Wrong MSPs elected in poll fiasco
THE expert appointed to investigate last year's Scottish Parliament election fiasco has said some MSPs may have no right to sit at Holyrood.
Elections watchdog Ron Gould revealed he is "not comfortable" with the view that all 129 MSPs elected last year actually received more votes than their opponents. He blames the farce in which more than 140,000 ballots were spoiled.
Gould's astonishing comments last night threw a cloud of uncertainty over the Scottish Parliament's integrity, and over the SNP's historic victory.
Last May, First Minister Alex Salmond won power on the back of a one seat victory over Labour. One constituency, Cunninghame North, was won with a majority of just 49. It later emerged that 1,015 votes had been spoilt. In other seats the spoiled papers outweighed the winner's majority, suggesting different results could have emerged if they had been counted.
Gould's comments were given to MPs on Westminster's Scottish Affairs Committee, which today publishes a hard-hitting report that says the aftermath of the vote was a "disaster" for Scottish democracy.
However, it insists that as all the parties accepted last May's result, there could be no prospect of reopening the entire ballot.
Gould's comments, made in January, are revealed in the MPs' final report. Their summary declares: "We asked Ron Gould, who conducted an independent review of the elections, whether he was comfortable that everybody who now serves in the Scottish Parliament deserved to be there. He responded: 'Frankly no, I am not comfortable with that.'"
The unprecedented number of spoiled papers was blamed largely on the decision to hold both the Scottish Parliament and Westminster votes on the same day, combined with the decision to put the two Holyrood ballots on the same piece of paper. A new electronic counting system further complicated matters.
Gould last year slammed both the Scotland Office and the then Scottish Executive, claiming voters were "treated as an afterthought" by politicians who organised the vote and put "partisan interests" ahead of the public good.
Allan Wilson, the losing Labour candidate in Cunninghame North, said he believed he had won the vote. "If you look at where the spoiled ballot papers were, it is easy to work out that the majority of them would have been Labour voters."
In Edinburgh East, there were 2,521 spoiled ballot papers. The winning majority, gained by SNP candidate Kenny MacAskill, was only 1,382. In Livingston, the SNP candidate Angela Constance won by 870 seats but there were 1,634 spoiled ballots.
In Linlithgow, Labour candidate Mary Mulligan won by 1,150 votes, but there were 1,722 spoiled papers. In Dunfermline West, Lib Dem Jim Tolson won by 476 votes – far fewer than the 757 spoiled papers.
In the summary, the MPs ascribe blame partly to the Scotland Office. It claims "lengthy delays disrupted election planning and led to weak contingency arrangements". The MPs also criticise the Electoral Commission, saying they did not do enough to anticipate the problems.
However, it concludes that power for future elections should not be handed over to the Scottish Parliament. Labour MP Mohammad Sarwar, committee chairman, added: "This is not the time for a quick fix solution, but a chance to move forward and ensure that the disastrous situation of May 3 is not repeated."
Labour Party figures last night said they did not want to reopen the election result. Livingston MP Jim Devine, a committee member, said: "This was not about a Labour MP huffing away about losing the election. We just have to make sure that this kind of thing doesn't happen again."
A spokesman for the Scotland Office said: "When the Gould report was initially published, we immediately accepted five core recommendations which will have a positive effect on the experience of voters in elections."
The Scotland Office will soon publish its response to Gould. A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The results have been universally accepted and no challenges were mounted beyond those rejected on election night. The report does not cast doubt on the result.
"The only way to address the legislative and managerial fragmentation identified by Gould is to transfer full responsibility to Scotland."
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