Jul 092010

By Dave Innes.

Well, well, well.

No sooner had the toner dried on the recent article explaining the reasons for the current council’s tenure lasting five years rather than the statutory four, than the whole pretence would seem to have been shown up to be just that.

You’ll recall that we reported that the Gould Report decided that it would be bad for democracy for multi votes to take place on the same day. The two ballot papers in 2007 confused those easily put into that state and the numbers of spoiled ballot papers soared to record levels. One of the penalties of improving our democracy under Gould’s recommendations is that the citizens of Scotland are stuck with their local politicians of whatever political hue and whatever practical competence for an extra year in the next two council elections to allow improved alignment of Scottish and local elections. Most people seem to be prepared to accept this imposition, irrespective of its temporary drawbacks.

Yet, not two full months into the uncharted waters of peacetime coalition government, despite all the positive noises about “respect” for the parliaments and assemblies of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the recommendations of the Gould Report may as well have been written in invisible ink. On invisible paper. By The Invisible Man.

With uncaring, non-listening disrespectful disdain for Gould’s report, for democracy beyond Westminster and for tolerant electors, the announcement that the referendum on voting reform will be held on 5 May 2010, concurrent with elections for non-Westminster representatives, is early proof that talk of respect for the supposedly partner UK political institutions is hollow, shallow, empty populist rhetoric.

The easily-confused, the casually-bewildered, the bug-eyed ballot fodder can look forward to contributing again to yet another day of unbridled loop-the-loopery in polling stations from Strabane to Strathlene, from Cardiff to Cardhu and from Newry to Neath. Three nations all playing ballot box bluff. Maybe we should award points per hundred spoiled papers and start a mini league? Come AWWWWWWWWNNNNN Scotland…

The irony is, of course, that the Westminster referendum is a genuine, if possibly flawed, attempt to improve democracy UK-wide – if you ignore the partisan small print, obviously – which will itself inhibit democracy by its intrusion into the well-trailed national elections which must, by statute, be held every four years.

If I was a cynic, I’d be tempted to think that piggy-backing one vote on top of another is a way of offering democracy on the cheap, despite the well-known and statistically-proven risks in asking any less-cerebral electors to attempt to multi-task with a pencil on a string and more than one sheet of paper. I’m glad, therefore, that cynicism is an affliction from which I have never knowingly suffered.