Saturday 15 November 2008

Terry Waite comes to Bridgeton

At the start of the week, I got an invite I couldn't possibly turn down. Emmaus, a charity which works with homeless people, were inviting me to the opening of their superstore. I had already put the date in my diary, when I finished reading the invitation letter; the official ribbon-cutting was to be done by Terry Waite.

Terry Waite is one of the figures whose very name conjures up a hushed respect. His release after 1,760 days in captivity as a hostage was one of the big events (along with Nelson Mandela, Piper Alpha, Lockerbie and Motherwell winning the Scottish Cup) that I remember from my childhood.

I wasn't expecting Terry Waite to be a giant in a physical sense as well as a figurative sense - definitely a larger than life figure. I was hugely impressed by his kindness and patience. He took time to speak to the many people at the opening, whether they were Companions, trustees, press, politicians or shoppers. Lorraine Kelly, who was due to co-host the opening, somehow failed to show so Terry drafted in a nine-year-old girl to cut the ribbon with him. He then managed to shake the hand of almost everyone who came in. Complete gentleman, and I'm very glad and humbled to have met him.

The store itself is very impressive - as you can see from the picture below. The furniture is of an excellent standard and there are a few pieces I'm hoping to go back and buy later. Emmaus Bridgeton are also hosting reconditioned carpets from Spruce. Both organisations will come and collect from your home, so instead of letting the bin men take things away for landfill please, please give them a call!

Culinary Excellence

I was delighted to be invited to a very special lunch on Friday at the City Inn by the Depute Head of Eastbank Academy. The occasion was the culmination of thirteen weeks of hard work by six senior Hospitality students; an opportunity to show off their skills to assembled guests.

This is part of the Council's Culinary Excellence programme, which gives pupils the opportunity to expand on the skills they learn in the classroom and see how they would cope in the world of work. They are supported by their teachers and by staff at the hotel, both in the kitchens and in the front of house duties. At the table I was at, a Chef from another hotel participating in the scheme told us how much the young people get from the experience, and the difference in their attitudes over the course of the once-a-week placement.

The meal was fantastic - salmon tartare to start, lamb for the main course, and tarte tatin for desert. All delicious and impecably presented. I was very impressed by the professionalism of the young women who were doing the serving duties - far better than the service I've experienced from staff in other eateries.

Certificates were presented to the six participants at the end of the meal, with glowing recommendations from City Inn staff. It's important to recognise the contribution made by the hotels - without them, the scheme couldn't happen, and it's great that they feel it's worthwhile. The pupils seem to have gotten a lot out of their experience and, while they might not go on to a career in this area, they certainly all seem to have gained confidence and learned new skills. I wish them all the best!

Some voters still don't get STV

I've been meaning to blog on this since the night of the Baillieston count, but found myself with far too many other important things to catch up on! Anyway, what better way to spend my first Saturday off in months that musing on electoral processes...

Glasgow City Council seems keen to pursue e-counting, partly as Glasgow didn't have the massive problems experienced at other counts in Scotland on the 3rd and 4th of May 2007. E-counting is actually quite an interesting process, and gives incredibly detailed results showing transfers and stages of election (follow the link at the bottom of the page). As interesting as some of us find these details, the basics of Single Transferable Vote are still lost on a significant number of people.

The voters of Baillieston are the most experienced STV voters in Scotland, having now been through the 2007 election and two by elections. Despite this, my experience at the count at the most recent by election demonstrated to me that electors appear to remain unsure of how to cast their vote in an STV election.

The process at e-count works something like this. Votes arrive in their boxes from the polling station, and are first fed through scanners and checked to ensure the number of ballots in the box matches what ought to be there.

Questionable marks on the ballot paper are then examined on a screen like this (Key Correction). At all stages, computer monitors are positioned back to back so counting agents are able to see exactly what the clerk sees and chip in with their thoughts (a 1? a 4? a squiggle? an arrow? too faint to see?). Numbers are either confirmed or sent through to the next stage where the mark can be seen in context.

At this next stage (Standard Queue), ballot papers are shown in their entirety so questionable marks can be better understood. As you can see from this picture, what would have looked like a faint line on the previous screen is quite clearly a 1.

It's also at this stage where voters' uncertainty about the STV vote becomes obvious.

Lots of voters are still marking their preference with a cross, instead of ranking. This still counts, but means that their vote is only good for one candidate and one stage of the STV count process.

A good number of voters appear to have put crosses next to more than one candidate. This makes it impossible to tell which candidate or party they prefer, so their vote has to be discarded.

Some people also do things like put a 5 next to the fifth candidate; I think the guidelines could be revised to include this vote, as it's the only preference shown.

Any ballot papers still in question (particularly ones with faint marks) are then sent to the Returning Officer's queue, where representatives from all the parties haggle over what exactly the voter meant when they put that smudgy squiggle near a candidate's name.

