen a difference of more than one.   Sometimes there is a polling card (the card telling people where to vote) in the box - perhaps someone took the ballot paper home by mistake. 

The ballot papers are then put in one big pile and each station is given a known number to count.  They then divide the papers into Yes, No and Dubious.  The Counting Agents watch this and check that piles contain only Yes, No and Dubious.  They may make a representation about where any individual paper should be put - but in case of doubt they go to Dubious.  This is why is much easier if people just put a X in the box. 

The total number of Yes, No and Dubious must match the number of papers the table was issued with.  They will check and check until this is true.   Counting Clerks sometimes flip throuugh bundles of votes just to do a quick visual check that they contain only Yes or only No - it's quite easy to spot a stray ballot of the other side as we are good at pattern recognition.   

The Counting Agents will know how many Yes, No and Dubious come out of each table.  They can add it all up to make sure it matches the total number of ballots.   

Dubious votes are taken to the Returning Officer and they, in consultation with the chief representatives of the Counting Agents, decide whether these are spoilt (and for what reason), or whether they should count for Yes or No. 

Fraud : Personation

At polling stations, the Presiding Officer and Polling Clerk, know who has been issued with a postal vote.  So if these people attempt to vote in person, they known there is a problem.  In case of a postal vote not reaching someone, the Returning Officer can issue a duplicate because the checks made on returning postal votes are through.   But this is something that needs to be sorted out with the overall Returning Officer not at a polling station. 

If someone is marked as having already voted and someone else turns up and tries to vote claiming they are that person, then a criminal offense may have been committed - called personation.  The second person turning up will be held at the polling place and their identity checked.  If they are who they say they are, they will be allowed to vote.   And, because there is a number on the back of each ballot paper which is logged against each voter, the fraudulent ballot paper will be found and removed (for evidence!).   Personation used to be common in Northern Ireland which is why ID is required to vote there.  In the rest of the UK is it so rare that this check is not deemed necessary.  I understand that 10 cases are under investiagation in Glasgow.  Out of millions: that is tiny.  With such a high turnout, personation will be detected.  It is less likely to be detected in a low turnout election. 

In the ideal would, the Polling Agent or Polling Clerks would be sufficiently embedded in the community to be able to say 'Hang on - you're not Debra Storr' and nab fraudsters before they vote.  My local Polling Clerks know me, of course.   This isn't easy with large populations.   Returning Officers will use local people - and the same local people - as Polling Clerks.  In small rural polling places, this informal verification works.  In larger places, it can't : one reason why I prefer many small polling places.  

Any questions?

A summer of generation and consumption

At the holiday house (, we now have about three months data (96 days).    The house has had guest in for most of this time but we ran the heating regardless as we wanted to bring the house which had sat with minimal heating through the winter up to proper warmth throughout.

From 5th May to 9th August:

Total house import                            1066 kWh
PV Generation                                  1073 kWh
Air source heat pump consumption  1082 kWh

So on average, 11kWh a day for each measure.  

We've experimented with the setting on the ASHP so that it runs more during the day so we maximise running the ASHP on sunshine. 

More PV generation and an air source heat pump

I've been a bit busy.  My partner and I decided to buy a holiday house in the latter part of 2013 and finally got the keys in February.  Since then, we have been working to get the house ready for the 2014 holiday letting season.   

We think it now looks rather good :

If you fancy staying there for your holiday, please go to

The house sleeps 6 in 3 bedrooms and is a spacious comfortable house, overlooking Loch Alsh just 5 miles from the Skye Bridge.

Since this picture was taken, we have installed an air source heat pump (ASHP) and PV panels.  Our hope is that in the period of peak use of the house, the PV panels will power the ASHP which will in turn heat the house and provide hot water.  Our initial calculations are that the PV panels are significantly powering the ASHP and we are working to optimise the controlling programme use more of our power.

Now fans of this blog will know that I like monitoring.  At Varis, we can see how much power the ASHP is taking and what the internal temperature is.  The internal temperature varies a lot : when there is no-one there, we turn the heating right down and some guests (for example a Malaysian family) want the house to be significantly warmer than we regard as normal in the UK.

The live feed is at