Ballot BoxYesterday’s Scottish elections have been criticised due to a large number of spoilt ballot papers, presumably because people did not understand the voting system in use in the 2 different elections taking place. Single Transferable Vote (STV) where you mark numbered preferences was used for the council elections and the Additional Member System (AMS) used for the Scottish Parliament, where a cross is marked for an individual and a cross marked for a party on the top-up list.

SNP leader Alex Salmond has had a rant about this:
“It is also the case that the decision to conduct an STV election at the same time as a first-past-the-post ballot for the Scottish Parliament was deeply mistaken. As a direct result, tens of thousands of votes across Scotland have been discounted. That is totally unacceptable in a democratic society.”

Essentially he seems to be implying that Scots are not clever enough to work out how 2 different election systems work. Well, it’s not that complicated, is it? If you can’t work out how the election system works, how are you supposed to be clever enough to make an informed political choice between the parties? That’s essentially the line being taken by many in the BBC News Forum debating this issue. Would these complaints be from the same Salmond that wants Scotland to emulate other knowledge-based small economies like Finland, where intellect is of course vital?

Let’s look further – what are the alternatives? One option would be to choose election systems that are simple for the voters to understand, regardless of the quality of the representation that each secures. Or put different elections on different days, meaning everyone has a moan about there being too many elections, and turnout would also be lower. Neither of these options is desirable.


  1. In answer to the question “Do you think voters are thick?” – does the election result not answer this?

  2. It’s a difficult one, but you now have four different electoral systems in Scotland for the four different levels of election, which is really needless complication. Furthermore, the two ballot papers looked very similar except for colour for the two elections, and my perfectly intelligent partner started filling in the STV one wrongly, just because he hadn’t immediately clocked which was which. There would have been a lot of inadvertent spoiling, which is not to say that this might not be inevitable with switching to more sensitive and democratic PR systems, but certainly shouldn’t result in an automatic trashing of Big Ecky for saying that Scots are stupid.

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