I am concerned that there is still a lot of confusion and a lack of understanding in the electorate. The Electoral Commission's report highlighted the problems of 2007 - strikingly, most of the 38,351 local government votes rejected last year were due to over-voting or uncertainty. Less than two hundred were rejected due to the lack of an official mark or being able to identify the voter.

In Baillieston 290 votes were rejected in 2007 out of a total of 10,666. Confusion persists. 65 ballot papers were rejected out of a total of 5261 cast in the first Bailieston by election, and 57 out of 4876 in the most recent by election. What if these votes were some of the same people making the same mistake? You could argue that it's natural selection, electoral style but I don't believe that it's acceptable that any vote gets cast aside. All parties work very hard to get voters out to the polls; it's not easy to pursuade people to come out on a cold dark night to take part in the democratic process. Authorities and parties must do more to make sure that every vote cast in good faith counts.

Friday 7 November 2008


Last night was pretty disappointing; there's no point in denying that.

Baillieston didn't manage to inspire Obama-esqe queues at polling stations. Turnout was only 20.9%. Full results are available on the Council website. I got the feeling that people just weren't that enthused at the idea of going out on a cold dreich night to vote. They got home from work, shut the curtains, settled down in front of the tv and stayed in for the night. Several people I spoke to were ill or looking after their kids, regretfully telling me they couldn't make it to the polls this time. Dark wintry nights are definately a factor, and I recall similar difficulties in a by-election in Renfrewshire a few years ago. It's far easier to encourage people out when it's sunny.

We put a lot of effort into Glenrothes, as you will have seen from my previous posts. Our vote increased, which is always encouraging. I got good, enthusiastic responses from voters. However, there were also places where the people were reticent, where doors went unanswered and clearly Labour managed to prevail.

I really object to references to 'defeat' - Labour had a 10,000 majority in this seat. That does not make them underdogs, it makes them front - runners. Glenrothes was simply a Labour hold, not a win.

Where our campaign was positive, theirs was crushingly negative. Scaremongering, and concentration on non-Westminster issues. People will be disappointed when Lindsay Roy fails to deliver on any of the issues he campaigned on - schools investment, anti social behaviour, and yes, even care charges. As an MP, these are right out of his remit.

I'm hoping to manage through the day without too many hefty sighs. This too will pass.

Tuesday 4 November 2008


05:00 Obama's acceptance speech. Unifying. Inclusive. Hopeful.

"Renewing this nation's promise."
"I will never forget who this campaign belongs to; it belongs to you
"this is your victory"
"I promise you, we as a people will get there"
"I will listen to you, especially when we disagree"
"democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope"
"yes we can"

I'm crying too now. See you in Glenrothes and Baillieston. Goodnight

04:37 It's 338 to 155 now, Nevada having also gone to Obama.

04:18 McCain concedes defeat. Very magnanimous, generous and complimentary. Not quite sure why he needs a teleprompter for something so simple. Will is right, too. McCain's supporters were quite badly behaved.

04:08 I'm just so excited and overcome, and it looks like I'm the only one in my entire street who's awake! Just send texts to a bunch of people. Fabulous campaign, inspiring man, incredible hope for the future.

Results are still coming in, but at present it's McCain 145 to Obama's 297. Wonder when the speeches start...


03:59 Virginia took their time, but CNN have finally predicted it as Obama's - the first Democrat to win there since LBJ apparently.

03:41 California, Washington, Idaho, Hawaii and Oregon are next, but there's still eight of the earlier states to confirm. C'mon Florida, pull yourself together!

03.24 CNN give Misissippi to McCain. Wish the other states would hurry it up a bit, getting a bit tired here!

03:01 CNN predict Iowa for Obama, Utah and Kansas to McCain. 89 to McCain, 206 to Obama.

03:00 Right, coming up now: Iowa, Montana, Nevada and Utah.

02:46 The footage from Chicago is truly phenomenal. There are so many people, you can't see where they end. They all look so hopeful.

02:41 McCain takes a chunk back, winning Texas. BBC says McCain 124 Obama 200.

02:29 CNN say Virginia, North Carolina and Florida are close. They only have 15% of the vote in Ohio counted - how can they possibly call it? I couldn't be sure of Glasgow East and I was seeing the votes stacking up in front of me. Feels like they're rushing this a bit?.

02:24 CNBC is projecting Ohio for Obama, Lousiana for McCain

02:15 Slightly worried by the fact that the pundits on the BBC are using twitter feeds too! Euronews continuing to run ahead (180 - 109) but is calling tiny Wyoming (3 votes) for Obama rather than the prevailing view that it's McCain's.

02:00 Fifteen more states rush in - Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, South Dakota, Texas, Nebraska, New Mexico have no date, CNN predict North Dakota and Wyoming for McCain, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island and Wisconsin for Obama. CNN now have McCain on 49 and Obama on 174. New Hampshire and New Mexico are Senate wins for the Democrats.

01:45 Is the band at McCain HQ taking the piss? They're playing "Is she really going out with him"? There's something going wrong around here... Euronews says McCain 69 Obama 103.

