Sunday, August 12, 2007

The elections were a farce

The following is an extract from From Scotland to Caracas -- The Politics of Democracy Promotion, Written by Muhammad Idrees Ahmad , 11 August 2007

Even by ‘Third World’ standards, the elections were a farce.

Preceded by months of tabloid propaganda verging on the defamatory, the establishment resorted to its time tested strategy of wholesale scaremongering.

Support for the SNP was gradually eroded through months of hostile coverage exaggerating the costs of independence and the proposed replacement for the hated community charge.

However, by election day support for SNP, though diminished, was still widespread enough to lead major tabloids to attempt one final act of sabotage: Sun, Daily Mail, and Daily Record – three rags with circulations exceeding those of all the rest combined – synchronized their attacks on their front pages; one depicting the SNP symbol as a noose, another calling party leader Alex Salmond ‘the man who wants to destroy Great Britain’, and the third sporting a sinister image of Salmond.

While it is nearly impossible to find a Scottish voter who publicly professes support for Labour, and while early forecasts had predicted a Labour rout, its curiously narrow defeat understandably surprised many.

One could attribute this to New Labour’s successful use of scare tactics – and the ‘money and muscle poured into key seats to fend off the SNP’, as Michel White of the Guardian put it – but the deeply flawed electoral process suggests it may have taken more than scary headlines to diminish the scale of its defeat.

Against expert advice the Labour-controlled Scottish executive chose to hold both local council and national elections on the same day. In the ensuing chaos, there were the technical problems of the electronic counting machines, organizational problems of the electoral ballots not delivered on time in sufficient quantities, and the design problems of a ballot with two different voting systems on a single sheet.

While it is acknowledged that nearly 140,000 votes – almost 7 percent of the total cast – were spoilt, it has yet to be confirmed if there are any discernible trends (other than the fact that the vote rejection invariably disadvantaged smaller parties).

As the Guardian reported, in Edinburgh Central, “Labour's deputy environment minister, Sarah Boyack, held her seat with a majority of 1,193 but there were 1,501 rejected papers.

In Glasgow Baillieston, the rejected total of 1,850 was more than 10% of the votes accepted, and most constituencies saw at least 1,000 papers rejected - 10 times the norm.”

On the rare occasion where a result was challenged, it once again transpired that the ‘irregularity’ favoured the ruling party, casting further doubts over the transparency of the process.

If it weren’t for a timely intervention by an SNP candidate – David Thompson of Highlands and Islands – which led to a recount reversing the result handing the seat to a Labour candidate, Blairites would still be in power.

The commission’s excuse for the blunder did little to alleviate concern. The computer file was ‘misread’ by ‘exhausted vote counters’, it claimed.

Further questions are raised by the fact that Neil Kinnock, the former Labour leader, sits as a non-Executive Director on the board of DRS, the firm providing the electronic vote counting machines at the middle of this controversy.


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