Getting Irate So That You Don't Have To

Getting Irate So That You Don't Have To

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Competence And Integrity In Short Supply

The Canadian bloke investigating the cock-up that was the Scottish elections earlier this year has not pulled his punches.

Ron Gould, a former elections official in his own country, was clearly unimpressed by what he found when invited to investigate by the Electoral Commission (EC). Asked to establish why there were nearly 150,000 spoilt ballot papers, his inquiry found a set of failings that is all too familiar to students of State-sponsored shambles in the UK: effective planning process for the changes that were introduced;
..fragmented legislation;
..poorly defined roles and responsibilities for the planning, organisation and execution of tasks;
..poor or poorly defined leadership;
..too many changes, not enough time set aside to make them work;
..delayed decision making at the highest level;
..I could go on, but if you want to be thoroughly depressed just click here instead.

The most damning verdict of the lot was that Scottish ministers had focused on partisan political interests, and voters were treated as an "afterthought". Douglas Alexander and other ministers took decisions on the running of the election which were based on party political interest. These decisions included the design of the ballot papers, which led to widespread confusion among voters, and the holding of local and national elections on the same day. The report says "What is characteristic of 2007 was a notable level of party self interest evident in ministerial decision-making (especially in regard to the timing and method of counts and the design of ballot papers)."

As an indictment of the way British politicians behave in elections, this is as bad as it gets. Mr Gould is quite clearly telling us that they manipulated the democratic process for their own ends. Actually none of the parties emerge with any credit, and it calls into question the whole way in which elections are run.

Why should the Scottish Office, or Holyrood (as suggested by Mr Gould) or any other organisation answerable to politicians run elections ? Are not elections so important that they should be organised, overseen and run by a completely independent body, similar to the judiciary ? The EC does its best, bless it, but it has few teeth and, despite its protestations about being independent ("neutral" might be a more accurate description), is answerable to the very people it is trying to police. Its total and abject failure to get a grip on the widespread, government-inspired abuse of the postal vote system illustrates the point.

What happened in Scotland, where 6% of voters were effectively disenfranchised, could happen here too. We do not have the structures in place to ensure that it doesn't. And we certainly don't have the integrity required of our politicians.

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