Monday, May 07, 2007


Voting Day in Scotland! Hooray, for the first time in my life I'm going to vote. Not being a US citizen I didn't have a vote in the US. Neither could I vote in the UK, as proxy voting is difficult to set up. Voting card in hand I head down to the polling place, a local church hall. I'm to choose a representative to the Scottish Parliament and local Aberdeen city council members.

Alas, I should have remembered the Florida butterfly ballot and the hanging chads.

At the doorway, a sleepy lady glances at my card and sends me to a curtained-off part of the room where I find a couple of people behind a desk. They look at my card, check off my name from a master sheet, and give me two pieces of paper, 81/2 by 11 inches, and point to a small voting booth. No one asks for a picture ID. I guess they trust I'm not impersonating the real voter. Neither did they ask me if I knew what to do. The first paper, for the Scottish parliament, presents a list of parties. You vote for one by putting an "X" in the box next to the name. I reach for the pencil provided, a two inch stub with a blunt point tied with a string to a nail. It has seen many elections; at least twenty years worth. I read the instructions that call for two votes, presumably one in each column. I scratch in my "X" for the Green party, and a second for the Independent candidate who shares my view on the Aberdeen Bypass. The second card, for city council, has a list of folk I never heard of. I put an "X" by the Conservative candidate, who might do the least amount of damage.

Polls close at 10 PM, so we never heard the results till the next day. First the counting problems. Many machines couldn't read the scratched "X" so rejected the ballots. Also, some folk put two "X"s in one column --- no one told them not to do that. And others, like me, put an "X" on the second ballot instead of ranking the candidates by scratching in 1,2,3,4 or 5. Oops! All told, about 100,000 ballots were rejected, including a couple of batches that were rain soaked on the way from the Outer Hebrides. Dangling chads look like a simple problem to sort out by comparison. In one district, where the Scottish Nationalist (SNP) candidate won by 47 votes, there were 1,000 rejected ballots. That seat will probably be challenged in court. Especially since the SNP won the election by only one seat over Labor. As the SNP do not have an overall majority, and no party wants to join them to form a coalition, they may have to struggle ahead as a minority government.

Most commentators feel that Iraq cast its shadow on the election. Unlike the US, where most people at one time supported the war, Blair dragged Britain into the conflict against the wish of the people. Today the dreadful war with no end in sight, seems even more incomprehensible. Daily stories of corruption that involves Labor did not help at the polls either. But the SNP and their single agenda of Scottish Independence? Most English would as soon quit subsidizing Scotland through their taxes and would not mind it if the Scots took a hike. But in an age where Europe is drawing together as a federation, Scottish Independence has a bizarre ring to it. I doubt that, given the high costs, Scots would vote for independence in a referendum, but anything is possible as long as they cling to voting with the stubby pencils and the scratched "X"s.

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