01:30 BBC calls Arkansas and Alabama for McCain. Frustratingly, there's still a lot of previous states to be announced. McCain 49 Obama 103. It's interesting the difference between the Obama party in the park and the McCain bash in the ballroom; Obama is letting the public own the campaign, and the victory which I hope comes later.

01:08 Florida looking very interesting in the CNN breakdown.

01:05 No, wait, BBC says 103 Obama 34 McCain.

01:00 Polls close in fifteen states - CNN project Massachusetts, llinois, Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, Maine, and the District of Colombia for Obama, Oklahoma and Tennessee for McCain.

All of a sudden, Obama leaps to 77 - over 43 to McCain. This thing is going fast.

00:51 Hmm, Euronews says McCain 16 Obama 3. They're showing live feed from Phoenix, Arizona of a band playing Nowhere Man.

00:35 CNBC's coverage is pretty amateur in comparison to... everyone. Some guys arguing, that's it.

00:30 North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia have closed their polls. It's amazing to see the vote totals running up on screen. Perhaps an improvement on ecounting for the next Scottish Parliament elections?

00:27 The CNN touchscreen map is far cooler.

00:16 Why are CNN trialling some weird hologram thing? It looked better on Star Wars. Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, You're my only hope!

00:10 Quite enjoying the twitter feed - it's kind of addictive. Warner takes senate seat from the Republicans in Virginia.

00:01 McCain 8 Obama 3

00:00 Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia are closed. Results a go go!

23:50 Why does the CNN studio need so many tvs behind the presenters and pundits?

Right, I'm jumping right in here with both feet...

23:44 Isn't it terrifying that Obama is going to give a speech behind bullet proof glass?

Election week - election number one

I'm getting increasingly excited about the US Presidential Elections. I love elections; I even started getting into the re-runs on BBC Parliament, but after staying up all night for the disaster that was the 2000 US vote I kind of lost interest in what goes on across the pond. This time, for so many reasons, it's different. Watching the constant coverage is also making my head run off in dozens of different ways.

Can Obama really pull it off? Will there be an earthquake in American politics? Will change really happen?

I was incredibly pleased to see the queues of people waiting patiently to vote, even in the days running up to the election. Good for them. I stood waiting to engage with voters at a polling station in Glasgow East for hours as a trickle of people came in; the ones who came were determined, but they were few. I love the "vote and bring a friend" thing too, though clearly, bringing a like-minded friend is important!

I was fascinated by the stories on the BBC
liveblog of the voting confusion. Fair enough, there was confusion at the Scottish Parliament and Council elections last year, but the principle of how you vote here is fairly simple - how did the USA manage to make things so complicated? Punch ballots, computerised voting, and things like the returning officer equivalent leaving ballot papers in her car. We seem to have this election thing running fairly well - what's wrong with putting a mark in a box on a bit of paper?

I'm hoping to stay up all night to watch the results come in. Then I'll go and campaign in Glenrothes!

Monday 3 November 2008

What's the point of Sarah Brown?

Or, less specifically, what is the point of sending your spouse out to campaign for you? I've been thinking about this since it was first announced that Sarah Brown was going out on the doorsteps, and I'm still not sure. Her actions have spawned a good many articles, but has she convinced any voters?

Sarah Brown seems to be a very competent professional, and she will have a unique insight into the Labour Government. I don't believe, however, that she should be encouraged to go out to the voters as the PM's wife to defend things her husband's government has done. They are not her decisions, unless she has been secretly pulling the strings all along, and therefore she can't be held accountable.

I do think, however, if she were doing it without the media circus as an ordinary party member, rather than the PM's wife, that's different. In the SNP (I'm sure other parties aren't any different) we go out and take people as we find them on the doorsteps. Ordinary activists don't turn up with tv crews and a crowd of journalists because we're there to engage with people on a personal level. Labour completely mishandled the situation, from Mrs Brown being their secret weapon, to gags and threats to shoot journalists.

I wonder what Sarah Brown says to voters on the doorstep? "I think my husband's doing a great job, you should vote Labour". That's hardly a reason! Perhaps she excuses herself thus: "Sorry Gordon couldn't be here, he's sent me instead". Or is she best placed to take news of the failings of Labour back to the boss: "I'll let the Prime Minister know personally that you feel hugely disappointed that the Labour Party has sold out it's values". Given that it seems that the Labour spin machine is targeting specific voters, I wonder whether she'd even get the chance to really win anyone over or speak to anyone that hasn't been hand picked.

From a personal perspective, I can't imagine sending my husband out to campaign for me. Obviously, the situation is very different, but I wouldn't put him under pressure to do something he's not comfortable with. Also he's not a member of any political party and, at present, doesn't see the need to be. I had him out leafleting a few times before the 2007 elections and he comes to the occasional SNP event, but politics is my thing as much as all things computery are his. As I've argued before, we're allowed to have differing opinions too!

I very much hope Sarah Brown volunteered to help rather than being forced, but I still don't think that voters would find much comfort in finding a substitute on the doorstep.